Back to Basics, Revisiting The Psychology of Winning by Jeff Goforth (2000)


Jeffrey A. Goforth, Chairman and CEO of Teleometrics International, Inc., has been a business consultant for 24 years specializing in developing strategic direction with executives in large and medium size organizations. He developed the customer service model for Nordstrom, “Nordstrom with Pride” enabling them to set the standard for world class customer service. He has assisted several Fortune 500 companies with their quality focus on the “customer” including Ford, Bank of America, The GAP, General Electric, Microsoft and Starbucks Coffee. He is a psychology/history graduate of Eastern Washington University and studied law at Northwestern.   An avid proponent of using mental imagery for the attainment of goals, Goforth has often presented his ‘psychology of winning’ materials here and abroad at prestigious conventions such as ASCA. His first presentation to ASCA was 25 years ago when he shared the experiences of the 1975 U.S. World Championship team with his mental training principles. Three subsequent speeches addressed the basics of mental training, time management, and coaching contracts/negotiations. His contributions to the psychology of winning have been widely adopted by corporations throughout the world.   His current company, Teleometrics International, Inc., pioneered the concept of “instrumented learning” in the late sixties, focusing on managerial training. Reliable measurement of managerial and executive performance continues to be the trademark of this 33-year-old training company. While its most visible contribution was assisting Ford Motor Company in their $5 billion turnaround in the early 1980s, Teleometrics’ materials assist executives around the world to learn effective methods for creating the proper work environment. Now in over 40 countries with translations in nine languages, Teleometrics is clearly a global player in management development.



Thank you, Pat and good morning to all of you.  It is always a great pleasure to address this esteemed group of unbelievably hard-working professionals.  I also want to thank John Leonard for the invitation and Guy Edson for his help in making this morning’s presentation possible.  Lots of quick adjustments early this morning certainly helped make my task easier.  And good morning to you, Phill.

I first became involved with USA Swimming in 1975 when this gentleman before us, Phill Hansel invited me to propose the teaching of my psychology of winning concepts to the men’s and women’s World Championship Team destined to compete in Cali, Colombia.  You probably know this but Phill was one of the founders of ASCA and served as its first president for the inaugural two years.  Needless to say . . . a great contributor to America’s swimming effort and nice to see you here this morning.  Also in ’75, I met George Haines, who also favored the idea of sharing these concepts with America’s elite athletes in an attempt to determine the effect on upcoming performances. So we did and the results were most positive.  More on that later.


Today we’ll be talking about the influence of the mind on performance.  Just to illustrate the historical recognition of the human mind’s importance by several notable people, let me offer the following quotes: Among many other things the Bible says:  As a man thinketh, so is he.  Budda said:  All that we are is the result of what we have thought. Marcus Aurelius said:  Our life is what our thoughts make it. William James, the founder of Humanistic study and the instigator of the school of thought we’ll be exploring today said:  Belief creates the actual fact. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: There is no thought in any mind, but it quickly tends to convert itself into power. And, last but not least, from a man who never finished High School . . . Henry Ford said:  Whether you THINK you can or THINK you can’t, you’re RIGHT!


It obvious that many great thinkers KNOW how important the mind is, but where did this discipline, this psychology of winning discipline come from?  It came mostly from great coaches who, over the years, shared their experience with others enough times and in enough ways to cause academicians to study human performance and its relation to the mind.  In a recent National Geographic article about the Olympic Games in Australia, incidentally written by a former swimmer and current Master’s swimmer, he defined sports psychology as coming from the collective wisdom of the best coaching minds in the field, both past and present.  I do know that William James, the brilliant American psychologist, actually laid the foundation for a serious study and philosophy of human potential which is how I became interested.


I was a tennis player and loved the sport.  My first inkling came when after hitting the ball into the net, I would often do it again and again, getting more frustrated and angry each time.  Once I began to study how the mind works, I learned that continual focus on anything, good or bad, increases the likelihood of it happening again – but of course I learned it too late to do my tennis game any good!  Well let’s get started – let me share the first and most fundamental law of human thought.


We humans, you – me – the person sitting next to you, ALL think in the same pattern.  Exactly.  We think in the same pattern but we think different thoughts.  It is the thoughts we hold and believe that ultimately guide our future, in every or any area of our life.  Those who realize this early on in their lives have the greatest chance of designing their life as they would choose to live it.  That is, they become aware of their own accountability for growth, and this is where coaching comes into play.  Great coaches provide not only the proper techniques needed for stellar performances but create the athletic environment where individuals can express the maximum of their human potential.  This requires the transfer of accountability for performance from the coach to the athlete . . . a process that is difficult at best but one that must take place in order for humans to grow and develop.  Yelling and screaming at kids to ‘force’ them into improvement is short-lived and is a most undignified way to deal with improving performances.  The lessons they learn from this type of coaching are two-fold at least.  One, they learn that they personally are not very responsible for their own achievements and second, when it comes time to ‘coach’ themselves or others, they adopt the same yell and scream posture (forcing) in order to achieve higher performances.  This is why we wanted to share these concepts with the World Championship Team – to determine the current levels of mental focus and see if we could impart self-knowledge skills to improve mental toughness.


