Achieving Life-Long Potential – Chapter 3

Achieving Life-Long Potential

Kids Under Construction

A Toolbox for Parents, Coaches and Educators

By Ronn W. Langford


Chapter Three

The Psychology

“Once you label me, you negate me.”
– Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, theologian (1813 – 1855)

An Introduction to Psychology

The first challenge in this area is the perception of what psychology is and what it means to us. As parents, coaches and educators, we may perceive that psychology has more to do with a psychological or behavioral problem, or mental toughness, than having anything to do with the mental affects upon functional performance.

More and more elite athletes are using sports psychologists to help them develop specific mental strategies – for golf, tennis, track and field, football, baseball, and other sports. We are all more familiar with the efficacy of mental strategies in sports, but it is also equally important for young people in the performing arts and other fields of study. The question is – why don’t we do more to help our kids develop mental strategies?

How many of us as parents really put much thought into the psychological impact upon our kids’ life experiences? How often do we really consider how the mental attitude and belief system of our kids is going to impact the quality of their lives for the next 80 or 90 years? How many little league coaches put much thought, effort and strategy into the psychological impact upon the kids they are coaching?

Sports and music and theater are tremendous experiential processes in which kids can learn about preparation, performance, life skills, decision making, handling fear and pressures, and of course the process of learning in general. That is, IF we are absolutely clear in our own minds about what we want them to learn. IF we are focused on what our kids are actually learning about themselves.

We would all agree that we have a tendency to perform at a higher level if we have more confidence in ourselves, and know the importance of our state of mind. If we are excited about what we are doing and learning, and if we are having fun, we can develop a belief system that we can do something because we are doing it better.

We need to ask ourselves: What exactly is a child that I’m coaching … learning? Am I coaching them in how to “trash talk”? To run someone else down? To get “under an opponent’s skin”? That is what they are learning. Is that really what I want my kids to learn?

Recently I was working with a group of about 20 parents with kids who have been defined as “developmentally disabled.” We were discussing and demonstrating some physiological strategies to work with these special kids. We then discussed the importance of psychology relative to the performance of a child, especially special kids with special needs.

It is so easy for a child to put a “label” across their forehead that says “slow learner.” The child is also aware of it and it becomes a part of their belief system.

Every parent in the group could understand the importance of that immediately. One of the fathers spoke up and said something that got everyone’s attention. He said, “Yes, but the psychology of the parents is also critically important.” That opened the eyes of everyone in the room. Each of us agreed that the psychology of the parents is critically important in development of their child, and yet, not often considered.

If you believe that a child must learn something about themselves, and how to relate to others, and what to do to change things when things aren’t going well, you can become very effective. Working with kids in regard to their psychology is not just important; it is critical in their total development.

The Psychology of Performance

Many books have been written on the psychology of performance. Some of them are great! Some of them just “talk about” psychology and the importance of the mental part of the game, or of life. And some – some of the really good ones – have specific strategies for things to DO, not just talk about. Some of the most effective and famous psychologists (such as Wayne Dyer) refer to themselves as “do-do” psychologists. That is, they don’t just talk about it; they believe that if their client does something, through experience, it is more effective.

As parents, I don’t believe that most of us focus on the psychological impact upon our kids when we are teaching and mentoring them. At least, not as much as we could and should. I also believe that coaches and educators MUST become more aware of the psychological impacts upon the kids in their care. This impact upon our children can literally last a lifetime!

Some parents do have an intentional strategy in regard to the development of their kid’s mental capabilities. I am thinking of a young golfer. A young golfer whose identity is built upon the mental game. And the impact of his parents – both of them – upon his mental development. Do you know who I might have in mind? Tiger Wood’s parents worked with him as a child, with the specific intention of developing his mental game, not just a golf swing.

We have also heard parents who thought that yelling and screaming at their kids was a strategy to get them to become mentally tough. Maybe they had good intentions, with an objective of helping their kids perform. When you think about it, it’s hard to believe that parents could actually believe that yelling at their kids would be an appropriate strategy to teach mental training. We probably know why these parents and coaches use that strategy.

Later, we will discuss the psychological impact of this concept upon kids with learning difficulties, as well as typical kids. If we could define some things that would improve their physiological function, it would also change the psychology of these kids. As a child increases physiological function, they have more confidence, and their ability to achieve potential increases.

Strategies to manage our state of mind

A person’s state of mind is a particular mental or emotional condition at a given time. It is usually triggered by a specific situation or set of circumstances. That is, most of the time “states” happen to us or within us by accident, without our personal, conscious direction. We see, hear, feel, or smell something that pulls the trigger to induce a specific state of mind.

This could be from an internal direction, usually triggered within ourselves – an interpretation of something that happened to us in the past. However, sometimes it can be from an external direction, triggered by pressure or the actions of a source outside ourselves, possibly another person.

