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Mind GymAN ATHLETE'S GUIDE TO INNER EXCELLENCE
By Gary Mack David Casstevens
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2001 Gary Mack
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePART I Welcome to the Inner Game
Yogi Was Right
Ninety percent of the game is half mental. —Yogi Berra
You have to train your mind like you train your body. —Bruce Jenner
When Yogi Berra became manager of the Yankees, a reporter asked if he had enough experience to handle the job. "Sure," Berra said. "I've been playing eighteen years, and you can observe a lot just by watching." Closing his notebook, the writer walked away wearing the same look of faint bewilderment that the waitress had after she asked Yogi if he wanted his pizza cut into four slices or eight.
"Better make it four," Yogi decided. "I dunno if I can eat eight."
In working with elite athletes and professional sports teams, I often begin my counseling sessions and presentations by quoting Yogi's wit and wisdom. A favorite line, one certain to get a laugh, is Yogi's mathematical observation that 90 percent of the game is half mental.
But let me ask a question. Have you ever thought seriously about that famous Yogi-ism? How much of the game—your game—is mental?
Maybe I can lead you to an answer. Let's begin with an exercise I introduced to an international group of sports psychologists, Olympic and professional athletes, coaches, musicians, dancers, astronauts, doctors, lawyers, and fire chiefs in Ottawa, Canada. After completing this exercise and answering the questions, I think you will discover what the world's greatest athletes and the most successful people in other walks of life know to be true—that once you reach a certain level of competency, the mental skills become as important to performance as the physical skills, if not more so.
Now, sit back. Relax. Begin to recall the sights and sounds and feelings of you performing at your very best. In your mind's eye, imagine your best day ever. Picture that time when you were at the top of your game, when every move and decision you made was the right one, when it seemed like every break went your way. Some athletes and performers describe their best-day experience as "playing in the zone." I call those sweet spots in time "white moments," which we will explore later.
Imagine you are watching your own highlights film. You feel no fear, no anxieties, and no self-doubts. Everything is flowing and going your way. Look around. Where are you? What time of day is it? What time of year? What are you wearing? Who is with you? Who is watching? What do you hear? Breathe in the air. If you are on a playing field, or a golf course, can you smell the grass? Visualize that pleasurable experience.
Now, let that image slowly fade, and in its place recall your worst performance. Think of the game, event, or experience when you felt weak and ineffective, when nothing went your way no matter how hard you tried. Now leave that memory behind. Fast-forward to the present.
With Yogi's quote in mind, compare yourself competing at your best and at your worst. Then honestly answer these questions: What percentage of the difference in those performances had to do with your physical skills? What percentage was mental?
When working with a team of professional athletes, I have everyone in the clubhouse stand. I ask if the mental part of their performance was less than 10 percent. If so, I tell them to sit down. Those who think it was less than 20 percent are asked to take a seat. "How about those of you," I ask, "who think the mental game was less than 30 percent? Sit down. How about less than 40 percent?"
At 50 percent, at least half the room is still standing. Would you be standing, too?
If the answer is yes, this is my next question: If you believe the difference between your best and worst performance was, as Yogi said, at least 50 percent mental, then how much time do you spend on the mental game? How many books about sports psychology have you read? How many lessons have you taken from a "head" coach?
As you demonstrated in the exercise, the mind is like a VCR. It records sights and sounds, and the tape plays continuously. The human body treats every vivid thought and image as if it is real and happening now. Everyone who has awakened from a nightmare knows this to be true.
Studies have proven that mental training will not only enhance performance and improve productivity but also add to your enjoyment. Whatever your age, whatever your game, you can learn how to use your mind more constructively. You can learn how to stay focused. You can learn to deal with adversity. Stay motivated during difficult times. Avoid fatal distractions. You can learn how to follow your dreams and live your life on purpose.
Achieving inner excellence is a process. Building mental muscle, like building physical muscle, requires time and effort. The more you work on the inside, the more it will show on the outside. First you must make a commitment. As Yogi supposedly said, when you come to the fork in the road, take it. By reading the first section, you are taking your first step.
Think of the book in your hands as your mind gym. Read the lessons, do the exercises, and answer the questions. If you do, you will acquire the skills needed to create the ideal mental state that will allow you to rise to the next level and perform at your best by choice rather than chance.
What you think affects how you feel and perform. Training your brain is as important as training your body.
The mind messes up more shots than the body. —Tommy Bolt
The mind is a powerful thing and most people don't use it properly. —Mark Mcgwire
Gene Stallings stood on the practice field, arms folded across his chest. The Arizona Cardinals were at summer training camp in Flagstaff, and every player could feel the stoic presence of the team's tall, tough-minded head coach.
