High Performance Sport Knowledge Exchange 2017
~ some comments following a really engaging day when I was delighted to be asked to speak at the High Performance Sport Knowledge Exchange 2017 held at the Sport Ireland Institute last week.
I was fortunate to share the speaking platform with Dr Brian Cunniffe, Performance Lead from The English Institute of Sport, and Jason Cowman, Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Irish Rugby Football Union.
It was a great day of discussion amongst people involved with optimising performance, both their own and athletes ~ S&C coaches, elite performance coaches, physiotherapists, support staff, doctors, military personnel and more. I say ‘their own’ because the success of an athlete or sportsperson is intimately related to the way in which the coaching and support staff operate. We are all seeking to do our very best, every day.
Here is a brief summary of some of the points that were raised and talked about in relation to my talk and Q&A. Some great questions were asked.
~ Make each day a masterpiece ~ John Wooden
Despite the talks appearing to be very different, there were in fact some common themes. The emphasis was upon how the team can best function to deliver results, considering communication, facing challenges, developing relationships and trust, and creating a team that delivers. At the heart of this of course, are people with differing backgrounds, views, beliefs, experiences, knowledge, cultures and professions. Everyone has strengths and something to bring to the table, which is where the potency arises once these are clarified.
** As you read and take note, consider that these skills of performing and well-being are as relevant to the coach, physio, doctor, support staff as to the athlete.
Language & the inner dialogue
Language is powerful ~ the language we choose to use with others as well as the language we use to ourselves, the inner dialogue or script. Certainly in my talk and in the Pain Coach day on Tuesday I put an emphasis on developing skilful use of our inner dialogue. So much of what we experience and how we experience it comes from what we are telling ourselves. Realising this and harnessing the potential from running a positive script is hugely empowering. This is a skill that a performance coach, a strength and conditioning coach and a physiotherapist (anyone actually!) can foster and nurture in themselves and those they work with, the athletes and colleagues. Here are a couple of great questions to self that allow you to calibrate and make a new choice:
How am I choosing to feel? How am I choosing to think?
What you are telling yourself right now impacts upon your emotional state and quality of life. Which seeds are you watering? The ones that foster positivity, understanding, compassion, openness and patience or the ones that harness anger, frustration, impatience, and resistance? Developing one’s awareness of the workings of the mind and how thoughts are embodied creates a great opportunity to live increasingly well. This includes the ability to focus and hence perform. There is only this moment in which to focus and perform, whereas the inner dialogue can tend to take us off into the past or future. Of course this will happen but there is a difference between the drift away from the now with awareness and on autopilot. We do not have to be slaves to the wanderings of the mind. Simple attentional training and mindful practices help to develop this skill. We know that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, so this kind of training is a key skill.
Super-teams can be created to nurture the abilities of the athletes. One of the problems of chronic pain is that people can fall in the cracks between different disciplines. This need not happen with a super team in place that has a clear vision of success that has been clarified and stated. This is known by all team members who have identified their strengths, their reason and purpose and their individual roles. Communication is effective, regular and uninhibited. Strengths are developed and areas of improvement identified and worked upon with a complete focus upon growth together. Naturally this includes the athlete ~ there is no separation between team and athlete, athlete and team. Regular meeting and clarification maintains momentum. The team is steered by a leader who is prepared to truly lead and inspire action by exhibiting courage, authenticity and compassion. This takes time but is of course worth the effort in terms of outcomes.
The problem of pain & pain in sport
Pain is a huge global health burden. Pain costs society because of investigations and treatments, many of which are unnecessary or ineffective, and loss of productivity. The suffering for individuals is immeasurable and of course those close by also suffer the consequences.
The existence of such a significant problem in society means that this is a public health concern of major proportions. Without new thinking this will likely worsen. Arguably we are seeing this in the younger generation as they grow in a world that validates materialism, unhealthy communication (e.g. social media), thinking that the individual supersedes everything (i.e. selfishness), success based on ‘A’ grades or income and pressures to conform to practices that do not nourish self-compassion. 1 in 5 children suffer chronic pain and the statistics on mental health are horrific. I do not use that word by mistake.
I do not believe that the term mental health does justice to the reality that the ‘mental’ condition is embodied, which is why in most cases chronic pain and depression or mood changes come hand in hand. Thoughts are embodied, which is why practices that develop healthy use of the inner dialogue are vital.
This problem reaching across society means that it does exist in sport. One of the challenges is to differentiate between the pain of being an athlete, the pain of a new injury (expected and understood) and the persistent pain that is due to a range of biological and behavioural factors. This will need athletes and coaches to learn about pain and communicate together with the athlete to establish what is happening and what needs to be done. The super-team vision will include these scenarios in the planning.
~ pain and injury are poorly related
There is no single clinician or therapist for pain. This is a problem and indeed perhaps part of the wider problem (the misunderstanding of pain in society), as the person suffering receives many different ideas about the possible causes and suggested solutions. This is the reason for Pain Coach, which is a blend of the latest understanding of pain together with known coaching methods that work to maximise learning and potential. The over-arching aim of the Pain Coach Programme is to change the way society thinks about and hence addresses pain. And there are exciting times ahead on the basis that we need to be talking about and enacting overcoming pain, not just managing and coping.
In relation to sportspeople, we can focus upon an understanding of pain that works for performance coaches, S&C coaches, clinicians as well as the athlete himself/herself. Working together to understand will be key and there is no reason why workshops cannot be run with the super-team that includes all these people. In fact, everyone needs to understand pain ~ the reason for UP | understand pain.
Chronic pain in sport is a blight upon the careers of many. Open discussion and an open forum for athletes to talk and express their fears is important as this provides an opportunity to face the problem, or rather the challenge, learn and overcome. Only by facing our challenges can we truly surmount them and move on. Distracting, avoiding and circumnavigating do no good in the long-term. I acknowledge that there is a place for a ‘patch up’ before an event if need be, but thereafter the challenge must be addressed. Again, the super-team creates the environment and context for this to happen.
Language and the content of the inner dialogue has been mentioned but what about delivery: Who? When? How? And there’s the vital part, active or deep listening. Only through listening deeply can we truly hear what is being said. Paying the fullest attention (there’s the practice of paying attention again!) to this moment and what the other person is saying creates a trusting bond and an opportunity to gain insight. This insight delivers all you need to know right now. Sometimes just listening is all that is needed right now. The gifts of ‘you’ and time are two of the most valuable in life. This is easily practiced both at work and at home and soon enough you find yourself to be proficient and increasingly effective.
Some good questions for self:
~ after a training session, who speaks first? Who does the most talking? Who has the key information?
There was much more discussed through the day and in the Pain Coach day on the Wednesday before. Hopefully this has provoked some new thinking and realisation. The beginner’s mind is open to possibility and opportunity. We are designed to change and grow as each moment passes. It is a matter of choosing which direction, which begins with realising that we have a choice. The awareness of choice is empowering and exciting but comes with responsibility.
All of us in the room have great jobs that we are passionate about and feel inspired to perform each day. We have meaning and purpose. This drives us to be successful because we always strive to be the best that we can be. That is exciting and fulfilling.
Choose to feel excited.
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