The thing we need to remember is that a stimulus can have a totally different meaning to you or me, than it has to the kids we are working with. We therefore have a tendency to believe that a specific type of motivation, or the trigger for a particular state of mind, is exactly the thing to do to help our kids, because that stimulus has a specific meaning to us.

Fear, doubt, fatigue, frustration, stress (the bad kind), pressure, anger, and anxiety are some of the negative states of mind. Positive states include confidence, happy, energized, excited, integrated, stress (the good kind), etc. For example, some kids are not very good at handling pressure and taking tests. They probably have not done well in the past. Some kids believe they are prepared, and believe they will do well. They always do well on tests. Their brain can literally recall more because of their state of mind.

Sometimes parents and coaches and educators place tremendous pressure upon a kid’s winning, or a kid’s grades, or upon a team’s performance. This often negatively impacts their performance, and therefore negatively impacts the results. Most importantly, a negative result today teaches kids about what pressure will do to them in the future. They may trigger that “anxiety” state many times during their lives.

Let’s go back inside the portal and look at the process:

If your child has a defined learning difficulty or developmental disorder, I urge you to do some reading and in-depth study on Educational Kinesiology. I believe that coaches and educators should be expected to have at least some basic knowledge of Kinesiology.

The value of grades or winning or recognitions becomes such an important thing that it loses its true meaning. It becomes something we don’t really want. As parents, I know that we want our kids to perform well, but we need to think about what we may be communicating to our kids. They want our approval more than anything.

Kids who are not successful in doing or achieving a specific thing that is important to them may have a tendency to give up. Or to blame others. We all have friends or family that do this.

This experience can also impact our kids’ personal belief system. It is not unusual to read about kids who commit suicide as the result of getting a bad grade, or losing, or being embarrassed, or not getting what they want because the result means something (to them) that is far beyond a reasonable perception.

The important thing is to realize that a child’s state of mind is critical to his/her performance. It is important for kids to learn that they need to “let go” of a mistake or a loss. They need to learn the concept; why this is important; why focusing upon the mistake causes a problem; why being trusted is important.

We need to continually remember – performance is not the effect, it is what causes the effect. If a kid’s state of mind is “fear” – of losing, or failing, or winning, or anger, or anxiety, or stress (the bad kind) – they will not consistently perform at a high level.

There are going to be a few people – parents, coaches, or educators – who may have a different opinion here. So let me be very clear. There will be exceptions to what I am saying.

A good example: There is a famous male tennis player who, as an adult, most of us will remember. His reputation was that he had to get “very angry” and yell and scream, in order to trigger his performance state of mind. In fact, that seems to be his identity today. He simply could not get into his mental state until he yelled and screamed at most people in his environment for a while, to trigger his performance state.

Can you guess who this might have been? This strategy has been used by a lot of people; just not nearly as effective as with John McEnroe! And he is probably one of the all-time top five tennis players.

Can you use “anger” as a trigger for a performance state? Sure! You can. It’s done all the time. Some athletes will attempt to hurt another player. Some coaches will put a “bounty” on injuring another player. Anger can be a real motivator for some people. Anger can also be disintegrating for others.

However, if anger is the trigger used in sports, what do you think a child is going to learn about behavior in life? Is the programmed response of negative emotion really what you want a child to practice in order to prepare for life skills? Do we want our children to learn that to get their way in a relationship, or in a job, they have to yell and scream and get angry in order to win?

For some reason, it is almost easier to have an understanding of how the negative state of mind or attitude impacts performance than it is to understand the impact of a positive state. We would typically agree that a person who is frustrated, or in doubt, or uptight, or throws a golf club, is NOT going to perform at their highest level. This lack of control is discussed in sports all the time. It is discussed so often that we should define a specific strategy to help kids learn this. But for some reason, kids pick up that they are supposed to throw a tennis racket or golf club, or try to put their fist through a metal locker, to demonstrate that they don’t like to lose!

How often do we hear about a professional athlete who puts their hand through a wall and breaks the fingers of a very valuable hand? Where do they learn these things?

To understand the process, please view the following video:

Several years ago I worked with Brenda Lewis, a captain in the Air Force and a graduate and later an instructor at the United States Air Force Academy. A brilliant and talented young woman. She was a U.S. National and Olympic level cyclist.

To make a very long story short, she was riding in a road course race, coming downhill at a high rate of speed in the mountains of Colorado, and slipped sideways in some sand on the road. She went off the mountain out of control, and suffered severe injuries to her body. She spent quite a long time healing her body, and then later got back into training. However, she was not able to allow herself to get up to top speed when descending on a road course. Obviously, if a rider is off 5 or 10 mph going “down the hill,” there is no way to make up for that going “up the hill.” She was referred to me by her coach to work with her to see if we could overcome the effects of that terrible experience.

