Tag Archives: mental toughness

Golf Channel interview on Golf in America

This summer, Geoff Miller was interviewed as part of story on a young golfer named Amari Avery.  The story aired on the Golf Channel’s sports documentary series, Golf in America.  Avery is just six years old and many are already comparing her to Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie.  Miller’s involvement was to help viewers understand more about the pressure placed on youth athletes, the dangers of burnout, and the impact of labeling young stars as “prodigies.”

Here is the full video segment from the Golf in America Episode:

Click Here for Episode

In addition to the video, here are some important topics that were discussed and commentary from Geoff Miller:

1. The using of the word “prodigy”

I don’t know that it matters if a young athlete is called a “prodigy” or not, at least unless we’re thinking about who is using the word prodigy and how much the child him or herself understands what it means.  I could see positives and negatives associated with the word and I think that the way it is defined and explained to a child is more important than whether or not it is used.

For example, let’s say a young athlete develops such a following that articles are written and news stories are aired about that athlete.  And in those stories, the term “prodigy” is used and the parents have never used the word with their child.  The child asks what “prodigy” means and the parents explain that it means that you have a special talent at a young age, that people are always interested in knowing who the next great athlete could be, and they wonder if you’re this good now, how good you might be when you are grown up?  The parents might continue explaining that it is an honor to be called a prodigy, but that it doesn’t mean more or less to be called one, because you still have to work hard for a long time for what you want and someone calling you a prodigy doesn’t make it easier or harder for you to accomplish your goals.

That seems like a positive outcome from the use of the word “prodigy”, but it is also an example of other people calling the athlete one, not the parents or the athletes themselves.  If a family were to call their own child a prodigy or to teach their kids to think they might be prodigies, I have a harder time coming up with positive outcomes.  In general, I believe that the positive takeaway from using the word “prodigy” would be inspiration and a desire to continue working to fulfill this promise.  The negative would be in placing undue pressure on a child or the child placing undue pressure on him or herself to live up to great expectations.  There is also a sense of humility that could be lost in thinking a young athlete is a prodigy.  There have been plenty of prodigies who haven’t made good on their potential. And there have been plenty of late bloomers who have surprised the world with their greatness.

This is also a great lesson in controlling what you can control. We don’t get to decide what other people say or write about us, so we can’t let that influence how we see ourselves or how we go about our business.  Being called a prodigy is a nice introduction to learning to handle outside pressures and expectations at an early age.

2. Labeling kids too early in life, making sure there is a balance in their lives

I really believe you can always find positives and negatives in any of these situations.  Of course you don’t want to pigeon-hole anyone or keep them from experiencing the diversity of life, but at the same time, it’s nice to be able to develop pride and an identity in something you do well. Balance is definitely the key word there and there has to be enough freedom for kids to see what they like to do and try sports, music, history, science, anything else that might be of interest. And the most important part of developing an identity in your sport may be to make sure that your child feels like he or she can be successful no matter what they do, without developing a belief that playing this sport is the only thing they can do.

I’ve met too many adult athletes who have told me that if they weren’t good at their sport, they wouldn’t know what they would be doing with their lives.  That’s not something I would want for my child, no matter how talented he or she was in a sport.

3. The pressure that children deal with when given the “prodigy” label

In my experience, children who are serious about their sports put extra pressure on themselves no matter what labels are placed on them or how supportive and encouraging their parents are with them. I’ve met many parents who tell me they would be perfectly happy for their children to give up their sport at any time if that’s what they wanted.  But kids understand how much time, effort, and money their parents are spending on lessons, training, tournament play, and travel and they often internalize the need to “make good” on all that effort.

4. The role of the parents

Obviously, parents need to be supportive, encouraging, and affectionate regardless of how their children perform.  But beyond the obvious, I think that the most important role the parents of young, talented athletes can play is in teaching their kids how to be professional in handling their success.  They should be humble and gracious in victory and defeat. They should be proactive in educating their children on what words like “prodigy” mean and why they are important to so many people who follow sports or achievement in any area. I believe that parents can have profound influence on helping their children develop character and leadership skills, the ones we all think are natural byproducts of playing sports.

5. Potential burnout

Burnout happens when someone doesn’t enjoy what they are doing anymore.  Getting kids started in sports and having them concentrate on only that sport can certainly lead to burnout, but it can just as easily create a lifelong love of the sport.  My advice would be to check in with your child on a regular basis to make sure that he or she is enjoying the activity.  That way, you can change the pace of training, take a break, play another sport for a while, or try to make your primary sport more fun.  As long as kids are having fun and they have a chance to experience some other things in life so they can compare the fun they are having with other opportunities, I don’t see any harm in putting a lot of time and effort into one sport or activity.

