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Making Your Values Your Compass

            Your team is getting ready to go on a long journey. There’s a mountain peak that boasts the most beautiful views, a peak that your team ha more…

Posted Oct 1, 2018

Everyday Resilience

            My days of being a competitive athlete are far behind me. It’s been years since I found my toes lined up at the starting line of a race wa more…

Posted Aug 28, 2018

Strength & Conditioning: An Opportunity for Physical and Mental Strength

One of my favorite aspects of performance psychology is its relevance to almost everything we do in our lives. And because of this relevance, there ar more…

Posted Aug 7, 2018

Creating Accountable Kids

As a follow-up to our previous blog discussing a parent’s role during their children’s training, I want to switch gears to the parents’ role in a diff more…

Posted Jul 24, 2018

Becoming A Productive Force For Your Athlete's Training

In sport psychology, it is intuitive that I work with athletes and their coaches. But one area that can be overlooked when considering an athlete’s po more…

Posted Jul 16, 2018

Enhance Your Athlete's Connection To Their Sport

More on Relatedness…             In our final entry discussing self-determination theory we will explore relatedness further. Relatedness is the need more…

Posted Jun 25, 2018

Promoting Competence In Youth Sport

More on Competence…                         Moving right along to the next component of self-determination theory is competence: feeling as though y more…

Posted Jun 18, 2018

Help Your Athlete Take Control Of Their Future

In our last blog post, we overviewed self-determination theory and some of its applications to sport. In order to sharpen the tool of utilizing self-d more…

Posted Jun 8, 2018

Creating A Self-Determined Athlete

I would venture a guess that every coach wants to see exceptional motivation from their athletes. This is the type of motivation that pushes an athlet more…

Posted May 15, 2018

Lead to Transform

Leadership is a concept that permeates our culture in a variety of ways. We acknowledge the need for appropriate leadership in government, we apprecia more…

Posted Apr 24, 2018

Youth Sport's True Trophy

The opportunity to help an individual athlete or team of athletes find athletic triumph is certainly not one that I take for granted. In fact, I often more…

Posted Apr 9, 2018

Handling Evaluation: Performing During The Tryouts of Sports and Life

It is rare for people to enjoy situations in which their ability is being evaluated. Especially, when the result of that evaluation means making the t more…

Posted May 27, 2017

Making Your Values Your Compass

Are the right things guiding you?

By Katarina Miller - October 1, 2018

Making Your Values Your Compass
            Your team is getting ready to go on a long journey. Theres a mountain peak that boasts the most beautiful views, a peak that your team has been interested in reaching for a long time. Youve heard many people talk about the mountain peak, and the journey along the way, but you have yet to experience it yourself. Unfortunately, the directions to this mountain peak are unclear, and you know if you have any chance of making it to that peak you need to map out your potential journey. If you dont get started in the right direction, youll never make it to the mountain peak. If you dont have the proper equipment to navigate potential rivers and canyons and other obstacles, youll never make it to the mountain peak. How are you going to navigate this journey? How do you set your team up for success when each individual member is contributing their own ideas and plans?

            Just like a team getting ready to trek up an unknown mountain, athletic teams often start their seasons with a clear vision of their mountain peak. They want to win state championships and compete nationally. They want to take home national titles. They want to be ranked in a particular way. They want to scouted by a particular college. The image of the mountain peak is clear, and it looks beautiful. But when the journey and potential adversities on the way to that mountain peak are unclear, failing to prepare will leave your team stuck on a mountainside with nowhere to go.

            Whether youre starting a journey up a mountain, or starting a journey through a competitive season, there are two major pieces of preparation to keep in mind. You are going to want to game plan for some of the potential obstacles along the way. As you get started on your mountain journey, you know there are going to be some rivers you need to cross and some canyons to trek through. These are the specific goals your team sets for their competitive season. Your mountain peak may be winning a national title, but youre aware that there are many smaller competitions along the way that youll have to win first. So, you plan accordingly. You identify the goals along the way so you are ready to face the challenges that threaten to take you off course on the way to your mountain peak. But what about those unknown challenges that you didnt predict? What about the social pressure you didnt foresee taking you off course? What about the injuries that you didnt predict occurring right before Nationals?