The International Competition Committee gave us the go-ahead to teach my course, Action For Excellence to the coaches and athletes so we did and they loved it.  It was the first time any of them had been exposed to these concepts in a specific well-defined manner where they could use the information immediately for improvement.  Meaning use the mental side to go along with the physical conditioning they were so heavily involved in.  I then traveled to Cali and caught up with the team to observe and follow up on the practical application of the concepts, you know, checking with the kids, answering questions, offering advice, that sort of thing.  I’ve never been with a group of swimmers that wasn’t fun to be around but this U.S. team was fantastic.  Shirley Babashoff, Kathy Heddy, Brian Goodell, Bruce and Steve Furniss, Tim Shaw, all kinds of great people – smart, focused.  That’s when the fingernail painting began with the American flag on fingernails and so on . . . and Sports Illustrated got wind of it and the next thing we knew, we were splashed worldwide in pictures of our girls with decorated fingernails – America’s elite swimmers decked out with bright colored fingernails depicting USA.  It was awesome.


The athletes had a great time and saw the value of the information even beyond what they and their coaches were able to implement at such short notice.  The training camp was rather short and didn’t give us much time to work thoroughly with the mental materials.  Coaches were focused on workout schedules – getting enough pool time, etc. but the athletes had extra time on their hands and talked among themselves about the concepts and how they related to their team environments in the World Championships – how to keep one another mentally up and positive, and so on.  After the Championships Richard Quick and Phill Hansel made sure I spoke at that year’s ASCA clinic to outline what we did and how well it worked.  From there on, the flood gates opened throughout American swimming for Action For Excellence and mental training in the psychology of winning, often referred to as sports psychology which encompasses much more than winning.  Today I’ll make comments about its importance and the suggestion that you bring this information into your programs in a very specific way.  So that you’ll be integrating the mental side with the physical training and stroke technique training that brings out the maximum of human potential.  Talk about Tiger Woods!  The guy was practically born with both the mental and physical side of golf and competition being taught to him at the same time – just look at the results. Daily exercises in both mental and physical training and how they work to support each other! We’re all going to get to witness it over the coming decades.


Today’s focus will be directed toward how you might be thinking about your athletes – what their perception of mental preparedness and accountability might be . . . and how you can impact that.  Every coach in here has taught their athletes time and time again about one particular aspect of their stroke.  For example:  I want you to put your hand in the water like this.  Your arm needs to be directly over your head.  You need to prep for the flip turn sooner.  Get more power off the wall.  Get settled on the blocks earlier on your start.  In many cases we have told our athletes the same things so many times that we think they must be stupid or cannot hear us.  This process of telling them over and over again is one that gives you, the coach, the accountability for the athletes’ development, not them.  You are not enabling the athletes to become accountable for their own development.  This can and must change if rapid improvements are to be made.  They must be taught the principles of mental preparedness so they may use mental techniques in conjunction with their physical training to maximize performances and improvement.  It’s all you can do to teach proper stroke mechanics to people who will listen, let alone those who only listen when they want to . . . and many of you are so dedicated to these kids that you seem happy to tell them again and again and again, in hopes that they will finally get it!


In most cases young athletes are not prepared to ‘get it’ the first or second time because they have not been raised that way.  They have been raised by parents, who, like us, tell them over and over to do something like, “How many times have I told you to pick up your clothes?  Don’t leave them lying on the floor!”  And how is that any different from the coach saying, “Bonnie or Jack, how many time do I have to tell you to power into the wall in practice?” or “How many times do I have to tell you about your kick?”  Without the athlete having a clear understanding of how their own mental processes and focus affect their performances, they will continue with this pattern of listening when they’re ready to listen, and not take responsibility for personal improvement.  A class on mental toughness needs to be a part of every athlete’s development and we’ll talk more about that later.  In short, the transfer of accountability needs to take place early in the training of an athlete to ensure rapid and sustainable development.


In the attempt to get peak performances out of people, I like to use this illustration to show that reaching lofty goals is nearly always the result of a process.  That process begins and continues one step at a time.  The process depicted here is one I used years ago with the PGA – showing how small the differences in strokes separated the world’s top golfers.  After nine months on the professional circuit in 1975, Jack Nicholas was in first place with an average per round of 70.3 strokes. This position enabled him to have won about $230,000. which back then was a lot of money!  This 70.3 meant that on average, he shot this number of strokes every time he played 18 holes in competition.