The pain and the trauma that she experienced made a very big impact upon her body and her mind. The survival system of the body, which is actually a part of the autonomic system of the brain (one of the few systems we are born with), just would not let her ride at a speed that was a threat to her. So she subconsciously slowed down the bike to much less than the top end speed, especially through turns. I have worked with several race drivers after traumatic crashes that experienced the same difficulty.

In this type of situation, most of us would use the “gut it out” strategy. A coach might say, “You just have to go out there and fight your way through it!” The problem is that the brain is focused upon the prior experience, especially if it was a traumatic experience with pain. The survival system does NOT want that to happen again!

It would be more effective to have a strategy to take care of the programming that occurred from the experience. To “deprogram” and “reprogram” in regard to that experience.

So I had her do a set of very specific mental actualizations (not just visualizations, but involving all of the senses to create the best actual or virtual reality experience possible). The solution to the cause of the problem was to change her focus upon the prior traumatic experience. We had to figure out a way to SOLVE the problem – not just try to cover it up and “sweep it under the rug.” Because it will come up again in the future at a time of crisis or danger – a time that could very likely be dangerous.

I also worked with Brenda to become a better hill climber. I had her doing “actualizations” while she was on her bike on an exercise stand with a high resistance setting. This simulated going uphill, and she imagined that her legs (which were more powerful than you can believe) were giant pistons on a steam locomotive, which kept pumping and pumping up the hill. She saw herself going by ALL of the other competitors and enjoying every minute of the process.

The following year, this young woman won second place in an annual athletic achievement evaluation of all members of the Air Force – men and women combined. She is quite the young lady and an awesome athlete!

Most people have some experience in which they have been “in the zone,” and accomplished some special moments and great experiences. What if we could teach a child to induce zone?

Visualization Exercise

Take your time and study the process and define a specific objective you want to accomplish in this exercise.

With practice, you can get very good at doing this. It will amaze you that you can revisit that state of mind, and handle all kinds of current challenges. You can actually learn to control your breathing, blood pressure, body temperature, and state of mind. You can choose to focus on what you want.

I have taught several hundred race drivers to do this mental exercise. They have no problem with doing it. Why? Because it works! It helps them perform at a much higher level. And it feels good.

Many parents and coaches are not comfortable with their ability to do this at first. If you practice it yourself, based upon your positive life experiences, you will get more comfortable. Most elite level athletes use this type of mental process today. Many elite athletes were using the process twenty-five or thirty years ago. At the time, they just didn’t talk about it much, so people wouldn’t think they were strange.

In addition, one can literally build a state of mind that can be accessed for future use.

Belief System

I believe our single biggest limitation is based in our Belief System – about ourselves. Our belief system also impacts our ability to achieve our potential. What we believe we can and cannot do. The development of a child’s personal belief system will be a major factor in the long term quality of their lives.

We perceive how we perceive based upon our programming. I cannot perceive my world based upon your programming. You cannot perceive the world based upon my programming. In order to even look at something in a different way, I must change my programming. In order to look at myself differently, I must change my programming.

It is very important for a young person to understand this concept, not just hear about it. Telling a young person they need to believe in themselves does not do anything. They will need to think and experience their way through a process to understand it. They will need some coaching to figure it out.

Whether I am working with a young athlete or a young person who has a learning difficulty, I will often tell them that they “need to have more confidence.” A conversation might be something like this:

“So – Justin – I want you to have more confidence! OK? So get more confidence!” Then I ask:

“Now – Justin – did that help you?” At first he looks puzzled, and then says something like, “No … not really.” I then ask why it didn’t help. I want him to try to answer the question first. Then I’ll say:

“You don’t get more confidence because I told you to have more confidence. Right? How do you get more confidence?”

Again – it is very important for the young person to answer the question. They need to know that they get more confidence by doing something well, by improving. And then they can get more confidence by doing it even better. But you don’t get confidence by “beating yourself up,” or by getting angry, or by focusing upon what you did wrong, or by not being able to handle the pressure. A child DOES NOT get confidence as the result of a parent or coach yelling at them. And they don’t get confidence by someone telling them they need to have confidence.

There is currently a whole school of thinking in regard to how important it is for kids to attain some level of “self-esteem.” Self-esteem can be defined as what you think about yourself, or a belief about being able to do something.

Self-esteem or personal confidence is absolutely important in a child’s development. The problem, however, is that some people seem to believe that you attain a level of self-esteem by not experiencing failures. And as a result you don’t feel “bad” about yourself.

This is obviously not what the real world is like! A child achieves a level of self-esteem by doing something well, by achieving, by experiencing, by improving, by earning it. You don’t get self-esteem by taking a class in self-esteem.

Let’s do a short mental exercise.

Let’s say that you had been born and raised in another country. In a totally different culture. Select a country far away in terms of geography and culture. Put yourself into what you know about that culture.