            Just like our team climbing an unknown mountain, you can plan for challenges all you want but there will always be unexpected obstacles. These obstacles can leave you stuck momentarily, or they can threaten to take you off your course to the mountain peak entirely. Therefore, not only do you need to identify the challenges you can anticipate, but you need to identify a general direction that will guide you no matter where youve landed. When the directions to the mountain peak are unclear, getting taken off course can be catastrophic in finishing the journey if you dont have a general direction to guide you back on course. These are the obstacles you dont always expect like losing a key team member to an injury. Or experiencing a devastating loss to a team that you expected should have been an easy win. Or when theres conflict among team members regarding something completely unrelated to competing. Determining at the beginning of the journey what direction you always want to head towards will aid you when youre faced with uncertainty. This general direction, this compass, will keep you on track as a team no matter what kind of unexpected challenge threatens to take you off course to your mountain peak. Your compass for your team going through competitive seasons will be your values.

            Your values are what you hold most important, qualities or characteristics that you believe are the most critical to display in your behavior. These are things like respect, honesty, resilience, loyalty, and discipline. Values act as our moral compass, both individually and when we function as a team. When we are unsure of how to behave productively, in any type of circumstance, referring back to our values allows us to inform our behavior with something that we know we hold important. If we know we value being challenged, the way we approach injury rehabilitation may be different than if we were unaware of that value. If we know we value respect and teamwork, the way we approach social conflict may be different than if that value hadnt been identified. And if we know we value discipline and hard-work, making the choice between a good nights sleep and that fun party our friend is having suddenly looks a little different.

            We may have a large end-goal in mind, some kind of mission wed like to accomplish, but no matter what obstacles we face our values provide us with information about the general direction we should take with our response. Your athletic team will also face inevitable challenges that will take them completely off course. By identifying values, not individually but as a group, you can face those challenges with confidence knowing that you have a shared guiding force. When conflict arises and nobody knows how to move forward productively, referring back to that team value can be your moral compass to guide your solution. While there may be some inherent overlap in your team members values, taking the time to explicitly and intentionally identify your teams guiding value at the beginning of the season is what can provide stability in future times of adversity.

            As you get ready to start the adventure of a competitive season with your team, make sure that mountain peak is clear and beautiful in your minds; that image can energize and motivate your athletes to start the journey. But dont get started without mapping out your specific goals along the way and also dont get started without packing your values-based compass. By taking the time to map out your journey in this way, you can be setting your team up for their best chance of reaching their mountain peak.