The exciting and interesting statistic is that another fine golfer, Bob Charles, had an APR  (average per round) score of 70.9 for each 18 holes.  Bob was in 24th place and had won $50,000. In that same 9 months.  There were 22 other great golfers mixed in between Jack and Bob, all within .6 stokes of each other!  That’s competition!  I use this diagram to expose what I call the 2% Slight Edge.  When we question what 2% of a golfing round of 70 is, we can easily determine that it is approximately 1 ½ strokes.  So, if by using some mental techniques to improve performance by a minimum of 2%, could you distance yourself from the competition?  The answer is a guaranteed YES.  Think of a relatively short race in swimming, say the 100 yard – regardless of the stroke.  What is 2% slight edge of 100 yards?  2 yards!  Let me stretch my arms out to show you two yards – I can barely do it!  Have we ever seen a race won or lost by less than 2 yards?  Remember that is merely 2% of the race!  Of course we have and often the race outcome must be determined by the timing clock, as the touches at the pad are so close together that we cannot visually see the win.  How many of you would like to know how to improve your athletes’ performance by 2 %?  I thought so!  Also, this is just a baseline.  Not only will mental training give you the 2% edge, but in learning HOW to achieve it the 2% can be increased to another 2% and yet another 2%.  It’s all in the methodology.  That .6 stroke or ½ stroke that separated the world’s top 24 golfers was well under 2% of a round of golf, and yet cost Bob Charles $180,000. in prize money.  Obviously we’d all like to improve our performances, but we often lack the information needed to get us there – that is what the psychology of winning is all about.  Learning HOW to improve – then the sky’s the limit.  Or I should say that one’s physical techniques, strength, genes, etc. will be the ultimate limiting factor, and according to physiologists, we aren’t anywhere near the full physical potential of the human body.  Amazing to think where we’ll be in fifty years!


Earlier we said that all of us think in the same pattern but we think different thoughts.  Let me demonstrate.  I’ll say two words to this group . . . Apple Pie.  Some of you ‘saw’ in your mind’s eye a piece of pie, other saw the entire pie.  (Probably those who skipped breakfast to be here this morning.)  Some had a glass of mild next to it.  Others perhaps coffee.  Some had cheese on it, some with ice cream, others with cinnamon sauce.  The point is we all ‘saw’ a picture, but everyone’s picture was slightly different from everyone else’s.  Therefore, we think in the same pattern, but we see different things or think different thoughts.  They may be slight differences, but didn’t we just talk about the 2% Slight Edge?  It is our uniqueness that we think different thoughts or have unique aspirations yet there is more than just words that affect performance.


Look at this simple diagram.  WORDS  trigger  PICTURES  that trigger  EMOTIONS.

The words Apple Pie triggered pictures in your minds, unique from everyone else to some degree, but these pictures in turn triggered emotions.  You may like apple pie a little, a lot or maybe not at all.  So each picture carries with it a corresponding emotion, either positive or negative.  This is true of all the imaging we do, and we constantly are imaging things in our minds all day, all the time.  It is virtually impossible not to ‘visualize’ things, for example.

Do not picture in your mind the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  Now, don’t picture the Golden Gate Bridge.  See how it works?  Works trigger Pictures that trigger Emotions.


It is the Emotion that gives us motivation, yet the stimulating trigger is ultimately Words that get the process started, and also sets direction.  Exams, deadlines, speeches, all words that trigger pictures and in this case probably negative Emotions – lead us into feelings of stress or butterflies when we think of having to give a speech or take an important exam.  So you see that each of us have words that evoke both positive and negative feelings.  That brings up an important point.


The corollary to Words – Pictures – Emotions is that “We move toward and become like the Pictures we hold in our minds.”  Now some of you want to tease me a little bit and say, “O.K. Jeff, if I think about apple pie all day long I’m going to become like an apple pie?”  No, but what it simply means is this. Depending upon what the emotion is about apple pie, if in fact you are around people who mention it several times a day and it evokes a positive emotion, the likelihood of you eating it within the next day or two increases. When we conduct executive seminars, we use the apple pie example and mention it several times during the day and we learned early on that we have to tell the resort to stock up on apple pies because there would be a lot of people ordering pie when they had dinner that night. And that is exactly what happens, so the things that we picture in our mind, or dwell upon, we move toward and become like, whether it be positive or negative.