For more information on Winning Mind programs for athletes and executives, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com.

Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, is now available!

Click here for more information


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Building Mental Toughness Workshop at San Diego Hall of Champions

The San Diego Hall of Champions honors the greatest athletes in the history of our city. So there can be no better venue for helping today’s athletes learn what it takes to be great.

Geoff Miller, a partner at Winning Mind, LLC, presents “Building Mental Toughness” at the Hall of Champions on Monday, June 21 from 6:30-7:30pm.  Miller offers this free workshop on building mental toughness to high school athletic programs in all sports around San Diego county.  The workshop is designed to help high school and collegiate student-athletes, coaches, and parents learn how to develop mental skills for better on-field performance.  Topics include the effects of pressure on concentration, identifying critical mental game factors, dealing with failure, and strategies for performing under pressure.

Located in the historic Federal Building in Balboa Park since 1999, The San Diego Hall of Champions is the nation’s largest multi-sport museum. Boasting three levels of memorabilia and 68,000 square feet, the museum offers a state-of-the-art theatre, an interactive media center and fascinating displays on the nation’s favorite sports. Exhibits cover high school to pro sports from traditional sports of baseball and football to exhibits for Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, Surfing Legends, Action Sports and Challenged Athletes.

Winning Mind (www.thewinningmind.com) is a high-performance consulting company based in San Diego and dedicated to helping people perform under pressure in corporate, sport, and military settings.  Winning Mind clients include the Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, Liverpool FC, Manchester City FC, New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, individual athletes from the US Olympic team, NFL, WTA, PGA, and many aspiring amateurs in all sports.

Geoff Miller is the Mental Skills Coach for the Washington Nationals organization and has spent six seasons working in Major League Baseball.  He directs all of Winning Mind’s sport business and provides support for corporate training, teaming, and leadership workshops.

To RSVP, for more information on Winning Mind’s individual and group programs, or to arrange for a free Building Mental Toughness workshop at your school or sports club, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com.

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Should Parents Hold Their Kids Back In School For Competitive Advantages In Sports?

Last May, I did an interview on The Scott and BR Show on XX 1090 sports talk radio in San Diego.  The topic of discussion was whether or not parents holding back their kids in school was the right thing to do for their development as athletes.  We discussed the implications of the practice of starting kids a year later in Kindergarten or even transferring middle schools and repeating 8th Grade with the purpose being to enter high school a year older than the rest of that student’s peers. This topic was of interest at the time because San Diego basketball star, Jeremy Tyler’s, decision to leave school and sign a professional contract in Europe while waiting to be eligible for the NBA draft.  That topic is again in the news since Tyler chose to leave his team in Israel and return to the United States.

You can listen to the full interview here:

Scott and BR Show interview with Geoff Miller

For more information on Winning Mind programs for athletes and executives, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com.

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Bend Fitness and Winning Mind Announce Mind/Body Clinic for Youth Athletes

Bend Fitness and Winning Mind Announce Mind/Body Clinic for Youth Athletes

(March 15, 2010 – San Diego) A local strength and conditioning center and a sports psychology consulting group have teamed up to produce a Mind/Body Clinic for youth athletes in San Diego.  The clinic consists of two thirty-minute sessions that teach athletes from ages 10-14 how to improve physical strength and develop mental toughness.

Jeff Rose is a trainer at Bend Fitness in La Mesa and is the head strength and conditioning coach at Francis Parker Upper School.  He has spent the last ten years refining a program that integrates core strength with weighted cardio. Rose was a local high school and college athlete and he has trained many youth athletes who have gone on to play Division I sports.  Bend Fitness is owned by Greg Clark, a McDonald’s High School All-American who played basketball at the University of Washington.  Clark is the younger brother of 15-year Major League veteran, Tony Clark. Rose will teach clinic participants proper stretching and conditioning while taking them through a series of simple strength-building exercises.

Geoff Miller is a partner at San Diego-based Winning Mind, LLC, a company that helps Fortune 500 executives, professional and Olympic athletes, and special forces military units perform under pressure.  Miller spent five years as the Mental Skills Coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Winning Mind sport clients include English Premier League soccer teams, NHL teams, and individual athletes in golf, tennis, basketball, football, and track and field.  Miller conducts workshops on Building Mental Toughness and has adapted his content to suit a youth audience.  Mental toughness topics include making learning permanent, learning to use visualization and goal-setting, and strategies for dealing with failure.