Do you think you would look at the world differently? Do you think you would look at yourself differently? Do you think you would have the same belief system about yourself and your future and your aspirations that you have today? I am not necessarily talking about what would be right and wrong, or even WHO would be right or wrong. I just mean an in-depth look into understanding the formulation of a personal belief system if you had been born into that culture.

Now – let’s say that you desire to change your belief system, in some specific manner. Do you think you could change some specific perceptions and beliefs by “talking about it”? Or do you believe that creating a new experience would be more effective?


“When you change the way you look at things –
Things change the way they look.”
– Anonymous

Development of Beliefs

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream. Not only plan, but also believe.”
– Anatole France
19th Century French poet and novelist

Let’s look at some of the basic ways that our belief system is formed. The development of our belief system is usually found in some form of a personal experience, but more importantly, our perception or representation of the meaning of a specific experience.

* Our Environment – the sum total of the things around us that influence our thinking.
* Happenings – what we sometimes call Defining Moments.
* Knowledge – the sum total of what we know and the number of tools in our tool box.
* Past Results – the programming in regard to our beliefs about our tendencies.
* Mental Equivalent – rehearsing or experiencing in the mind can be as effective as the actual experience.


The environment within which we are raised will obviously impact our belief systems – our perception of who we are, what we can do, our limitations, whether we are a “winner” or a “loser,” whether we can trust ourselves as well as trust others.

While this is true, two siblings from the same family, raised in the same environments, having similar life experiences, can often have a different belief system about themselves and their world. Every child will develop their own personality, and the way they look at things. Every parent who has had more than one child knows this.

Let’s say that we have one young person who has been raised in a higher socio-economic environment, and has been given every “thing” they could want without having to earn it. We have another young person who has had to work, to earn, every “thing” they want. Which of these two young people do you think will have a tendency to have a higher quality life. Why?

Kids who have had to earn what they want have accomplished something. They have a tendency to appreciate the “things” they have a little more.

Some parents want to give their kids everything they could want. They want to give their kids the things THEY didn’t have. This is understandable. But, if those kids never have to work for something or earn something, we all know what their belief system will be.

There are also potential psychological challenges for children who believe they are “entitled” to “things” that other people have and they don’t have. Or kids who don’t believe they need to take responsibility for their actions because they have never had to take responsibility for what they have done.

“Few people are capable of expressing with an equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are incapable of even forming such opinions.”
– Albert Einstein

Happenings – Defining Moments

Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

Let me ask you to take a few moments, right now, and just think about the following questions as they relate to your life.

* What are your defining moments?
* What do these defining moments in your life really mean to YOU?
* Are they negative? Are they positive?
* Have they helped you?
* Have they limited you – in your life?

We all experience “happenings” in our daily lives. Things happen. Sometimes we have a tendency to believe that things happen TO us. And after a few times of the same things happening to us, we begin to draw some conclusions about ourselves in regard to what seems to happen to us, all the time.

We aren’t good enough – or we don’t deserve to win – or we are unlucky. We have all experienced those situations at times.

But what if you, when you were a child, had someone who could tell you that you can place only so much meaning in those “happenings”? Someone who did not lecture you, but tried to communicate what you can learn from those situations – about living, about performance, about decision making – rather than take them as personal happenings directed AT YOU.

So as a parent, coach, or educator, we can mentor and influence our children in a very positive manner, about the things that will happen to them. What they may mean, and what they don’t mean.

In the 2004 Olympics, after falling, U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm seemed to be out of medal contention. Everyone thought so except Paul Hamm. In his last event he delivered a perfect routine – winning the Men’s All Around Gold Medal by .012 points. That is a defining moment!


“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Because of the internet and the development of computer processing in the past few years, we have access to huge amounts of knowledge. And perhaps more importantly, with just a few basic skills of how to access various pieces of knowledge, we can pull up very specific information onto our computers and our phones in a matter of a few seconds. About anything.

There are many ways to look at knowledge as it relates to our discussion of what it is and how it impacts our lives. We are working with OUR knowledge of things. We are attempting to transfer knowledge to our kids that will become a foundation for their knowledge – of sports, music, life decisions, and life skills.

Knowledge is an acquaintance or familiarity with a range of facts, information, awareness, and our ability to understand at some level. Knowledge has something to do with “knowing,” with having an understanding of “what we are doing” and to know “how we are doing it.” And yet, according to Moshe Feldenkrais, one of the foremost students of the structure and function of the human body, even the simplest action or movement is often a mystery to us:

“The execution of an action by no means proves that we know, even superficially, what we are doing or how we are doing it. If we attempt to carry out an action with awareness – that is, to follow it in detail – we soon discover that even the simplest and most common of actions, such as getting up from a chair, is a mystery, and that we have no idea at all of how it is done. Do we contract the muscles of the stomach or the back, do we tense the legs first, or tilt the body forward first, what do the eyes do, or the head? It is easy to demonstrate that a man does not know what he is doing, right down to being able to rise from a chair.