Everyday Resilience

Why you - and everyone you know - can benefit from Sport Psychology

By Katarina - August 28, 2018

Everyday Resilience
            My days of being a competitive athlete are far behind me. It’s been years since I found my toes lined up at the starting line of a race waiting for the gun to send me off. It’s been years since I woke up at 5 in the morning to beat the summer heat so I could complete my training runs. And it’s been years since I pulled on a uniform and proudly represented a team. My days of being a competitive athlete are far behind me. But my days of utilizing an athlete’s mindset will never be behind me. To suggest that Sport & Performance Psychology is only relevant for competitive athletes is to undermine and ignore the valuable experiences of people every day, in every domain.
            Yes, athletes face unique challenges. You know who else faces unique challenges? Every single person in every single lifetime. The point is not to minimize the differences in our experiences and the different challenges we all must face. The point is to highlight our similarities; the similarities of being imperfect human beings with ambitions. I’ve heard applied sport & performance psychology commonly defined as something like this:
utilizing scientifically-supported psychological principles to allow individuals to more consistently perform at the top range of their capabilities and to have a more fulfilled performance experience.
            There is no part of that definition that is only applicable to athletics. If you are a living, breathing human being with goals for your future I would bet a lot of money that the principles of confidence building, stress management, focus, and goal-setting apply to you too. Sure, it’s important for an athlete to maintain their stress levels to shoot a free-throw. But is it not also important for a firefighter to maintain his or her stress in order to save lives? Sure, it’s important for an athlete to have the confidence to face a bigger, faster opponent. But is it not also important for a young entrepreneur to have the confidence to pitch their passion project to investors? The point is this; drop the “sport” from sport & performance psychology and you’ve suddenly appealed to the entire world.
            Traditional psychology, at least in the way most people understand it, requires you to have a serious “problem” to be in need of services. Seeking out a mental health professional is reserved for the most traumatic of experiences or for when we’ve finally exhausted all of our other resources and we’re ready to make that hail-mary pass for fulfillment. But performance psychology asks you to take a different perspective, and I challenge you to do the same. You do not have to have a “problem” to benefit from centuries of research in psychology. Performance psychology asks for you to be a success-chaser, not a failure-avoider.
            This is what I like to call “everyday resilience”- the recognition that even life’s most seemingly mundane tasks can require us to tap into our inner athlete or our inner performer. You do not need to have a competitive outlet to discover the power of confidence, focus, stress management, and motivation. If you’ve ever laid awake in bed unable to stop thinking about your job, you can benefit from performance psychology. If you’ve ever found yourself distracted and unable to complete your work efficiently, you can benefit from performance psychology. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to follow through on your goals and dreams, you can also benefit from performance psychology.
            My days of being a competitive athlete are far behind me. But I have the fortune, and you could too, of living the life of a competitive athlete through a demonstration of everyday resilience. I challenge readers of this article to reflect on the level of athleticism in their lives; not physically, but in the way in which you prioritize personal growth and success-chasing. Make your career, or your family, or simply your happiness the competition of your life; and by cultivating the mental skills used by performers to win competition, you just may also find yourself with a win. 