“Youth sports have become serious and competitive and we wanted to support the young athletes in our community with a program that matched that importance,” says Rose. “With more kids playing their sports year-round, traveling around the country to play in tournaments, and competing for fewer college scholarships, every advantage is critical.  Our Mind/Body Clinic is meant to help prepare aspiring athletes for these challenges and to enjoy themselves in the process.”

Mind/Body Clinics will be launched on Saturday afternoons at Bend Fitness.  Space is limited to 20 participants per time slot, with three clinics scheduled each day.  Cost is $30/person.  For more information, including registration information and clinic schedules, please contact Geoff Miller at 619.255.5250 or miller@thewinningmind.com.


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Missed Field Goals: Kicking System Interview

John Matich is the owner of Kicking System (www.kickingsystem.com), a local resource for kickers and punters from high school to the NFL.  He interviewed me for a story on the NFL Scouting Combine that he ran on his blog and he has agreed to let me post the interview in its entirety on www.sandiegosportspsychology.com as well.  I’m including the original link to the interview so you can get more information on John and Kicking System.


I always find the NFL Combine an interesting topic of conversation and this was a fun interview.  John Matich is a former kicker at Boston College who has been through the combine, has been in NFL training camps, and has experienced the pressure of having his team’s success or failure depend on his kick at the end of a game.  Missed field goals have been on the minds of so many San Diegans in the last month and I’m glad to have had a chance to offer some thoughts on the subject.

John Matich: This year was an “off” year for kickers & punters in the NFL.  Why do you think that is?

Geoff Miller:It’s hard for me to speculate as to why so many kickers and punters performed worse this year than in other years, but in general, I think the increased scrutiny on every game and every kick is a contributor.  Some of that scrutiny comes from media, fans, and even teammates and coaches and some of it’s self-imposed.  I work with athletes in a number of sports and the advances in technology, video analysis, measurement, and strength and conditioning have made it so that every last detail can be studied and improved. Kicking a football is not a skill that can be executed perfectly 100% of the time, but that’s the expectation and it’s an unrealistic one.  I see too many athletes making mistakes because they get overly focused on being perfect in their mechanics rather than just going out on the field and competing.  I’m not saying that the advanced techniques aren’t important, but I do think they contribute to kickers and punters (and golfers and pitchers, etc.) overcomplicating the game.”

JM: The testing methods they use for kicking at the combine are over 15 years old.  What would suggest as some new testing measures for kickers? David Buehler, Dallas Cowboys kicker, set a record for a kicker in the bench press last year, are those tests necessary?

GM:I’m not in a position to speak on the testing methods for the combine, but my advice for measuring the potential of kickers in any setting would be to find out as much as possible about how they handle pressure.  That should be done by simulating game conditions as much as possible and through having kickers compete against each other as well.”

JM: How would you test the “mental” side of the game?

GM:We have an assessment that we use with professional and Olympic athletes to identify the critical mental game factors that predict performance under pressure.  This assessment is called TAIS, which stands for The Attentional and Interpersonal Style, and we are able to directly measure how people concentrate, where they get distracted, and general personality characteristics that tell us how and when people will experience pressure.  When people are comfortable and confident, they are able to be focused and this allows them to execute their skills.  When people feel pressure, it affects the way they concentrate and makes execution more difficult. So we are often asked by professional sports teams to evaluate potential draft picks using TAIS and we outline for players and teams the mental game strengths of each player and the potential challenges players will face when they encounter pressure or have to deal with failure.”

JM: Do you recommend any certain type of tests for kickers?

GM: “I would certainly recommend that kickers prepare mentally and learn as much about themselves as possible in advance of the combine.  Most of my use with TAIS is not done on the scouting side, but for player development.  We use TAIS to design specific programs for athletes to help them improve their performance under pressure.  And I have worked with football players to help them prepare for the pressure of the combine experience itself.  The combine has become so important to draft status that some players place too much pressure on themselves to “do well” during that weekend and that added burden impacts their speed, strength, and agility in drills, hurts their test-taking abilities which impacts their Wonderlic scores, and makes them more nervous during their interviews.”

JM:  What are your thoughts on San Diego Charger kicker Nate Kaeding? Why did he miss three field goals in the playoffs against the Jets?

GM:Living in San Diego, I’ve been asked about Nate Kaeding a lot in the last month.  As I mentioned in my first answer, it isn’t appropriate for me to speculate on why Nate missed those kicks.  But this example of a great kicker who has missed in multiple playoff attempts demonstrates the importance of the mental game in sport.  Obviously, this is someone with elite level physical talent and something has kept him from displaying that talent when the season is on the line. And it brings to mind an example I use called “the downward spiral.”  An athlete finds himself in a pressure situation and makes a mistake.  He has trouble letting go of the mistake and instead of focusing on his NEXT opportunity to succeed; he stays focused on the LAST play that didn’t go well. This makes it more difficult to focus and another mistake is made, which increases the pressure, and so on and so on.”

