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Put Happiness First

03Our society is a little backwards. We say work harder so you’ll be more successful and that will make you happier. However when we work hard and achieve success, we then just push our expectations higher. So our brains never really get to revel in that successful feeling and immerse itself in happiness.

Why don’t we work backwards? Studies have shown that “happier” people perform better in many contexts. Doctors make quicker more beneficial decisions, and students perform higher on tests. This is because these “happier” people have more internal resources to dedicate to their successes, in other words they have fewer negative distractions. Research has done studies that ask participants to increase their happiness levels. This is done by learning to live in the moment, increasing gratefulness, engaging in random acts of kindness, engaging in meditation and regular exercise. If we could increase the happiness indexof our athletes they would have more personal resources to put into sport. We could help athletes enjoy their sport despite the outcome of competition.

Increase an athlete’s happiness? That sounds like quite the daunting task for a coach. I’m telling you it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it may actually make coaching easier in the long run. Here are a few simple things you can do to assist your athletes in becoming happier more productive assets to your team.

Living in the moment: As humans we tend to spend only 53% of our time actually living in the present moment. We are constantly worrying about or anticipating future situations or analyzing and reliving those in the past. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to get lost in the present moment. Matt Killingsworth found that the more we let our minds wander, whether our thoughts are negative or positive, the less happy we tend to be. So how do we stay in the present moment and how will that improve sports performance? When you realize your mind is wandering and you aren’t focused on the task at hand, silently name 5-10 things that are positive and within your present experience. For instance if an athlete is at practice and they realize they are thinking about their weekend plans or last nights TV episode, they might recite these five things silently: 1) I am outside on a beautiful day and the sun is shining. 2) I am surrounded by teammates that I enjoy spending time cd_skatepark_getout_061611_32with. 3) I am playing the sport I love. 4) I am about to take a fly ball. 5) I feel confident in the way I’ve been performing at practice. These thoughts immediately bring the mind to the present and keep thoughts focused on the task at hand. This immediately increases the mental focus of athletes and helps them to perform at a higher level because they are using product thoughts to aid their body’s performance. Matt Killingsworth’s Ted Talk

Count your blessings: Expressing gratitude to someone else has been found to increase happiness by 25% according to research. Those who are thankful for the good things in their life tend to be more optimistic, energetic, empathetic, and generous. It’s easy to dwell on the negatives in this fast paced, ever changing, social media crazed world we live in. Give your athletes a chance to be grateful for the positive things in their life everyday before or after practice. Team members, as well as coaches, can share out loud 3 things they are grateful for, or you can have teammates partner up to share their gratitude for the life they are living. Being grateful for the way things are today is another way of living in the present moment and keeping distracting thoughts at bay.

Random acts of kindness: this-beautiful-random-act-of-kindness-was-photographed-give-this-awesome-guy-a-like-for-caringResearchers have conducted studies where they give participants $20 dollars. The participants are either told to spend that money on themselves or someone else. Results suggest that those participants who spent their money on other people were happier and more satisfied with their purchases than those who spent it on themselves. Happiness research has come to the conclusion that random acts of kindness leads to living a happier life. As a coach you can make this part of your team culture. Make it apparent to your athletes that generosity, selflessness, and kindness are highly valued on your team. After all they are key characteristics of a good teammate. Set up friendly challenges where athletes strive to outdo each other in the number of random acts of kindness they commit in a day. It can be things as simple as lending a stranger lunch money, giving a stranger a compliment, bringing a teammate a new hair accessory, or bringing a special snack for the whole team to enjoy after practice. These acts of selflessness will show the athletes that they are in this together. When someone is willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group others tend to feel more secure and are willing to put forth more effort. Knowing that their teammates are putting others before themselves will help the team come together and be stronger on their rise to victory.

Regular exercise: Since I am focusing on sports regular exercise is 4bb87f872f32423626104be6b8f010a5418f1c93something that you as a coach are already taking care of. However, sometimes the workouts we get as an athlete aren’t enough. Encourage your athletes to do more off the field, keeping our bodies healthy is a foundational step in attaining higher levels of happiness.