Strength & Conditioning: An Opportunity for Physical and Mental Strength

By Katarina Miller - August 7, 2018

Strength & Conditioning: An Opportunity for Physical and Mental Strength
One of my favorite aspects of performance psychology is its relevance to almost everything we do in our lives. And because of this relevance, there are boundless opportunities to practice our mental skills for our benefit both inside and outside of sport. When I work with athletes, one of the greatest opportunities to facilitate the growth of mental skills is when coaches and trainers actively participate in reinforcing the work I’ve already done with their athletes. One of the ways I’ve commonly found this done successfully is in the integration of mental skills training with strength-and-conditioning (S&C). There are two overarching benefits of explicitly utilizing S&C as an extension of mental skills training:
  1. S&C provides an opportunity to practice transferring mental-skills to life outside of direct sport performance
  2. S&C provides an opportunity to reinforce and strengthen previously learned mental skills
            For the purpose of this article, I will clarify that I am using the term strength-and-conditioning somewhat loosely; I am referring to any cross-training that an athlete may do to supplement the sport-specific skills they practice.
Life Skills Transfer
            One of the greatest benefits of the work I do is that it provides individuals with the mindset necessary to succeed in their performance platform, but also in life beyond. That being said, research has shown that the transfer is not necessarily immediate; coaches and trainers of all kinds need to provide opportunities for practice in order for this to happen successfully. S&C can be a great place for coaches to practice this life-skill transfer with their athletes because it is still an environment that is under their control. As opposed to encouraging your athletes to simply find ways at home to practice their mental skills, this is a chance to actively participate in the development of life-skills transfer. Furthermore, having the ability to be flexible in mental skills training and utilize mental skills in different contexts demonstrates a deeper understanding of said skill; this can allow the athlete to ultimately be able to more efficiently and effectively use those skills in competition when it matters the most.
Reinforcing Mental Skills   
            S&C can be a great place to reinforce the mental skills your athlete is learning because the activity is not dissimilar to the activity of practicing the skills specific to their sport. For example, the challenges of running for the duration of a soccer game are similar to the challenges of running sprint drills. And the challenges of tackling an opponent to the ground in a football game has similarities to the challenges of heavy resistance-training. If I ask an athlete to practice their focus skills during practice, I’d bet there’s something similar they’re doing in the weight-room that would provide an equally effective opportunity for practice. The whole idea is that just as S&C supplements the physical skills needed on the playing field, mental skills practiced in the weight-room can supplement the mental skills needed in competition.
            So, let’s get a little more practical and specific; what are some of the mental skills that transfer easily to S&C? I first and foremost suggest consulting with your athletes’ mental skills coach to capitalize the most on integrating your training, but here is some food-for-thought on how you might be able to achieve this.
  • Goal-setting: the same principles that your athletes can use to set appropriate goals for their athletic performance can also be used to set goals in S&C. Goals that are specific, measurable, track-able, etc. are valuable for both contexts.
  • Focus: one challenge I see often in athletes is keeping their minds focused in the right place. With all of the responsibilities we hold in our lives, it’s easy for our minds to be pre-occupied with something other than the task at hand. I often teach mindfulness, the practice of training your mind to be focused on the present-moment, to athletes to combat this challenge. S&C is also an environment that requires present-moment focus, not only for effective training but also for safety. Placing your focus on muscle contractions, on your form, on your breathing, etc. are all ways to reinforce a mindful-focus.
  • Arousal regulation: Add some intentional breathing practice to your S&C programming; not only for the physical benefits of bringing oxygen to your muscles efficiently, but also for the mental benefit of gaining some control over your body’s physiological responses. This doesn’t have to take time away from their physical training, simple cues and reminders in-between sets or drills to use breathing as a mechanism to maintain energy and control can be powerful.
  • Self-talk: we talk to ourselves, one way or another, almost constantly. Because of this, self-talk can be practiced in virtually any environment. Fatigue and self-doubt are great examples of stressors that may prompt negative self-talk in both competition and the training environment; when you notice your athletes getting particularly tired this is a good chance to remind them to check the way their talking to themselves.
            As a closing note, I will acknowledge that the primary purpose of S&C is not necessarily to build mental skills. Strength-and-conditioning coaches and those in similar roles serve a particular purpose to their athletes, and I will not try to take away from that to achieve my agenda. However, building effective and flexible mental skills that benefit performance are most quickly built when the entire system surrounding an athlete looks for ways to support said skills. Having all hands-on-deck can create the fastest route to developing valuable mental skills and including strength-and-conditioning coaches will only capitalize on that effect.

