Stopped having fun in your sport? Here’s a high performance tip for getting your passion back

SparringThe key (and often unsaid) reason athletes seek out sport mental training from high performance trainers like me is fun — they’ve stopped having it.  Whether it is because of inconsistency, losing, injuries, reduced playing time or on-going intimidation, athletes get dejected and quit.  And by the time they do, parents, coaches and teammates are relieved, as they are not much fun to be around.  I know, as I’ve tossed a few water bottles and slammed a number of locker doors in my sporting career.

As if a career of sporting failures in hockey as a kid wasn’t enough, I joined a karate club in my early 30’s and discovered that karate was a competitive sport, not just a means of achieving self-defense, self-confidence and fitness.  And within a few months my instructor encouraged me to compete.  I was hesitant, but he sold me on the excitement and fun.  And, as luck would have it, I medaled in my first competition.

I was hooked, but about two years into my training, a thumb injury became painfully chronic.  The word ‘karate’ means empty hand, and at that time we were not even allowed to wear protective sparring gloves in practice, let alone in tournaments.  So my hands got pretty bashed, bruised and beaten up.  As soon as they would heal, the healing would be undone.  And even the slightest contact brought tears to my eyes.

With each new episode, the fun diminished.  Quitting was an option, but I committed myself to one last competition, partly because I’d already paid for the flight, but mostly because I was no quitter.  So I flew halfway across the continent to lose in a rather lackluster performance.  And as the medals were being placed around the necks of the winners — I debated whether to take up another sport. Continue reading

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The Importance of Being Unrealistic in Sport

If you have ever been told that you are too small, too old, too slow, too weak, too inconsistent or too meek, this video is for you.  And, if someone has told you that you just don’t have what it takes to make it in your sport and to be realistic, you especially need to watch it.

I believe that you limit yourself and get “realistic” results by setting “realistic” goals.  Instead, I encourage you to set unrealistic goals so that you have access to many more possibilities.  Here’s a simple process that will help you to do so. Continue reading

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Three Tips for Mental Rehearsal in Sport

 “I learned there are troubles Baseball_player
    of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead,
    others come from behind.
But I’ve bought a big bat.
I’m all ready, you see.
Now my troubles are going
    to have trouble with me.”
–        Dr. Seuss

Some of you are entering season-ending, nerve-wracking championships and others are in the midst of season-starting, nerve-wracking tryouts and games, and there seems to be a common thread.  ANXIETY TROUBLES!

Whether you are starting or finishing a season, there should never be anxiety about anything.  Never!  There is no room for accepting anxiety as inevitable or turning anxiety into passion or embracing anxiety.  You are either in the Zone or you are not.  If you want to embrace anxiety, you might want to practice that in practice.  But if you’d rather dispense with it entirely, do it and do it well.  Continue reading

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The Part-time Athlete: Balancing Sport and Family

Soccer_Players_MP900149025One of the nice things about working with young athletes is that for the most part they have uncomplicated lives. They eat, sleep, go to school, practice and compete. However, with older athletes life gets a whole lot more complicated. Careers take hold, families materialize and leadership demands are extracted – sometimes with a pound of flesh or two. In other words, our attention begins to get pulled in many ways and something has to give.

During my years of competitive karate training, I never had enough hours in a day to do everything. I would disappear to my basement workout room during every spare moment I could find. Child asleep – head for the basement. Wife reading – hit the streets jogging and doing wind sprints. Feeding my young daughter – dive into visualizations. Karate class at the dojo finished – head to the 24-hour grocery store. If I wanted to compete and be competitive and still be a husband and dad, I had to be efficient and squeeze every last drop of time out of a week. Continue reading

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How to Become an Emotional Coach in Your Child’s Sport

VolleyballIn a previous blog I wrote on the topic of coaches being the emotional ballast for their athletes and I’m now tackling another a key players in the process—parents.

I’m very supportive of parents of young athletes because I am both a parent and a coach.  I know what they go through.  They spend more time with their athlete than the coach does, and yet they often feel undervalued by both the coach and the athlete.  They also get blamed for the many behavioral sins of their child.

Parents have very dramatic ways of getting around this—they stay home or watch  covertly from behind pillars.  Neither is necessary or appropriate, so this blog post is aimed at parents who wish to overcome any parental stigma, but more importantly,  be of huge benefit to their child’s game.

Not just a Spectator

SpectatorsOne of my athletes has traveled widely in the U.S. to competitions.  For one competition he traveled with his dad, another with an aunt or an uncle.  On two specific occasions he traveled with his coach.  Over the course of several tournaments a pattern developed.  Whenever he traveled with his family he struggled and performed poorly.  When he traveled with his coach, he won–big.

Think about the differences.  The family trip to the competition was mostly about sightseeing and expectations, along with the usual family squabbles and grandma’s troubles and the cost of the sport and the price of gas and the business call on the cell phone.  On the other hand, the “team” trip with the coach was mostly about competition goals, past successes, passion for the sport, the anticipation of winning and a bright future.