Meditation: I’ve never been a promoter of meditation but a Ted Talk I watched a while back gave me a new perspective. We all know it’s imperative that we let our bodies rest; sleep is the time when we recharge our batteries so we can function at the proper levels the next day. As athletes we stretch our muscles, and rest our bodies between practices and competitions in order to heal and reboot. However, we never give our mind this courtesy. Our minds are constantly going 100% all the time. We are thinking, worrying, wondering, focusing, calculating all day long, and then when we go to sleep we dream. Our minds never get a moment to shutdown and reboot. This is where meditation comes in. Giving the mind the break it needs can be the key to seeing the world and ourselves in a whole new light. Ask athletes to take ten minutes out of their day to do absolutely nothing; no mind wandering, no texting, no TV, no reading, just being. Ten Mindful Minutes Ted Talk

Using this philosophy and working “backwards” to success will show your athletes that you care about their well being. When an athlete knows that a coach cares about them as a person and not just an athlete that aids in the teams success, they are more willing to go above and beyond for that coach. Increase their happiness and in turn1247259.large increase their commitment to the sport, and their drive for success. Happier athletes are more productive athletes simply because they have more resources to put forth.

Quote of the day:

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” – Omar Khayyam

An Alter Ego as a Competitive Edge

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As a young pitcher my disposition was naturally cheery on the mound. I was smiley, and for the most part, completely relaxed. My personality Brian+Wilson+San+Francisco+Giants+Photo+Day+kRgjKI-PYv1lhelped me throw well and kept me calm in pressure situations, but I wasn’t exactly intimidating to the opposing batters. I lacked the intensity of a foo-man-shoe mustache that most MLB relief pitchers sported back in the day. My coach thought I needed a “fear the beard” edge over my opponents. His solution, sunglasses; every time I went on the mound I was ordered to wear sunglasses in an attempt to intimidate the batters I faced. This memory got me thinking; maybe the girls who need a little extra umph out there on the playing field could create an alter ego to release their inner all-star. Beyonce does it, why can’t we!

Sasha Fierce is the infamous alter ego of Beyonce Knowles that allows her to be sassy, sexy, and all kinds of fierce during her on stage performances. ‘When I’m onstage I’m aggressive and strong and not afraid of my sexuality. The tone of my voice gets different, and I’m fearless. I’m just a different person”-Beyonce.?????

Alter ego’s can be a source of mental preparation before taking the field. Instead of going through their mental routine before competition to prepare themselves to play, athletes could focus on transforming into their alter ego personality. This personality may be a little more intense, a little less outwardly emotional, and more self-confident than their normal self usually is. I’ve always felt that the competitive side of me is different than my everyday personality anyway so creating an alter ego may actually help athletes put their game face on.

Give your alter ego its’ own name and its own look.This new persona should be very vivid in your mind, see their body language and how they hold themselves. Know how this person would react in all situations, to failure, to distractions, to successes, and injuries. Even give your alter ego a background story. Where do they come from and why are they so unbreakable on the field. The more filled out this character is, the easier it will be transform into them at game time.

Pulling on this persona before competitions and practice will allow you to leave reality and step into work mode. Life distractions will seem more distant because they aren’t a part of your alter egos reality, they only know sport. Pulling on your alter ego suit will take some practice. Take a few minutes to step into your new persona just before practice and games. For a while you may have to re-engage your new persona during game breaks like Billy Chapel from For The Love of the Game, “Clear the Mechanism”. 

It takes just as much effort to mentally suit up as it does to physically suit up. Take the time to let your mind leave reality and enter the world of competitive sport. Maybe the best time to transform into your alter ego IS while you are suiting up. Visualize yourself changing into that person as you change into your practice gear or game day uniform. Let it be known to your teammates, they should be able to tell the difference between the normal you and your competitive alter ego. Commit to your new character, the less you break face, the easier it will be to become your alter ego when you need it.

Alter egos have helped many notable people in history to be the successes they became. Take the time to create the best athlete version of yourself you can, and next time you step out onto the field, GET YOUR GAME FACE ON!

 Quote of the day:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela 

Keep a Sport-Life Balance

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The statistics pertaining to youth sport participation are disheartening; 70% of children who are participating in youth sport will drop out by the age of 13.

My question is why didn’t I? Why did I play through college, coach through grad school, and am now pursuing a career that is centered in sport?

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NCS Champs 2007

I specialized in one sport at a very young age; I played competitively almost from the get go, and even specialized in a single position by the time I was 17. I had all the warning signs of being an athlete who would burnout before reaching my full potential. So what kept me in the game?

