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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

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

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