Creating Accountable Kids

A blog for parents

By Katarina Miller - July 24, 2018

Creating Accountable Kids
As a follow-up to our previous blog discussing a parent’s role during their children’s training, I want to switch gears to the parents’ role in a different environment. Parents do not always fall-in-love with the idea of their hands being off-the-reigns during their children’s training. But one thing that I like to heavily emphasize with parents is that practice times are only one piece of the puzzle in a young athlete’s life; and to act like their influence at home doesn’t impact athletic performance would be to ignore an opportunity to help facilitate success.  Because of this, one way to frame your perspective on your child’s training is to think of the multitude of opportunities you have as a parent to complement what their coaches are already doing.  And notice I said complement; not supplement. I am not suggesting that at home you get to become an additional coach by adding to their training regime, but instead think of the unique experiences you share as parent and child and how you can capitalize on those moments.
Parents Role at Home
  • Accountability to training: This might be simple and intuitive, but it is still worth mentioning. When I say keep your children accountable to their training, I’m referring to all the practical and logistical ways you can support their physical training from home. Think of all the things that a coach is probably telling their athletes to do after practice, but do not get to reinforce because they’re not at home with their athletes. This can mean providing meals with the right nutritional value to support their body’s needs, this can mean structuring your household “rules” to ensure healthy sleep schedules, or this could mean reminding your child to review the mental skills their performance coach taught them.
  • Accountability to values: Everybody demonstrates a set of values through their behavior, whether we are aware of it or not. What are the values that we want to see in our athletes? Determination, discipline, respect, integrity, sportsmanship, etc. are all common answers unsurprisingly; who wouldn't want their young athlete to develop in to a determined, hard-working, adult with respect for those around them? Unfortunately, we often assume the athletic experience will take care of developing these values without any real intention or effort on the Homefront. Instilling positive values is important for athletic performance because it can provide purpose to the athlete, motivation, and become a guide for navigating tough decisions that can distract us from our goals.
In one of my favorite books, The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor tells a story that I think demonstrates the importance of value-driven decision making. The story is about Southwest Airlines; many of us are familiar with this airline, and I know many people who fly solely with Southwest for one specific reason. Achor describes that when Southwest Airlines was started, their number one value was being low-cost. No matter what decisions they made for their company, they wanted low-costs to be the goal in mind. Southwest Airlines allows you to re-schedule flights at no cost. Why? Because it aligns with their value. Southwest Airlines does not provide meals on their flights. Why? Because it keeps costs down and aligns with their values. Southwest Airlines does not charge for a carry-on bag. Why? Because it aligns with their values. Southwest put their value at the forefront of all of their decision-making, and because of that they have earned their reputation accordingly.
I challenge parents to reflect on the values they’re hoping their child brings to the playing field. What value is defining the type of athlete you are raising? The decisions your child makes surrounding their sports are only drop in the bucket of all the challenging decisions we face in life. And learning how to use values to guide decision-making at home can help transfer the same ability to the playing field.  Here are a couple quick tips for establishing value-driven behavior in your home:
  • Identify values: Identify 2 or 3 core values that you want to drive the behavior of yourself and your children; not only in sport but in school, work, relationships, etc.
  • Define values: Define what those values mean to you and your family in terms of specific behavior.  For example, if respect is a value that you want your young athlete to abide by maybe you define it through behavior such as arriving on time to practices and following referee calls. Or if discipline is a value you choose, maybe some specific behaviors that reinforce that are following a consistent sleep pattern and finishing school-work before any social events.
  • Commit to values: Structure the “rules” of your household around the values you hope to develop, and when you need to provide consequences for poor behavior use it as an opportunity to start a conversation about the values we display. Furthermore, commit to these values not only at home and in sport but also in school, at work, with their friends, etc. I even encourage families to place a visual reminder of their values somewhere in the home; the reminder never hurts.
  • Accountability through feedback: In our last blog post, I talked a little bit about the need for parents to provide the appropriate feedback to their children during training. The same concepts can apply to the home environment; instead of providing feedback that is directed at specific skill development or performance results, provide feedback that is directed at effort and attitude. At home however, I want parents to think about the opportunities to provide this type of feedback that is not sport-related. Maybe your child comes home from school and is disappointed in their performance on a speech; use this as an opportunity to encourage them to work hard and put in the effort to improve for next time. This consistency in the type of feedback you provide your child, across life’s domains and not just in sport, will strengthen their ability to transfer that growth-oriented perspective into training and competition.
  • Accountability through modeling: Lastly, keep in mind that you are most likely the most influential adult in your child’s life. The way that you behave- the way you treat people, the way you take care of your body, the way you speak- is modeled to your child consistently. If you are going to expect your child to act a certain way, you need to be actively looking for ways to model that behavior for your child. And just as importantly, reflect on any behaviors you engage in that undermine that desired behavior. If you expect your young athlete to treat their coaches and referees with respect, yelling at the customer service representative over the phone will model the opposite. If you want your young athlete to have discipline, completing their homework for them so they have more time for sport practice will model the opposite. Take an honest look at the way you model behavior for your children and make any adjustments accordingly.
            As I stated before parents have so many unique opportunities to reinforce and strengthen the training that their children are already receiving, and to be unintentional in capitalizing on those opportunities is a misstep in my opinion. It’s this kind of dedication to the holistic development of a young athlete that will set them up for success not only in their competitive ambitions, but also in any other goal-drive pursuit life presents them. 