I had a sport-life balance. Although I spent the majority of my time on the softball field, the people in my life helped to keep sports in perspective. Sports were a piece of my life, not my whole life. There were other more important things and values; my worth as a person didn’t solely reside on my performance as an athlete.

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Opening night of Boulevard Cinemas

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Working on the homecoming float my senior year of high school

The most obvious example of the sport-life balanced I achieved as a young athlete was in the diversity of my social circles, and the events that filled my monthly calendar. I grew up on a court where three other girls around my age lived. None of them were involved in sports like I was so our friendship was well rounded; we grew up running around our neighborhood experiencing and focusing on other things besides sport. I was also heavily involved in girl scouts, the six other girls in my troop made up some of my closest friends throughout high school. At the age of 15 we opened a theater in our hometown, an accomplishment that bolstered my confidence and added to my worth as a person off the softball field. (Read more about the teens who opened a theater in 2005 HERE.) The friends that I hung around with at school weren’t  involved in sports either, so again I had opportunities to develop other parts of myself; opportunities to be proud of things that had nothing to do with softball. I also had a long term boyfriend throughout high school that attended a school 20 minutes south of me, so I became very close to his friends and family which again added diversity to the people who were important to me. These people who made up my social life all valued me for more than my softball abilities. Some had never even seen me play, so my performance as an athlete was irrelevant to our friendship. It caused me to grow up in an atmosphere that catered to all of me, and helped to give myself worth in all areas of my personality, not just the piece of me that excelled on the playing field.

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Team trip to Disneyland

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White water rafting with the team in Park City, Utah

I was also privileged enough to grow up in a family that was able to take vacations outside of softball tournaments. As I got older my softball team flew all over the U.S. to compete at the highest level. However, my family was fortunate enough to be able to take an additional family vacation each summer. It kept it in perspective that sports were important, but family time was highly valued as well. Not only did I get to experience genuine family vacations, but I had a coaches who understood that for some families, our tournaments were their family vacations. As a team we made every out of state trip a fun family experience as well as a serious competitive outing. Our coach allowed the team moms to plan water rafting trips, team dinners, horseback riding excursions, and once in Park City, Utah we even went on a team hot air balloon ride! My coaches knew the value of having a sport life balance and let us genuinely enjoy our tournament trips. Some of my most favorite memories are from these tournaments and everything we did made me fall even more in love with the sport. Doing other activities while traveling also allowed my teammates to get to know me as a person, not just an athlete. You learn to appreciate your teammates for more than just their athletic performance; you also learn to value the other pieces of yourself.

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Playing powder puff football my senior year

My parents were the most prominent influence of keeping my life balanced between sport and other experiences. The house I grew up in bordered a regional park. On my court lived three other girls that were around my age. Also on the court were kids who were a few years older, and others who were a few years younger. At any given time there were anywhere from 1-13 kids to play with, and a plethora of open space to do so in. My home life away from the softball field consisted mostly of free play with my neighboring peers. Some of which my parents probably weren’t too thrilled about; like tying a rope to a bike seat and holding on for dear life while being pulled on rollerblades. I was lucky enough to have parents who let me be involved in “risky” activities (like the one mentioned above) without reprimanding me to stay un-injured so I could compete. This example may seem subtle, but little things like this that were noticeable on a day-to-day basis were the most influential in keeping sports in perspective. It was a constant reminder that there was more to life, and myself, than sport.

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Posing with our high school rival team

Athletes who have a diversity of experiences and people in their lives learn to value all dimensions of their personality and abilities. This quality helps athletes who encounter chronic slumps, difficult teammates, and unfavorable coaching stay in the game. They can stick with the sport they love through the pitfalls and hardships because they have developed as a whole person and see the value in other experiences; Keep kids in sport by fostering their development as a whole child, not just an athlete!

 Quote of the day:

“A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.” – Mary Lou Retton

A Glimpse Into Two Different Mindsets

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I got the opportunity to spend a couple days with a JV softball team up in Sacramento this past season. I got to observe two practices and a game. I was taken aback by the passion, drive, and enthusiasm these girls have for their sport.

As a freshman in high school I played varsity ball and I never got to experience the JV level. These girls don’t have dreams of playing in college; they aren’t obsessed with beating out the girl next to them to get a look from a college coach. SHS_JV_Softball_undefeated2014These girls just simply love the game. They love to play and want to spend as many minutes on the field as they can. They eat up coaching and ask for more of it when they don’t get enough. Their sole desire is to improve. Every ounce of their mental capacity is focused on the task at hand. They are supportive of each other to a fault. No matter how unsuccessful a teammate is performing they are genuinely supportive. They are patient, kind, and extremely encouraging. This is the atmosphere I’ve been striving to instill in my teams for years. They really accept every player for who they are and aren’t judgmental of their skill level. They just want everyone to try their hardest all the time, and they do! They work hard without a peep from their coaches, it’s all them all the time.