JM: Do you recommend kickers working with someone such as yourself?  How often? How can it help?

GM: “Not only do I think kickers should be working with sports psychology professionals, the most important message I would want to convey is that this is not something that should only be done when an athlete has a problem.  The best way to get the most out of yourself as an athlete is to learn the complexities that make you who you are so you can be prepared for pressure, failure, competition, and success, too.  When I work with athletes it is typically to help them make sure that they maximize the tremendous potential that they possess, not to help them “get out of a slump”.  I’ve worked with some athletes for a month and some for five years, but for kickers out there who want to get started, I think a realistic expectation would be to plan for 3-6 months.  We call our services at Winning Mind “performance coaching” and we typically meet with our athletes every other week for an hour at a time.  There are many ways a performance-coaching program can help, but my simple explanation is that performance coaching helps you to:

1. Know who you are

2. Know what you want

3. Know what to do when you don’t get what you want

4. Know what to do in the meantime while you’re figuring those things out”

· · ·

If you are interested in taking TAIS or for more information on Winning Mind performance coaching programs for individuals and teams, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com

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Case Study: Stressed Out Athletes

Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, is now available!

Click here for more information


From time to time, I will be posting case studies that include sample data from our TAIS inventory.  TAIS stands for The Attentional and Interpersonal Style inventory and we use it with all of our coaching clients in corporate, sport, and military settings.  In my work with elite athletes, aspiring amateurs, Major League Baseball players, and teams, I use TAIS to help players identify their mental game strengths and weaknesses, then use TAIS data to help them shape performance improvement plans.  On the scouting side, I use TAIS to evaluate potential draft picks, which are not used in a “thumbs up, thumbs down” fashion, but more to help provide another level of detail on who the player is on and off the field, how he will handle failure and pressure, and the best ways to help each player develop skills and learn the game.  This case study is on an extremely stressed out football player who was having trouble getting his performance back on track.  I’m including only a sampling of TAIS scales (there are twenty factors that are measured when someone takes TAIS and a brief description on each so you can understand the context of the case.  Learning a bit about this athlete may help you if you have athletes like the one I’m profiling here.

Case Study:  D
Sport: Football
Biggest Derailer:  Stress
Comparison Group: World Champions

My normal approach when reviewing a profile is to look for key concentration strengths, find out strong personality factors, and pinpoint potential derailers so I can understand who the athlete is and predict where he or she will struggle in pressure situations.  However, when I see a profile like this one, my approach changes.

D was a college football player at a major Division I school and he contacted me because he only had one more year of eligibility and while he had performed well at times, his career had more ups and downs than he had hoped and he had never been able to play at a consistently high level.  He was worried about playing in the NFL, he was worried that he was going to let down his parents, coaches, and teammates, and he was worried that he was going to look back on his career and wonder why he didn’t live up to the expectations he had for himself.  My first order of business was to help him get back in control of his emotions and to reduce his stress level.


Take a look at D’s Awareness and External Distractibility scores.  Notice how different they are from the average Awareness and Distractibility scores of world champion athletes (as shown in the gray shaded areas.)  Then take notice that the same patterns are true for Analysis and Internal Distractibility and Action and Reduced Flexibility.  This pattern of scores tells me that the athlete is overwhelmed by his environment, by his thoughts, and by his emotions.  He can’t think, he can’t focus, and he doesn’t feel in control of anything going on in his life.  This is also reflected in D’s low Control score.  It was easy for me to see that D was feeling stressed out.

Social Style

On Extroversion, D scored 36% and on Introversion, he scored 99%.  In general, there are times when D enjoyed being around others, but for the most part, he was a private, guarded person who needed personal space.  Team sports are much less stressful on people who need to be around others and seek out social situations.  However, I’ve worked with many introverted athletes who mostly enjoy the atmosphere of sharing so much of their time and their lives with their teammates.  What I usually hear from those athletes is that they are comfortable socially with their teammates, but they don’t let many people in too close.  They save most of their stronger friendships for people outside their sport.  D was a trusting person, but he didn’t confide much in teammates or coaches.

Communication Style

When discussing pleasant topics or good performances, D was open and talkative.  But he was quiet and unwilling to discuss tough situations or the discomfort he was experiencing with others.  When it came to volunteering information, D was a closed book, which made it tougher on teammates, coaches, family and friends to know how much stress and anxiety he was experiencing.