When you compare the two experiences, it is easy to see that the trip with the coach better prepares the athlete mentally for the competition.  It wires his mental circuitry for success. How could any parent compete with that?  The answer is: don’t even try.  You most likely do not have the technical skills or experiences that relate to becoming a skills coach, but you do have the maturity and life experiences that relate to becoming an Emotional Coach.

Become your Child’s Emotional Coach

Cheering ParentsThe way to become an Emotional Coach is learn to stay (as one of my coaches says) in your “happy place”.  Athletes refer to this place as the Zone.  It involves a simple rule that says, “If I stay in the Zone my child will.”  And the easiest way to get there is to think about your best sporting experience and notice how good it feels.  That is your Zone and you need to stay there, no matter what.

How many times have you seen your child in a meltdown?  And how many times have you felt bad for them?  Ask yourself the question, “Who is leading whom?”  If you want to be an Emotional Coach, you simply can no longer empathize with your child on the field, court or rink.  Close your eyes and think “happy place”–the impact will be huge.


After stating this rule in a workshop, two moms approached me and one asked,   “You mean we can’t just be a spectator?”

I told them that they could be spectators but they also had a choice.  They could be part of the problem (a meltdown) or could remain emotionally in the Zone for both the good and the bad parts of competition (it is simply leadership).  It is very empowering to be helping your child perform well.   Being an Emotional Coach is a huge challenge, but the parents who have tried it rave about the positive effect it has had on their children.

I’m going to challenge you as parents to draw a line in the sand and make YOUR meltdown and YOUR anxiety a thing of the past.  At your child’s next competition:

  • See how much laughter you can create in the car on the way to the event.
  • See how tall you can get your son or daughter to walk by walking tall yourself.
  • Maintain your happy place at all times even as other parents fall apart around you.

If I stay in the Zone my child/athlete will

Staying in the ZoneYou have a powerful tool to help your child–yourself in the Zone.  Use it to help them prepare for practices.  Use it to help them in competitions.  When you do, you hand your young athlete over to their coach in a powerful state of mind and the coach will love you for it.  Hey, here’s a thought, why not use it all the time to help your children in all of their activities?  It sure beats hiding behind a pillar.

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The Olympics are almost here

Coaches – no last-minute changes please
Coach with whistleAthletes get the medals; not coaches.  Coaches get their rewards as an offshoot of their athlete’s success.  The individual athlete or team players get the limelight; the coach gets the supporting role or honorable mention.

Coaches accept this reality as a part of their creed or handbook.  Most of their work is done in the four to eight years leading up to an Olympic Games.  In the days and weeks before the Games they mostly play a guidance and monitoring role to ensure athletes taper (do less intense training), strategize and prevent/manage injuries.  During the Games, they continue in a guidance and monitoring role.  Even in team sports such as soccer, the role is guidance, strategy and the utilization of personnel.

Athletes need to allow their subconscious minds to do the work

The biggest mistake that some coaches make—and I’ve seen it time and again—is feeling they still need to be teaching or adjusting the technique of their athletes right up to competition time—a week, day or even minutes before the event.  Whether this is perceived as beneficial or simply the coach wanting to feel useful, little if anything will be retained as any new skill takes time to become automatic. 

High Jumper JumpingWorse, it gets the athletes thinking—and thinking leads to meddling with the subconscious mind, which—by this time—needs to have the athlete’s full trust.  Athletes need to relax, have fun, and keep their conscious minds out of the way so their subconscious minds work efficiently.   Last minute technique changes messes with this process. 

The coach is more than a trainer, cheerleader or strategist

I teach coaches a hugely important role that makes them more than just organizers, cheerleaders or strategists at the games.  I teach them to be the emotional ballast and in this respect they have the very important role of ensuring their athletes get into and stay in the Zone—mostly by getting into and staying in the Zone themselves.  This needs to be practiced, but in Olympic or professional sports coaches get caught up in the moment and become spectators.  However, this is one of the most important roles (skills) of the coach and the practice for this occurs well before the Olympics.  When coaches stay in the Zone, they create an emotional synergy with their athlete.   Athletes coached by these coaches have a huge advantage.

So, at any level, Olympic or otherwise, pump yourself up with adrenaline just like you did when you competed, find your Zone, and stay in it for your athletes.  It is one of your most important roles, especially once the training is done.

A salute to Olympians and coaches around the world

<a rel="author" href= on Google+</a>  In this countdown time to the London Olympics, I and many others around the world, will be looking forward to cheering on our country and our favorite athletes. I salute the athletes and their support teams for their dedication to their sport and their country.  The training has already been done and now it’s time to get into the Zone, have fun and play – you’ve earned it!

About the Author

<a rel="author" href= on Google+</a>

Bob Palmer is CEO and High Performance Strategist with SportExcel.  Bob teaches a mental training system to athletes and coaches from around the world that has produced winning results at the Olympics, PanAm and Commonwealth Games as well as other international, national and regional competitions.