It was an amazing display of a mastery climate created by the players themselves.

My biggest question is why? Why has this atmosphere been so effortlessly created on this team? I think the answer lies in the research of Carol Dweck; the difference between the growth and capacity mindset. Individuals who posses the growth mindset are constantly looking to improve, they believe that with hard work anybody can improve at anything. These people welcome failure, and challenges, because they are opportunities to learn and grow. Capacity mindset is a whole different ball game. These folks believe that abilities are set. You either have it or you don’t, there isn’t any real opportunity for immense improvement. These people avoid failure at all costs, they are constantly trying to put themselves in situations where they can show off their talents because they need to prove themselves. They need to reaffirm their abilities to others consistently because there is no room for improvement.

Without the pressure of having to prove themselves to a college coach, the JV girls are able to embrace failure and focus on learning and developing their talents. Where as the varsity girls get caught up in always trying to look the best so college coaches don’t notice their flaws or weaknesses.

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Winning the NCS Championship my senior year of high school

This is a pretty broad statement; all varsity athletes have a capacity mindset and all JV athletes have a growth mindset. That’s not exactly what I’m saying. I’m inferring that maybe because most varsity athletes have been talented since they were kids, they may have been referred to as “natural athletes”. Well, as a natural athlete, the talent you have isn’t something you worked for, therefore you aren’t in control of improving it. However, athletes who weren’t always the greatest, probably weren’t ever told this, and they learned from a young age that they were going to have to work hard to be able to play ball at a competitive level. They learned that hard work and repetition lead to improvement.
Although I made varsity as a freshman, I was never considered a “natural athlete”. In fact, most thought I would never play in college. I had to work really hard for the successes that came my way. Looking back, I’m thankful that I didn’t have “natural talent”, it made me take control of my ability and push my way to the top. It’s something that still impacts my life today; I may not be the best at what I do, but I am constantly looking for opportunities to learn and better myself. Where I am today is just a starting point, I am in full control of developing my abilities to get to the top of my field.

Quote of the day:

“Don’t tell me how talented you are. Tell me how hard you work” Artur Rubenstein

How Stress Can be Helpful!

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Anxiety, we’ve all felt it. It’s the cringe in your stomach when you step up to the plate. It’s the feeling of clammy hands making it difficult to grip the club on the last hole. It’s the shortness of breath before taking a free throw shot. nervous-sweatingIt’s excessive perspiration ruining a shirt before a big speech. It’s a pounding heart as the starting gun sounds. It’s the body kicking into overdrive stimulating the fight or flight response.

The field of sport psychology has developed multiple approaches and strategies to fight the negative side effects of competitive anxiety. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation aim to quiet the mind and the body, decreasing the heart rate and in turn quieting the racing mind.

However, a simple change in perception can be just as beneficial to controlling those pre-game jitters. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, is known for taking research and turning it into easy useful methods for the everyday person to utilize. In her latest Ted Talk she speaks about how to view stress in a positive manner. I found her approach to work very well, especially in preparation for competition.

Most of us interpret the above stress syndrome as negative. We think, oh no I must be really nervous for this performance. But what if we started to view that stress response as helpful? If we thought, oh my heart is pounding and my breath is quickening my body must be revving up for competition. lacrosse-games-beginThe pounding heart just gets more blood to my muscles which helps them perform more efficiently. The increase in breath rate is helping to increase the oxygen in my bloodstream to help my body work harder. Researchers found that this simple change in perspective actually changed the physical stress response in participants. They still felt the pounding heart and the sweaty hands, however, their blood vessels didn’t constrict as they did previously. This allowed for better blood flow throughout the body and was actually a helpful response!

Next time you are walking up to the plate for an at bat and feel your stress response kicking in, view it as a positive thing! It is helping your body prepare for competition, embrace it, and use it’s power!