He therefore has no choice but to return to his accustomed method, which is to give himself the order to get up and to leave it to the specialized organizations within himself to carry out the action as it pleases them, which means as he usually does.

We may thus learn that self-knowledge does not come without considerable effort, and can even interfere with the carrying out of actions. Thought and intellect that ‘knows’ are the enemies of automatic habitual action. This fact is illustrated in the old story of the centipede who forgot how to walk after he had been asked in what order he moved all his multitude of legs.”

Understanding this concept is very important in regard to coaching or teaching a child how to do something. Can a coach or an educator have a tendency to “over-talk” or “over-instruct” and “over-think” at times? Yes – especially while a child is in the process of attempting to learn a task. Over-teaching will often lead to over-load.

If a child has confidence in the knowledge of their parents, or their coach or educator, they will have a tendency to perform at a higher level. Did you ever think about that? In working with many race drivers and racing teams over the years, I can guarantee you that the performance level of the driver will be directly affected by his or her confidence in the knowledge of his race engineer. One way or the other!

If a child has confidence in his or her own knowledge – of process, strategies, debriefing, self-coaching – then that child will have a tendency to perform at a higher level. I am not talking about false confidence (i.e., they don’t know what they don’t know). I am talking about really knowing, through actual experience.

As human beings, we use knowledge as the basis of forming our opinions. The biggest problem is that many people have opinions which are sometimes not based in fact. Their facts may be erroneous. But they believe them to be TRUE. In fact, we all know people who “bend” or “spin” the information to get it to fit within their opinions.

Knowledge has so much to do with the formation of a personal belief system. Very often, as we have said, kids don’t know what they don’t know. And as parents, coaches and educators … sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know!

Past Results

Most of us can accept the concept that our past results have a tendency to “imprint” upon our brain cells based upon what happened in a specific situation or circumstance. Especially if there is a good deal of emotion attached to that experience. The more emotion, the more effective and
in-depth the programming from those experiences. The result will become a part of our belief system, about ourselves and our abilities, our thinking, perceptions, future performance and limitations, luck, etc. The result becomes a programmed pattern that has a tendency to be repeated over and over in our lives.

One of the most interesting things in the coaching that I do with race drivers, especially the very high level drivers, is the impact of past results. How does a race driver really become “quick”? Do they become quick because they “believe” they are quick? Or do they believe they are quick as a result of being quick? Which comes first?

Does a high school quarterback become really good at making decisions as the result of having made good decisions in the past? Does a high school quarterback become inconsistent in making decisions as a result of “questioning” his decisions due to past results? The result is usually confusion and hesitation. Does our young quarterback throw more interceptions because he has thrown too many interceptions in the past?

Do vocalists going for a high A, nail the high A with a free open throat; or do they tighten the muscles in their throat out of fear and do not produce the sound desired, because they have missed it before in a recital performance? Which comes first – the fear or the tight throat?

And after a kid has blown a golf or tennis tournament or a piano recital, a coach or a parent may say, “Why in the world did you do that? You blew it again!” Or, maybe you have a special parent or coach, and they say, “You just have to forget about it.” While that may be a somewhat better strategy than psychologically beating up a kid after making a mistake, it still does not do anything for improvement.

Let’s say that you are recognized as an extremely talented golfer. You have the ability to create and shape the shots you want. You know how to do that. You have practiced it thousands of times. You know how to cause the golf ball to do what you want it to do. You have the psychomotor skills to play the game at a high level. But you “blow” a tournament again, and now there is some serious reinforcement of the past result. As a coach, what do you do?

First, just “talking about it” does not do anything. And yet that is what most of us do. We tell a child they need to do “X.” Or don’t do “Y.” Do “Z” later.

I have seen, as you have probably observed, some coaches who will debrief after a practice session, and they may be really excellent at this. I have also observed some coaches who are not particularly good at debriefing with a child. Sometimes parents and educators have a problem with debriefing.

The analysis of how to set up a play, or how to defend against a play, may be totally accurate, but just talking about it does not mean the strategy is going to be executed. The coach will give a young person suggestions about what to do and what to change, and the coach may be right on. The change needs to be made by “reprogramming” – to get the change – the reactions – the positioning – to a subconscious level.

We need to be more aware of the psychological impact of “failures,” difficulties in learning and performing, perceived limitations, and the labels that are placed upon the foreheads of kids with developmental challenges. Because, in addition to the challenges they already have as a result of physiological reasons, there is also a negative impact as a result of their psychology.

One of the best examples of how important this concept can be is a unique program that MasterDrive has conducted for the past several years. With kids who are blind.