My strategy with D was to get him more comfortable developing a support system among people who were close to him.  We outlined a list of topics that he would be comfortable discussing with his girlfriend, another list that he felt like he could discuss with his position coach, and another that he could share with a few teammates who he felt closest to.  In getting some of his worries off his chest, D was able to sort through them in his head.  By hearing from teammates and coaches he hadn’t opened up to before, he saw that he didn’t have as much to worry about as he had built up in his mind.  We discussed how this communication process would help to expand his comfort zones and make it easier for him to share information with others in the future.  Then we worked on taking control of his game again.  Instead of measuring his success by the results he got in games, he would only focus on his effort.  He would rate his effort in practices and in games and each week, he would give himself a score on a scale of 1 to 10.  Effort was something he had 100% control over and he knew he could achieve this goal every time he put on his pads.  And as a talented athlete, if he gave his best and didn’t get the results he wanted, he would know that there was nothing else he could have done about it, which helped him stop second-guessing his play.

D’s improved communication with people close to him relieved stress and helped him stay focused on working hard each day instead of worrying about the future.  His focus on effort instead of results gave him back the control he was looking for, which made him more confident and more comfortable on the field.

If you are interested in taking TAIS or for more information on Winning Mind performance coaching programs for individuals and teams, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com

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Venus vs. Serena Williams

Marc Sagal, Managing Partner of Winning Mind, LLC contributed to this story on the rivalry between the Williams sisters.

Williams vs. Williams, A No-Win Situation?

By Teresa Thompson

Dominating the tour with booming forehands, backhands, and serves, Venus and Serena Williams command respect. “The Williams sisters are tough because they have a powerful game and it’s not very common in women’s tennis,” says Ana Ivanovic, who has faced both. Enthusiasts not only enjoy – but expect – powerful performances from Venus and Serena. Winners and aces are not enough; fans say that they want theatrical grunts, jumps and fist pumps, too. Seldom do the sisters disappoint – except, some say, when they meet as opponents.

The Inevitable Encounter

When they’re healthy, happy and focused, Venus and Serena are hard to beat. So if they enter the same tournament there’s a good chance they’ll compete against each other, as they have 21 times between 1998 and 2009. The sisters have evolved into the tour’s only rivalry – that’s great for women’s tennis and American tennis, but some fans say their show is a disappointment. “They look really uncomfortable. Their energy level seems flat, they aren’t animated, and the crowd is even uncomfort-able with the match,” say Dan and Mary Murray of Millcreek, Washington, who watch all of the major tennis events. “They don’t usually bring their A games. Occasionally, they’re entertaining, but more often their matches are riddled

with errors and conservative play,” says fan Scott Kelley, Midlothian, Virginia.

“When the sisters play each other it’s a weird dynamic. Obviously, it’s tough to have the same competitive attitude against a sister you love and who is a good friend,” says fan Barbara Morris, Phoenix, Arizona. Sports psychology experts recognize that the tennis stars have a unique challenge on their hands.

“Each is talented enough to hold a top spot in the rankings. The ebb and flow of the typical tennis rivalry is complicated by the fact that here, one sister’s success means that something is taken away from the other.  Add to that their frequent collaboration as doubles partners, and it’s easy to imagine that each must struggle with a fractured combination of feelings, wishing for each other’s simultaneous success and failure,” says Marc Sagal, sports psychology consultant and Managing Partner at Winning Mind, LLC .

Julie Emmerman, Psy.D., adds, “The trick to competing against friends and relatives is learning how to compartmentalize and separate your personal feelings from the game, and then sustain that focus throughout. And it’s not as easy as it may sound.”

Sagal’s suggestions? “Ignore what other people want or expect and focus on playing their best tennis.”

The Favored Sister

The top-seeded duo last met in the semifinals of the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open, where Venus lost to Serena in three sets. The win secured Serena’s World No. 1 ranking. According to Billie Jean King, the better of the two won. “Serena is better by a slight margin. Venus needs to keep going to the net more with her long wing span.” From a psychological perspective, Serena is no longer intimidated by her older sister, says Jay Granat, Ph.D. “Serena is healthy now and appears to be mentally and physically stronger than Venus. Serena brings greater vision to the court.” While Serena is currently favored to win, some spectators argue that the sister-match is low-intensity and anti-climactic. “I think subconsciously they often play tight against each other, which is probably normal when playing a sibling and close friend under so much pressure,” says Kelley.