For more information watch the “Making Stress Your Friend” Ted Talk

Quote of the day: Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one” Hans Selye

Ten Minutes Of Greatness

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I really do believe the saying “early bird gets the worm”. I have noticed that the best of the best get there first. Weather it be a teacher, an employee, or an athlete; the ones who get their first, or early, are usually the ones who do the best work.download (2) I’ve also noticed in myself that when I get up early and start my day, I feel the best. I am productive and inspired. There is something about that early morning silence. It’s energizing, empowering, and encouraging.

Have you ever been the first person to do something? Or have you witnessed someone else stepping outside of the box and trying something new for the first time? I have been in both of these situations, and something I heard recently really rings true. People who do things first get noticed. In fact our culture has a slu of terms to describe these people; trend-setters, leaders, or entrepreneurs.

Take 10 minutes to do something that will help you become great before you start your day. Jim Brogan urges his clients and athletes to shoot “swishes” before school in the morning. EXCELLENCEPrime yourself by putting your mind in a productive mindset. This will jump start your day and keep you on the path to success.

So what do I do for my 10 minutes of greatness in the morning? Every morning as I am getting ready for work I watch a Ted Talk. These talks inspire me and help me to add new aspects to my sport psychology lessons.

Taking ten minutes everyday, preferably in the morning, is a great way for athletes to begin the process of improving their mental game. Whether it’s ten minutes of imagery to improve their visualization skills and improve their performance. Or practicing their concentration skills by doing simple focus drills. It could be ten minutes of devising plans of how to deal with adverse situations; how are you going to react if you don’t have your best stuff at practice today?

What can you do before you start your day? It only takes ten minutes.

Quote of the day:

“Excellence is a learned skill” 

An Unforgettable Atmosphere

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Cambrian Little League Park

Today I got the opportunity to watch the most enjoyable baseball game I’ve ever witnessed.The atmosphere was one that is unmatched by any other sporting event. Words can’t begin to do justice in capturing the charismatic energy felt in the park. It was an overwhelming encouraging happiness that festered throughout the crowd, into the dugout, and onto the field with the athletes. Just sitting in the stands made me bubble up with a tickling happiness that brimmed my eyes with joyful tears. It was the epitome of what youth sport should be all about.

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Alejandro

The athletes were ecstatic at the chance to play baseball. Contagious smiles were permanently plastered across their faces. Cheers and squeals could be heard at every crack of the bat; kids laughed and some even bowed as they reached first base. Every single athlete put forth their very best effort in every situation; they remained undeterred with a cheerful disposition even when the outcomes were unsuccessful. These kids displayed immense amounts of teamwork; they lent a helping hand at every opportunity. They understood that it was imperative to work together in order to experience success. They cheered and supported every athlete, even those who were playing for the opposing team. The display of sportsmanship was impeccable. This was their game, and they knew it.

The fans were every bit as enthusiastic as the athletes were. Pom-poms and team apparel flooded the crowded stands. At times, some of the kids would come to the fence to greet their fans. They would remove their caps with a swing of their hand and simultaneously take a bow. The crowd erupted with cheers every time, going crazy over the chance to see a player within hands reach. A handful of kids were so passionate about the game that they would slide or dive into every base. Every time, without fail, the fans went wild, yelling, “He’s safe, he’s safe!” Every effort, whether the outcome was successful or not, was recognized and appreciated by the enthusiastic fans.

The coaches were encouraging at every turn. Their sole goal was to have each athlete experience success. With a little patience, and a lot of enthusiasm they ensured that each kid felt like an MVP.  The coaches empowered the athletes by urging them to use the tools they needed to succeed, whether it be a whiffle ball instead of a hardball or a ball set on a tee rather than pitched by a coach. Their focus wasn’t on the “right” way to do things; they emphasized individuality and creativity in the kid’s pursuit of success.

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Alejandro and his buddies George and Diego

It was rewarding to the say the least. This was a Challenger league game. The little boy I work with, Alejandro, has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and this league caters to athletes who are differently abled. At every game his team is paired with a Cambrian Little League team and they work together to ensure that all kinds of kids get the chance to experience the magic of baseball. Every Challenger athlete has a partner from a Cambrian team who helps them execute any skills they may have difficulty with. The kids on both sides are learning so much more than the game of baseball; their involvement in these leagues is shaping their perspective on the world and those who inhabit it with them. They are learning skills and gaining knowledge that will drive them in successful directions throughout life. These kids are walking away with the essential life lessons that youth sport should instill in all of its participants. Well done San Jose, well done.

Quote of the Day: 

“T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More” 

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