To observe a unique experience along with these blind kids, please view the following video:


Mental Equivalents

At age 13, Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a shark while surfing. Within six months she was competitively surfing again … and winning. With one arm. She was later named as ESPN’s Comeback Athlete of the Year.

Most of us who love and enjoy sports, and the level of performance that a few unique young athletes attain, remember the shock of Bethany Hamilton’s story. Just for a moment consider the trauma of a shark attack, the horrible process of losing an arm and living through the medical and therapeutic experience. Bethany didn’t just get back into the water or just return to the sport of surfing, she returned to being competitive. The amazing thing is that she did it with just one arm! Even more amazing is that she did what was necessary to overcome the mental challenge.

The final way that a belief system can be formed or programmed is through what I refer to as “Mental Equivalents.”

Equivalent means being equal in terms of value, quantity, effectiveness, and/or meaning. So a mental equivalent has to do with a mental (of the mind) experience that is equal to an actual experience. The more effective one becomes at creating an experience in the mind, the more effective one becomes in using mental equivalent strategies.

As a goalie, you can “actualize” blocking shot after shot on goal. In your mind you can see yourself being able to handle pressure shots in tennis or basketball. With quality rehearsal in your mind, your mind is developing deep programming so that at the time of a recital, you are prepared to perform.

Mental exercises – mental imagery – has been proven valid through substantial research and strategic exercises. Using mental equivalent strategies is no longer “woo – woo stuff”! The world’s most elite athletes have used them for years.

A few people that I have worked with over the years have been uncomfortable with using mental exercises at first. If so, I simply ask – “Do you believe in worry?” Most people ask me what I mean. And I ask again – “Do you believe in worry?” Most of us worry at some point. A lot of people worry much of their lives away.

Worry is simply – a mental equivalent. We are bringing to life a potential situation, seeing it, living it, and emotionalizing it, before it happens. We are doing it in our minds. We are literally experiencing the consequences before the reality.

Our kids would benefit greatly, for their entire lives, by actually learning to use virtual reality in their minds for their benefit. By the way, kids really understand and get into “virtual reality” concepts. They know what it is about.

Disney’s success since the beginning of Disneyland has literally been based upon the ability to create a virtual reality environment. What do they do? They create the environments that will FOOL our senses into believing that we are actually experiencing the situation or environment.

How do they do this? They put you into a room with a 360 degree visual of a helicopter going over a cliff (first party perception – you are in the helicopter); dropping over a mountain and down into a valley and flying a few feet above a white water river; looking into a narrow valley of trees; the surround sound of the helicopter blades and the change in pitch; and then the seats jerk forward and backward or to the side (just a little bit) to give the dynamic input of the change in motion; it feels like you are actually there. In fact, you may get motion sickness. Not because you were really flying in a helicopter, but because your senses are fooled into believing you are actually experiencing that scene.

If you can fool the senses into believing something, you can do all sorts of mental exercises to increase the possibility to do something beyond a perceived limitation – to actually change a limiting belief – to deprogram and/or reprogram a particularly stressful or traumatic prior result or happening – to increase the ability to focus. You can definitely use a mental equivalent process to attain a higher level of performance.

The Power of the Mind

We are just beginning to understand the power of the mind! We can begin to imagine a personal potential that is above and beyond what we have even considered possible. We can learn to use the concept just like we learn anything else. By practicing!

If we as parents and coaches and educators can learn to use it, we can teach the strategy to the kids we are working with.

I am going to ask you to find a comfortable place to sit and relax, close your eyes, and totally focus on your breathing – deep, full breathing.

There are many ways and techniques to go through a mental exercise, but basically you need to learn to get to a level of deep relaxation. To reach a relaxed, super-learning level, in which you can create a virtual reality in your mind. This is just one example of the process that can be used.

Exercise Preparation: It would be very effective to use a set of full coverage (powered if possible) head phones, connected into an iPod or CD player. Choose sounds that will allow you to get into a relaxed state. I would suggest sounds like water, rain, the ocean, or a mountain stream rather than music. You can use music from the Baroque era with a very slow 4/4 time. (Do not use loud and dramatic music for the purposes of this exercise – unless you are a drummer, and you are practicing some special new techniques for the drum.)

Doing this, especially with full coverage head phones, literally isolates the mind from other input. Most people find it much easier to get into a relaxed or meditative state.

For a quick video experience, please view the following video:

In this exercise, you are literally working with the subconscious mind to change what the prior experience means. To change the representation. To change the emotion. To change a decision. The important part of this process, is to do what it takes to get the programming to the subconscious level.

We should remember that the objective is not to eliminate the memory of the experience. It is to change the representation – what it means to our mind. To let that experience go, if it is a bad, traumatic, experience. If it is a great experience, one in which we were really at our best, in the zone, then we use that experience to put our mind into a totally connected and resourceful state.

