Tag Archives: performing under pressure

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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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.

* * * * *

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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