Stallings is a protégé of the late Paul "Bear" Bryant. He played for Bryant at Texas A&M and served seven seasons as an assistant to the coaching legend at Alabama. Like Bryant, Stallings valued practice time. He placed a premium on mental toughness and the work habits of his players. Now here he stood, casting a long shadow, his steely gaze fixed on a placekicker as he swung his right foot, soccer-style, into and through the ball. When the field-goal attempt sailed wildly wide of the mark—the kicker shanked the ball—Stallings's face hardened like ready-mix cement. In disgust, he turned his back and walked away, muttering under his breath.
Once Gene was out of earshot, I drew the kicker aside. "What happened?" I asked. This was my first season as team counselor for the NFL club.
"Mack, I'm a great field goal kicker," the player said with conviction. Then he thought of his coach and his glacial stare. He shook his head. "But I just can't kick when Gene's watching me."
"Well, you know," I said, gently, unable to suppress a smile, "I think he's going to be at all the games."
The kicker had plenty of leg, and distance was no problem. But he had allowed himself to become self-conscious and coach-conscious rather than task-conscious. His mind was on his boss. If the player expected better results, he had to change his thought patterns. He needed to work on the mental part of his game.
One key to achieving success in sports is learning how to focus on the task and not let negative thoughts intrude. The mind can concentrate on only one thing at a time. So, rather than suppress what you don't want to happen, you must focus on what you do want to happen or on some neutral thought. In working with placekickers, I use a distraction technique. I ask them to create a word that, when said to themselves, will block out all negative thought and help relieve tension. Al Del Greco, a veteran kicker for the Tennessee Titans who played in Super Bowl XXXIV, has his own word: "birdie." Al is a scratch golfer, perhaps the best golfer in the National Football League. For him "birdie" creates the feeling of success and reminds him of the fun he has on the golf course.
The brain is like a megacomputer that controls the body. Herbert Benson, a Harvard cardiologist, found that having patients focus on their breathing and repeating the word "one" lowered their blood pressure and heart rate. Try it yourself.
The brain can do remarkable things but, unlike a computer, it doesn't come with an instruction manual. Unfortunately, too often we pull up the wrong "programs" at the wrong times.
This section begins with a profound quote from Tommy Bolt, the former professional golfer. Terrible Tommy, he was called. Thunder Bolt. The joke was that Bolt was bilingual—fluent in English and profanity. His temper and club-throwing tantrums are part of golf's rich lore. According to legend, after lipping out six putts in a row during one tournament round, Bolt shook his fist at the heavens and shouted, "Why don't You come down and fight like a man?!"
But Bolt understood the power of the mind and how the brain can sabotage performance. When a weekend golfer arrives at a water hole what is the second thing he does after fishing an old ball—a water ball—out of his bag? Stepping to the tee he tells himself, "Don't hit it in the water." What we've learned in psychology is that actions follow our thoughts and images. If you say, "Don't hit it in the water" and you're looking at the water, you have just programmed your mind to send the ball to a watery grave. The law of dominant thought says your mind is going to remember the most dominant thought. Think water, remember water, and water likely is what you will get.
Rather than say "Don't hit it in the water," try another instruction, like "Land the ball ten yards to the right of the pin." You get what your mind sets. The mind works most effectively when you're telling it what to do rather than what not to do.
When I was with the Chicago Cubs, a starting pitcher telephoned me from Montreal. He had been rocked in his last outing. In an almost pleading voice, he said he needed help. When I asked him to relate the conversation he had with himself when he was alone on the mound, struggling to find the plate, he ticked off a laundry list of negative thoughts: "Don't hang your curve. Don't walk this guy. The ump won't give me a call. If I don't get through the fifth inning I'm going to lose my spot in the rotation."
I give athletes I work with a three-by-five card. On one side I have them list their personal keys to success; on the other, their performance keys to success. I asked the Cubs pitcher to tell me his performance keys to success. "What are you doing when you're really on your game?"
"I'm locating my fastball," he replied. "I'm throwing first-pitch strikes. I'm changing speed."
"So how do you do those things?" I asked.
"Good balance," he said. "Shoulder back. Drive through."
"Good," I told him. "In five days you start against the Mets in New York. All I want you to do before the game is to focus on those three things."
In his next appearance, the pitcher threw a complete-game shutout. In less than a week he couldn't have changed that much physically. His turnaround is proof that by changing your thinking—and you can choose how you think—you can change your performance. Put another way, if you don't like the program you are watching, switch the channel.
Learn to use your mind or your mind will use you. Actions follow our thoughts and images. Don't look where you don't want to go.