Let’s say that you are strategizing with a child you are coaching, and in a recent game he has made some mistakes. Logically, you know what he is thinking about. He is probably totally focused upon the mistakes – each one – and exactly what happened. He is replaying the experience of the mistakes over and over in his mind, and the emotion of that traumatic experience.

What do you think he is now “programming” as a result of replaying the mistakes again and again? In future situations, he will probably be focusing on NOT making mistakes. But the brain does NOT understand NOT. As we have said, he cannot NOT think about a pink elephant. He cannot NOT focus upon making mistakes. If he does, he will make the same mistakes over and over again!

The solution – lead the child in mental exercises with repetitions of focusing upon doing it correctly – doing it at a very high level and how that feels to him – and celebrate doing it at that level! The objective is to immerse his mind in performing at a high level, and be able to see himself enjoying doing it.

The Superstition Effect

Most of us probably have some beliefs in regard to being superstitious. We may tend to have some beliefs about being lucky or unlucky. And that luck is the result of some type of mystical alignment of the planets or something. Or the color of socks that I wear. Or what I have to eat before a performance because I once ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before a game and I performed at my ultimate level. I was really in the zone! So I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before every game. (Bonnie Blair, a famous U.S. Olympic gold medal winner in ice speed skating, actually did this. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich was her “trigger.”)

One of the best examples of this is in the movie Bull Durham, which shows the importance of sports psychology. One of the players is in a hitting slump, and other players are not hitting well. He picks up a Voodoo doll and touches his bat to the Voodoo doll before going to the plate. Suddenly, he is no longer in a slump. His batting average increases substantially. So other members of the team begin “touching their bats” to his Voodoo doll before going to bat. Result: every player’s batting average increases. And suddenly they are playing for a championship.

Now – what was the cause of the team increasing their batting average? Was it the Voodoo doll or was it their belief system (superstition effect)? Of course, we all understand that it (probably) is not about the Voodoo doll. It is about our belief system in regard to the Voodoo doll.

If you are focused upon something going wrong, what will happen? I know people who have spent their whole lives focusing on things going wrong. Guess what happened?

The superstition effect is absolutely valid. The question is, can we use it to enhance our performance? It is about being in control of your mind, and your mind being congruent with your belief system.

The first thing is to present these thoughts to our kids in a way that they can understand the process. Then, they will be able understand why it is so very important to them for the rest of their lives. As opposed to saying something like – “Not having your lucky hat is all in your mind. It is not real! So forget about it!” That does not change a belief system.

So as a coach, can you build some programs for the kids on your team that will help them trigger a performance state of mind? Rather than going through life and always having bad luck, can you teach a kid about the process, and that they can do something about it?

A very successful high school football coach that I have worked with over the years, made a decision to do something experiential with his team after a frustrating loss. After each player had written down their thoughts about the way they played, pictures of the resulting score, and their individual emotions, he took them to an empty field. Earlier, he had asked his players to bring several shovels. Without telling them what they were going to do, he asked them to dig a big, deep hole in the ground. After they had a very big hole, he asked each player to drop their “thoughts” (whatever they had written that was in their minds) into the hole. Then they shoveled the dirt back into the hole.

He made a point of each player understanding that they were letting go of all their negative memories and frustrating “stuff” from that game. That year, they went on to win one more state championship. This is an example of a coach and mentor, and not just a football “instructor.”

Using mental equivalents as a strategy is an important part of experiential learning. It is totally valid – because our kids can begin to understand how to manage their state of mind.

Decision Making

Making decisions is a very complex and complicated process. The process uses every element that we have discussed: interpretation of the situation (based upon our experiences), our mental state, defined objectives, psychomotor skills and life skills, etc.

At times we need to make decisions in a crisis situation or in a competitive situation, where there is an element of speed required. In sports, very often you don’t have time to think about something. You just have to react. At times, the speed of the decision is not as important as weighing all of the information, organizing the thinking in terms of objective, risk, pertinent information, and making a well thought-out quality decision.

You simply cannot make a reaction type of decision without having the right type of programming in your brain. By definition, you have to do this at the subconscious level. Without the programming, you have no software to process the information quickly – automatically. The result of no programming, or a virus in your programming, is often the wrong decision and/or indecision because of confusion. Indecision is a decision!

So, the quality of the decision is based upon the quality of the programming. And the quality of the programming is subject to a combination of many interrelated elements.

At times we may need to go through a good decision making process of defining our objective(s), and listing the most important things to consider: what is my motivation; what are the risks; and exactly what am I willing to risk, etc.

As an example, you might list all of the information available, and take two or three hours to analyze what you believe to be the best options. And then make a decision based upon your analysis. All of the elements of decision making are important, but speed in this case is not as important.