“I like to watch them compete against each other and try to figure out who will let who win. I think they predetermine the winner among the family. It’s always a three set match, it seems. If Serena were to be dethroned from her No. 1 ranking by losing, I think Venus probably would let her win,” says fan Tracy Mangione, Austin, Texas.

Sagal disagrees with Mangione. “As a former professional athlete with a brother who I would occasionally compete against, I can say quite confidently that we would play just as hard or harder against each other. I would be surprised if Venus and Serena allowed their sibling dynamics to negatively impact their effort or competitiveness.”

Playing to Win

Venus says every tournament she enters, she enters to win. Following her Key Biscayne loss, Venus said, “Even though she’s my sister I’m still here to win the matches. I did the best I could today.” Serena said it’s never easy to play her big sister. “I always say she’s the toughest player I think on the tour, besides me,

of course. Venus never gives up. She gets a lot of balls back and has a massive serve.” Venus’ fastest serve for the match was 117 miles per hour. Her world record speed is 130. She squeaked two aces by Serena, but recorded 8 and 11 in the two matches prior. She attributed her shortcomings to Serena’s talent. “It was a well-fought match,” said Venus. “I definitely would have liked to have gotten a few more points off my serve. You know, I think my serve wasn’t going as well as I wanted today. But she (Serena) brought a lot of balls back and played tough.” Granat and Emmerman say the sisters have a great respect for competition and would expect their performances to reflect their best. “Serena and Venus view their rivalry as just another tennis match. They are mature professionals who know how to depersonalize the match and focus on the task at hand,” says Granat. “At the elite level,” says Emmerman, “spectators have every reason to anticipate a hard-fought match where the competitors arrive fully prepared to perform at their best.”

Even fans Dan and Mary Murray say the Williams sisters are under a magnifying glass and in a no-win situation. “Venus and Serena are scrutinized so closely and have to defend themselves against a variety of allegations after every match: Is their father, Richard, controlling them? Are they throwing matches? I think they should categorically ignore the questions,” says Mary.

The Show Will Go On

The same tennis enthusiasts that want more energy and determination from the Williams vs Williams matches also say they wouldn’t miss watching their show: “If they meet in the quarters, semis, finals, or whenever, so be it – may the better Williams win,” says Kelley. A Williams match serves up drama, Granat summarizes. “The public enjoys the Williams’ rivalry because it reminds many people of their own contests with their brothers and sisters – it’s a compelling psychodrama for tennis fans and sports fans alike.”

Sagal believes spectators enjoy watching the Williams more than they may know.  “I think they are incredibly gifted athletes and while there may be those who may not care for them personally, at the end of the day, the desire to see great athletes wins out. I also suspect that the Williams sisters are more popular than they may get credit for,” says Sagal.

As the prevailing faces on the women’s tour, Venus, 29, and Serena, 27, are expected to entertain spectators for several years. And while a sister face-off isn’t ideal for some, fans like Mangione say they’ll get used to it: “There will be more sister and brother acts that follow.”

This article was originally published in the Summer 2009 issue of Tennis View Magazine.

For more information on Winning Mind coaching programs for athletes, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com

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Visualization Tips for Soccer Players

Visualization: Tips For Getting More Out of Your Mental Practice

Visualization is the widely-used technique of seeing your performance in your mind.  It can be done simply in passing by closing your eyes and imagining a play or can be used as a central training tool to take the place of physical activity when an athlete is injured or worn down.

We use visualization constantly during the day without realizing we’re using it.  If someone asked you to describe the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and a Wendy’s hamburger, you would have to picture them both in your mind in order to answer.  You’d talk about how McDonald’s hamburgers are perfectly round and most of them have smooth buns instead of Wendy’s square burgers with the cornmeal buns that have lots of texture.  And the more adjectives we use to describe our images, the more vivid they become.

Why Visualization Works

Visualization is effective for two reasons:

1. It strengthens neural pathways, the roads that our brain uses to send out messages to our bodies.  A strong neural pathway is like an exact route you know to get from your house to the airport, the mall, etc.  The more you picture yourself executing your skills, the stronger your neural pathways become until eventually you feel so comfortable playing your game that the movements feel automatic.

2. Our brains see real performance and imagined performance the same. We experience this phenomenon often in our dreams.  For example, you might dream that you are falling and wake up bracing yourself or dream that you are in a panic and wake up sweating.  When you’re awake you might experience a real feeling if someone describes that “perfect thud” you feel on you instep when you strike a shot just right.