The Head Edge
The whole idea is to get an edge. Sometimes it takes just a little extra something to get that edge, but you have to have it. —Don Shula
The most important part of a player's body is above his shoulders. —Ty Cobb
Moments before his last at-bat of the 1998 season, baseball's new Man of Steel sat in the shadows of the St. Louis dugout with his eyes closed. Mark McGwire wasn't napping. The man with the broad shoulders and Popeye forearms, who had already hit one home run that late September afternoon, was deep in thought—mentally rehearsing.
"It's hard work, mentally and physically," the Cardinals slugger once said of the art of hitting. "Everybody looks at my body, but I use my mind more than my arms."
By the time McGwire stepped into the batter's box he was focused, relaxed, and ready. When Montreal relief pitcher Carl Pavano turned loose a 95-mph fastball, Big Mac's mind and body worked as one. A ripping swing. A cork-popping sound. Away it went, a streaking line drive. The ball landed in the left-field stands for home run number seventy—proving to the last skeptic that Big Mac's sixty- nine others that season weren't flukes.
McGwire hit five home runs in the last forty-four hours of the season and waved good-bye to Sammy Sosa, with whom he had formed a mutual admiration club and competed in a dinger derby unlike anything baseball had ever seen.
Sports psychology has been called the science of success because it studies what successful people do. What we have found—and what McGwire and other great athletes validate—is the value of mental rehearsal and imagery.
Here is how Carl Yastrzemski described his use of imagery: "The night before a game, I visualize the pitcher and the pitches I'm going to see the next day. I hit the ball right on the button. I know what it's going to feel like. I hit the pitches where I want to."
The power of visualization and mental rehearsal has been demonstrated in dozens of research studies. If you take twenty athletes of equal ability and give ten mental training they will outperform the ten who received no mental training every time. This is what we call the head edge.
One interesting study involved college basketball players. For three months, one group shot free throws for one hour each day. Another group spent an hour each day thinking about shooting free throws. The third group shot baskets thirty minutes a day and spent thirty minutes visualizing the ball going through the hoop from the foul line. Which group, at the end of the study, do you think improved its free-throw shooting the most? The third group did. The imagery had as much impact on accuracy as shooting baskets.
In another case study, cited in Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, a sports psychologist worked with the United States Olympic ski team. He divided the team into two groups equally matched for ski-racing ability. One group received imagery training; the other served as a control group. The coach quickly realized that the skiers practicing imagery were improving more rapidly than those in the control group. He called off the experiment and insisted that all his skiers be given the opportunity to train using imagery.
As a kid growing up in an immigrant neighborhood in Queens, New York, I played on a soccer team in the Polish American Youth League. One Saturday we went to Randalls Island for a clinic. I sat in wonder in the presence of Pelé, the greatest soccer player in the world.
I still remember what he said: enthusiasm and the mental edge are the keys to winning. Pelé described his routine, which was the same for every game he played. An hour before he stepped onto the field, Pelé went into the locker room, picked up two towels, and retreated to a private corner. Stretching out, he placed one towel under the back of his head, like a pillow. He covered his eyes with the other. Then he began to roll his mental camera. In his mind's eye he saw himself as a youngster playing soccer on the beaches of Brazil. He could feel the gentle breeze. He could smell the salt air. He remembered how much fun he had and how much he loved the game.
Pele then hit the fast-forward button of his mental video. He began recalling his greatest moments in the World Cup and reliving that winning feeling. Then he let those images fade and began rehearsing for the upcoming game. He pictured his opponents. He saw himself dribbling through defenders, heading shots, and scoring goals. After a half-hour in solitude, alone with his thoughts and the slide show of positive images, Pele did his stretching exercises. When he trotted into the stadium, washed in cheers, he knew he was physically and mentally prepared.
An exercise for this section is called the mind gym. When I was with the Cubs, the team acquired Bob Tewksbury from the Yankees. At the time Bob wasn't a dominating big-league pitcher. He didn't have a great fastball, relying instead on location and changes in speed. In working together, I asked Bob to create his own mind gym, an imaginary retreat where he could go before games to reflect and mentally prepare. His vivid imagination created an elaborate studio. Bob's mind gym featured a bubble-like structure—an energy machine with a ticker tape that flashed positive affirmations, and a state-of-the-art sound system. From his mind-gym bed Bob could stretch out and watch a highlights tape of himself on a big-screen TV mounted overhead. Tewskbury later bloomed into an All-Star with the Cardinals.
Excerpted from Mind Gym by Gary Mack David Casstevens Copyright © 2001 by Gary Mack. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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