We tend to perceive decision making as being done at the conscious level, and then wonder why we make the same “stupid” decisions time after time. Or we wonder why kids make the same “stupid” decisions. Because given the same set of circumstances, our decision-making database will have a tendency to reach the same conclusion – and we do it automatically. Once again.

There is a tendency to make quality decisions based upon quality programming. Much of this is a result of quality experiences. But what is a quality experience? The highest quality experience is one in which you learn the most! Would you agree? How important is it for a child to have quality experiences? How much does a parent, coach or educator influence the interpretation of the experience? And the ability to learn from that experience? We all know that we often learn the most from our biggest mistakes.

Changes are not typically made by just talking about it. Some form of threat – or punishment – does not necessarily make a change either. The most effective strategy to make a change is to implement the process: to debrief; to define exactly what needs to change; to agree upon the objective(s); to define what you get if you make a change (motivation); to imagine or practice or visualize or actualize that change; to actually see in our mind’s eye what we want with repetitions in reality (actual) and virtual reality (in the mind) or both. It is a process!

Elements of Decision Making

There are an almost infinite number of elements in decision making. I am going to define a few of the most important and their impact upon the process. As a parent, coach, or educator it is very important for you to take each child through the process so they can help define and agree upon the elements. The level of what you choose to do is obviously subject to the age, maturity and background of your kids. You may have to be creative in helping them go through the process so they understand what is actually happening when they make a decision.

The Objective

Before you can make a quality decision, you first need to identify your primary objective. Without a clearly defined objective, it is very difficult to even enter into the process. It is sometimes easy to define an objective in a very general manner, such as “I want to do better” or “I’ve got to improve my backhand” (as in tennis). The process will be more effective, if you can be very specific in terms of what needs to change.

For an overview, please view the following video:

These are all things that an extraordinary parent, coach, or educator does. A clear definition and agreement of the specific objective is always a first step.


What is the pay-off? What does the child get if s/he can make a change? Or make better grades? Or learn to learn more effectively? If a child has a good understanding of the importance of motivation in regard to decision making, and how it impacts the process, that child is learning some very important life skills. This will pay off for the child’s entire life.

It seems that we constantly hear that kids “need to have more motivation.” I believe this is absolutely true. But to have it, they need the opportunity to understand motivation – to experience what is necessary to get it and the value of earning it.

Are most kids presented with the concepts and understanding of motivation? I don’t think so. Very often we assume that a child knows about motivation. They may have been yelled at and punished at times. But that is not what I would define as a basic understanding of motivation.

Many people do not seem to have a clear understanding of their own personal motivation. It is just not something that a lot of us spend enough time defining for ourselves. We all need to define what motivates us, and then use it for accomplishing and creating and focusing every day. We need motivation to do the things that help us achieve our potential.

I was recently discussing this with a friend. She was concerned because her sister, who is an adult, will not make the changes “to take control of her life.” (Her words.) They have talked about her potential, and what she needs to change to achieve her potential many times. I asked my friend what her sister’s motivation to actually make the changes would be. She looked at me and said “I don’t know if she has any motivation!” It seemed as if a big light went on in her mind. Without motivation – without even a perception of motivation – what is her potential to make a change?

There are some really complicated issues today in regard to motivation. There are even research programs being implemented in this country to see if kids will pull better grades – IF – the school pays them for better grades.

As to my opinion about schools actually “paying” money for grades, I am not even going to go there. But I do have some serious questions. What about the kids who have some learning challenges? And are grades really most the important thing anyway? Isn’t learning to learn really the objective? So I will just ask a question. What does this reveal to us about the person who thought that schools paying for grades was a good idea? Think about it.

Some parents have tried payment in the form of money, cars, driver’s license, trips, etc. to motivate their child to focus and pull better grades. Within a family, that has to be a family/personal decision. And in some cases (only my opinion) may be totally appropriate. But the determination of motivation for a child needs to become an overall understanding, not just a few dollars to achieve a specific grade.

For an overview, please view the following video:

There are at least two different directions from which we can look at motivation. One is, what I am willing to GIVE UP in order to get this or do this. The other is, what I am willing to DO in order to get this. And some times, it may be both.

A basic motivation for some people might be – pleasure. Most of us, including children, will do a lot to have more pleasure. Many people, however, are more motivated by moving away from pain. As parents, coaches and educators, we need to be aware of the source of an individual child’s motivation.

There is one more important area in regard to motivation that we need to understand. Some kids are totally motivated to become the best runner, cyclist, doctor, musician, etc., that they can be. They have a very unique personal drive to do whatever is necessary to do this. However, some kids just do not have that drive, and are therefore not motivated in the same manner.

There is nothing wrong with that. Not every child has or should have the drive to become national champion or an NFL quarterback. We just need to be aware of each unique motivation, and make sure that our kids understand the process.

Continue to Chapter 4

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