Becoming A Productive Force For Your Athlete's Training

A blog for parents

By Katarina Miller - July 16, 2018

Becoming A Productive Force For Your Athlete's Training
In sport psychology, it is intuitive that I work with athletes and their coaches. But one area that can be overlooked when considering an athlete’s potential success is looking at their parents’ role. Sport parents are some of the most passionate and invested people I’ve come across; there is nothing quite like the joy of seeing your child reach their potential, and nothing quite like the ache of watching them stumble. Unfortunately, even the most well-intentioned parents often misguide their efforts when trying to encourage their young athletes’ development. But with the help of what we know from psychology and a little bit of intention, parents can capitalize on their potential to be a positive influence in their young athlete’s development.
Parents Role in Training & Competition
            One of the most common sources of conflict I’ve seen between parents, coaches, and athletes is when the parents’ role in the training process is muddled. And psychological research supports that experience. In a series of studies on tennis players, it was found that athletes commonly cited negative parenting behaviors as including interfering with training, demanding too much of coaches’ time, and being too involved in technical development. On the positive side of that coin, research has also shown that athletes perceive a positive experience when their parents provide comment on effort and attitude, as well as motivational and emotional support. So how can we boil this down in a practical way?
  • Let coaches do their jobs. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but when you committed to a coach training your child you committed to them being the technical, tactical expert in your child’s life. And that means, when it comes to the technical skills of your child’s sport, you need to allow coaches to do their jobs. An environment of trust is important in the coaching-athlete relationship, and a parent can either facilitate that trust or diminish it. Questioning a coach’s training methods, contradicting a coach’s feedback, and demanding input into your child’s place on a team are all ways to diminish that trust. And if it is impossible for you as a parent to place that level of trust in the people providing training for your child, it may be valuable to reflect on the goodness-of-fit in that relationship.
  • Provide practical support. Don’t underestimate the influence it has on your child when you provide the practical support they need; transportation, proper meals, financial support. This is another way in which the parents’ role can be separate from the coaches and it is still meaningful in the individual’s development. In a study of elite canoeing, athletes actually cited practical support from their parents as being influential because it allowed for them to focus more fully on their training.
  • Feedback during training. I’ve started to notice a trend in youth sports in which parents’ communication with their children during training are either limited or banned completely. I think this trend speaks to a larger issue: parents consistently misguiding their efforts in supporting their child’s training.  Again, remember your role as a parent as opposed to the coach. Training is the coach’s time to do their job, which includes giving corrective feedback in order to master skills. As a parent refrain from giving any type of feedback until it is not a distraction to the coach’s corrections and instruction. And when your input no longer takes away from your child’s training, focus the content of your feedback on effort and attitude.
  • Handling results. If there was ever a time for a parent to practice their role-modeling skills, it’s when their children face “failure”.  Yes, everyone wants to win. No, it isn’t fun to lose. But your child is more than an athlete, and their sport experience is more than wins and losses. In the face of both success and failure, focus on the effort that was put into play and any growth you witnessed. I also encourage parents to do their best to leave the results at the field; it is valuable to reflect and it is valuable to find ways to improve, but again this is the coach’s job in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to the technical skills of the sport.
            It is vitally important to remember as a parent that you have an opportunity to complement the training your child is receiving and you do not need to distract from it, add to it, or question its effectiveness. Over-burdening your child with unnecessary input or challenging the trust they have with their coach can only lead to negative consequences, like burn-out and performance anxiety. While this post was dedicated to the ways a parent can be effective in the training context, the home context will later be explored in more detail. Training and competition are integral parts of athletic environment, but it is important not to overlook a parent’s opportunity and unique role in the home as well.
Gould, D., Lauer. L., Rolo, C., Jannes, C., & Pennisi, N. (2006). Understanding the role parents               play in tennis success: a national survey of youth tennis coaches. British Journal of                Sports Medicine, 40, 632-636. doi:10.1136/ bjsm.2005.024927
Gould, D., Lauer. L., Rolo, C., Jannes, C., & Pennisi, N. (2008). Understanding the role parents               play in tennis success: focus group interviews with youth coaches. The Sport                              Psychologist, 22, 18-37.
Knight, C., Little, G., Harwood, C., & Goodger, K. (2015). Parental involvement in elite junior                slalom canoeing. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 28, 234-256. doi:                                                10.1080/10413200.2015.1111273