Batman and Visualization

When practicing visualization, you should describe the sounds and feelings that go along with swinging the bat, fielding the ball, and throwing pitches.  In comic books, Batman and Superman would beat up the villains by punching them, but to get added effect, the artist would draw in a big POW and BAM.  When a bomb went off, you’d read KABOOM!  These words strengthen our pictures and make our visualization exercises more effective.

Shooting and passing words: Driving shot BOOM, Curving Shot SLICE, Chip shot CHOP, Quick pass POP

Control words: SOFT, FEATHER, STICK

Dribbling words: DANCE, GLIDE, CONTROL

Using Visualization to Build Physical Skills

The biggest obstacle many athletes have with using visualization is NOT that they can’t imagine the details of their performance, but that they can’t see themselves succeeding. For this, we have to reference the difference between process and outcome and separate from using visualization to build confidence and positive attitude.  Visualization to build physical skills should regularly reinforce the execution of the process.  In this way, mechanical processes can become automatic.  Strikers can practice feeling their body drive through the ball when they are shooting – feeling balanced and powerful as they make contact with the ball and follow-through towards the target. Defenders should be focused on the ball — nimble, balanced and ready to quickly dispossess their opponent –their position and angle of approach anticipating where the point of “attack” will be.  Images that are outcome-oriented do have a purpose, but they should be used to help build skills for performing under pressure.

Using Visualization to Perform Under Pressure

Visualization is most commonly used to build confidence and positive attitude.  The stereotypical sport psychology reference involves “seeing yourself” score the game winning goal or make that magical save.  It’s true that picturing what you want to accomplish will help you accomplish more.  But if you really want to become better in pressure situations, then you have to practice seeing yourself get into a jam and then deal with it successfully.

Mental toughness is built through overcoming adversity, not through dominating your competition without being challenged.  Don’t make the mistake of picturing yourself executing your plan successfully without any hiccups along the way.  If you want to get better at controlling your emotions then think about those situations in training or matches where you may encounter specific challenges or pressure. How would you want to feel when taking a decisive penalty kick? Cool, calm, confident? How would you approach the shot? Where would you look? What would your approach to the ball be like?

If you typically have pre-match jitters, then imagine yourself feeling anxious before the game (really get into character). Then, take yourself (visually) through a routine that you’ve developed to help you relax and focus on playing hard and enjoying the match. Maybe all you need is a good pre-game sweat and some time with the ball. Perhaps you’ve learned some breathing techniques that help take the edge off.

If you have a fiery temper, then imagine yourself getting worked up (was there a bad tackle, a series of mistakes…). Then imagine yourself regrouping and calming down. Whatever you are working on, try to create realistic situations with practical ways to improve your performance.

“See You” Later

Remember that the goal we are trying to reach in using the mental game is to know what to do without thinking about it.  Using visualization helps us practice our skills so we are more familiar with them and we feel like we’ve already “seen” our performance happen when it does.

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Geoff Miller is a Partner at Winning Mind, LLC (http://www.thewinningmind.com).  Winning Mind clients include English Premier League teams Liverpool FC and Manchester City.  For more information on Winning Mind programs for building mental toughness, please contact Geoff at miller@thewinningmind.com.

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Geoff Miller to Speak at St. Augustine Baseball Night

Geoff Miller, a partner at Winning Mind, LLC, will be speaking to baseball players, their parents and the coaching staff at St. Augustine High School on Wednesday, January 20.  Miller offers a free workshop on building mental toughness to high school athletic programs in all sports around San Diego county.  The workshop is designed to help high school and collegiate student-athletes, coaches, and parents learn how to teach and develop mental skills for better on-field performance.  Topics include the effects of pressure on concentration, identifying critical mental game factors, dealing with failure, and strategies for performing under pressure.

Winning Mind is a high-performance consulting company based in San Diego and dedicated to helping people perform under pressure in corporate, sport, and military settings.  Winning Mind clients include the Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, Liverpool FC, Manchester City FC, New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, individual athletes from the US Olympic team, NFL, WTA, PGA, and many aspiring amateurs in all sports.

Miller spent 2005-2009 as the Mental Skills Coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and he directs all of Winning Mind’s sport business and provides support for corporate training, teaming, and leadership workshops.

For more information on Winning Mind’s individual and group programs or to arrange for a free Building Mental Toughness workshop at your school or sports club, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com.

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Mental Toughness Training for Golfers

The ability to maintain focus, control emotions and perform under pressure is often the difference between winning and losing. Winning Mind, LLC is a high performance consulting firm dedicated to helping people dramatically improve their ability to perform under pressure.