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What doesn’t kill you makes you strongerBlack Belt in Karate Kneeling

How long can an athlete endure the humiliation of defeat in an attempt to get it right?  This human, competitive nature and willingness to accept “pain” is very intriguing.  And with all the stresses caused by putting it all on the line, athletes must have some very powerful tools of resolving performance issues that you can learn too.

Competing in sport is very similar to performing on a stage, especially as a stand-up comic.  There are four things in common.  When comics miss a joke the result is immediately evident.  They have hecklers (sometimes merely imagined but not always).  They require good timing (skill).  And, importantly, the only way to learn how to perform is to get up there and try to fail.  The more times the better.

Learning on the job

The only way to get realistic feedback is to learn on the job.  Initially, comics tell jokes poorly or misread the audience and get heckled.  Initially, athletes display poor skills or misread a situation or make a mistake and accept barbs from coaches, spectators or peers.  Both put their honor, pride, self-esteem and man/womanhood on the line each time. There is no other sensation quite like it—when they’re on and, unfortunately, when they’re not.

“What is a grown man like me doing standing up here in front of my peers making a fool of myself?” is the question I remember asking myself when I got back into competing as a martial artist.  Coupled with this self-talk was the churning stomach and sweat-soaked, adrenaline saturated body.  It felt like trial by fire, something I discovered that has a name–Post Traumatic Growth (PTG).  This is the opposing side to Post-Traumatic Stress, where trauma is perceived as bad.  In PTG, trauma actually helps make you stronger.  In sports, PTG justifies our putting ourselves in “harm’s way” with the expectation (hope) that we will eventually get that personal best, win or perfect score.

Post-traumatic growth can be transforming

Swimming, Mens Butterfly

“Post-traumatic growth is a process people go through in the aftermath of experiencing trauma,” said Dr. Robert Tedeschi, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte to the Command and General Staff College students and staff at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  “It’s also an outcome of trauma.  It’s a series of changes people experience themselves that they label as valuable, or beneficial, maybe not right away, but in the long run.  Traumatic experience can be transformative in some people, putting them on a whole new life path.”

What this suggests is that people have the ability to learn from their experiences, no matter how traumatic.  The quote from Friedrch Neitzsche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” comes to mind.

Losing in a sport event is traumatic; taking the flak from your friends is traumatic; being embarrassed is traumatic; wasting away at a plateau or doldrums is traumatic.  Perhaps these are not on the scale of the human trauma that Dr. Tedeschi is talking about, but it is the same process, and one uses the same strategies to grow beyond it.


In essence we need a strategy that will give us perspective and help us to resolve Perspective problems, over and over, time and again.  Thus, I call this strategy ‘Perspective’, and it involves reflection and self-coaching in a positive manner and allows you to evaluate your performance, no matter how bad the pain is.  It has three viewpoints that help you to better accept advice from others, but especially from yourself.

Viewpoint 1.  The Goal:  The first viewpoint of Perspective involves knowing what YOU want.  Entering a competition has nothing to do with your spouse, your friend or your competitor.  Nobody exists but you.  (If they do, you are in trouble.)  Ask yourself what is reasonable and go for it.  I mean GO FOR IT.

Viewpoint 2.  Coach’s view: The second viewpoint of Perspective is to KNOW what a coach might tell you.  Here you gain his/her point of view by imagining stepping into the coach’s shoes.   The “stepping” process tricks the brain into taking on the coach’s viewpoint and his/her way of thinking.  The quality of information can be spectacular, usually instantaneous.  It imitates how we learn from others naturally.

Viewpoint 3.  Spectator’s view:  The third viewpoint is the bird’s eye view that the spectator sees.   You can stand back, disassociate from emotions of the problem and view your performance with new eyes so you notice what is possible.  You can watch yourself engaging in your game.  And you can apply what you learned in Viewpoint 2 and immediately see how your goal is more of a possibility.

Change in performance can happen quickly

RunnerPerspective can result in changes to your performance in a short period of time.  It is a loop—Viewpoint 1 tells you that you are (or are not) achieving what you want.  Viewpoint 2 gives you some advice.  Viewpoint 3 gives you the bird’s-eye view to implement that advice.  This loop corkscrews upward—trauma turned to growth.  Lose or win, Perspective helps you to figure out your game and allows you to grow in your ability to perform.  When it becomes automatic, athletes move to a whole new level of playing.

So, whether you are getting people to laugh as a stand up comic, or getting them to stop laughing as an athlete, you need to understand the potential for growth from the pain.   To quote Dr. Tedeschi again, “It’s not the trauma that changes people, it’s the struggle.”  In the world of competitive sport, we all need to embrace PTG in our quest to “Own the Zone”.

Reference:  Dr. Robert Tedeschi, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte to the Command and General Staff College students and staff about “Post Traumatic Growth and Combat: Seeing possibilities for growth and ways of promoting it” in the Lewis and Clark Center’s Eisenhower Auditorium, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

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