The Winning Mind Team specializes in identifying and developing Mental Toughness in golfers. We provide bottom-line, practical information based on years of experience working with elite performers in sport. Profile data from our unique WM Assessment process is used to pinpoint your golfers’ strengths and weaknesses and to customize Mental Toughness development plans that improve focus, confidence and commitment on every shot.

The following packages are outlined for golf teams, but they can be customized for golf instruction centers and for individual golfers.

Winning Mind Performance Packages include:

Mental Toughness Training

The first step in developing Mental Toughness. Playing at the top of your game when it really counts requires an understanding of how pressure can negatively impact concentration, emotions and confidence. In this program, your golfers will learn simple techniques that will immediately improve how they handle pressure in any aspect of their game.

Mental Toughness Profiling & Feedback

Your golf team under the microscope. We use our mental game assessment process to develop a complete picture of a player’s psychological strengths and weaknesses. Individual interviews allow for profile debriefs and the setting of developmental goals for improving performance. Coaches gain insights that will help them bring out the best in all their players.

Mental Toughness Development

Ongoing involvement produces lasting changes. We combine Mental Toughness Training and Profiling with one-on-one coaching sessions to develop the complete player. This is the kind of work necessary for a player to take it to the next level.

Mental Toughness Training

Program Length: ½ day

What is Mental Toughness and how does it fit into your golf game? Elite performers in any sport share common mental strengths. They understand the concepts of intensity, focus, confidence, commitment and adaptability. They’ve built these mental elements into every aspect of their performance. Combined with highly developed physical abilities, Mental Toughness becomes the key to championship performance.

Your players will come to appreciate the enormous impact that mental factors have on success and failure. They will see how easily mental mistakes can undermine a solid physical game. Most importantly, they will develop a working knowledge of how pressure creates all sorts of performance headaches. This is a critical first step to mastering techniques for taking care of business when the pressure is on.

For the coach, there is time devoted to trouble-shooting and discussing general strategies for helping golfers improve performance and practice habits.

  1. Learn how elite performers concentrate.
  2. Understand the relationship between paying attention and avoiding mental mistakes.
  3. Learn techniques for improving focus, managing stress and developing confidence.
  4. Q & A session with team.
  5. Coaches troubleshooting session.

Mental Toughness Profiling & Feedback

Program Length: 2-3 days

The Winning Mind Assessment Process is key for developing Mental Toughness. Our performance profiling process combines in-depth player interviews, insights from coaches, and mental game testing. We use The Attentional & Interpersonal Style (TAIS) Inventory to benchmark a player’s mental strengths and weaknesses against those of elite players. This process has improved the performance of Olympic and professional athletes (including amateur and pro golfers from around the world), Navy SEALs, the US Army Special Forces, and Fortune 500 executives. This process has proven especially effective with elite amateur, junior and professional golfers around the world.

Armed with profiles of each of your golfers, we can easily pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses on and off the course. We start with our Mental Toughness Training program and continue with a complete debrief of TAIS results. Players begin to see the implications of high and low scores and how they react under pressure.

Individual player sessions are conducted to provide profile feedback and create a Mental Toughness Development plan. Plans are customized based on profile data to help improve and maintain Focus, confidence, commitment, intensity and adaptability. A final debrief with coaches includes recommendations for ongoing Mental Toughness development and the keys to working optimally with each golfer.

  1. Mental Toughness Training session to provide basic information on performing under pressure.
  2. Winning Mind Profiling Process:
  • Each athlete completes WM Performance Assessment.
  • Individual feedback sessions with athletes to discuss profiles.
  • Feedback session with coaches to talk about bringing out the best in their athletes.

Mental Toughness Development

Program Length: Ongoing

Many golfers who work with us significantly improve their performance after their initial meeting. This isn’t surprising. Becoming aware of important obstacles to peak performance can, by itself, improve one’s game (at least temporarily). But old habits die hard and lasting change can only be made with a commitment to regular mental training. There is no one-minute solution to developing Mental Toughness. Focus, confidence, and commitment that hold up under the toughest conditions are skills that must be built over time.

The WM Development program lasts a minimum of three months, with regularly scheduled sessions every other week (these can be done in person or on the phone). Players and coaches also benefit from on-call service for post-round debriefs, talking through tough times and helping reinforce good habits after successful rounds. We will work with you to get the most out of a player.

  1. Mental Toughness Training.
  2. Mental Toughness Profiling & Feedback.
  3. Ongoing sessions with individuals for Mental Toughness Development targets.
  • Specific objectives outlined with each athlete.
  • Regularly scheduled meetings for long-term performance improvement.
  • On-call service for problem-solving and crisis management.

Program spans three months to one year with lower costs for longer engagements.

For more information, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com

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