Let me give you an example of negative that involves coaching.  Take a female swimmer, I’ll use the name Bonnie She is 15 years old and a pretty darn good swimmer and she gets back into the swimming program in late September or early October and the first meet that really means something to her is about the middle of November. Her parents are coming, her friends are coming for this is a big exciting meet.  Bonnie is expecting to do well and she has been training hard this year and is a really good swimmer. She is in the 100 free and she gets up on the blocks, looks her competition over, gets set, takes her marks, the gun goes off and everybody gets a great start except Bonnie. What happens to Bonnie? She slips on the block, something that is very rare, but she did it. What happened? Who knows! So as she is going into the water, she is the first person in the world to realize that she slipped on the block! It’s not you, the coach or people in the stands, it’s her, she knows, and she witnesses it and experiences it, throughout her body and her mind. She is off balance and goes into the water without any real power while her mind starts to work. Now what does Bonnie’s mind actually say to her as she is recovering from this major faux pax right there at the beginning of the race?  Does her little voice say, “Oh, that’s not so bad Bonnie, you will make it up in the next 25 yards!” Or does it say stuff like, “Oh no, what have you done, you fool! You’re almost tied up in the lane lines! You’re embarrassed because of your family in the stands.” Her mind works very quickly, and what occurs is that due to being out if her comfort zone (the performance she had expected to do) she starts to stroke as fast as she can to try and catch up with the rest of the field. But, in fact, she has had such a poor start that she can’t do it. She is last off the wall and comes in 5th place, not at all what she had hoped for. She gets out of the water dejected, disappointed and despite the fact that she had the best split time that she had ever had, she gets out, grabs her towel and goes over and sits down by herself, not with the team but kind of out of the way.


The coach is real busy with other athletes and doesn’t have time to go over and talk to her or bring her back to sit with the team, so she sits there with her towel around her shoulders, she won’t look up to her family in the stands for she is too humiliated.  What is it that she is thinking about? Answer.  Slipping on the block; over and over and over again! What does repetition do? Repetition makes permanent doesn’t it!  And thinking about slipping with the corresponding emotions over and over causes her to relive in a very emotional way that major mistake.  Good coaching might find her, ask her about her thoughts, dismiss the mistake and refocus her thoughts on the next race, and what she plans to achieve in that event.  Eliminate the negative thoughts and replace them with positive expectations, as least for the moment. For example,  “Shake it off. You are really good at your starts and you are going to do really good at this next one.”  In other words, create the positive picture and emotion that will enable her to regain confidence in her abilities.  Never mention ‘slipping on the blocks.”


If left unattended to dwell in her failure, Bonnie will, in the next race, take the blocks, look at her competition, shake her muscles out, take a deep breath, and just before the gun sounds, she’ll relive the slipping on the blocks!  Often she’ll say to herself . . “Don’t slip on the blocks.”  The problem is that “don’t” doesn’t compute as a picture so she actually sees and feels the mistake again.  Remember, we move toward and become like the pictures we hold in our minds! Here’s the key.  The likelihood of Bonnie slipping on the blocks again is greater as a result of all that mental rehearsal of negativity. Most of us think and most of us have been raised to find our mistakes and correct them, and to focus on the things we do wrong so that we can get better. Not necessarily true.  Think of teaching a child to walk.  If you’ve ever had a child or been around a child that is learning to walk, you know for certain that you don’t teach the child the 200 ways not to walk correctly.  You don’t cross his legs for him and like this and say now buster, walk over to your mom.  With crossed legs, it’s smash, right on his nose. You don’t teach him all the wrong ways to do it, you teach him the right ways.  And then what do you do when he makes a solid attempt to do well? You give him what?  Praise, exactly! I’m suggesting that we teach our athlete stroke mechanics based upon a positive model.  Continually creating for them the image and feeling of doing it exactly right. It’s incredible how the coaches that I’ve talked to over the years have gone out and had remarkable success with this approach.  Bill Rose, on the deck at Trials gave me a great story about an athlete that absolutely could not touch the end of the pool fast. He would come up to the end of a race and do nearly everything to avoid touching the pad in a rapid fashion. He would creatively screw up! Of course he eventually did touch it, but he just slowed up so much, it was just unbelievable!  It was almost like he screeched to a halt like the road runner and then tippy-toed to the pad and then touched. Well Rose, of course, pointed it out to him each and every time that he screwed up, constantly, and of course the athlete knew it too, but they both wanted him to do better. They were focusing on the wrong thing. So Bill came up and said, “Jeff, are you saying to me that even though he doesn’t do it right I should say, hey that was better, that was good. What did you do differently this time?” Answer, yes. The athlete goes “huh?” “No, what did you do differently this time, you actually were moving faster I think, as you got to the end of the pool!  This is great, you’re getting better!” “Okay, let’s do it again.”


So through successive approximations of praising and giving him positive feedback he improved that part of his race. So much so that it became one of the best aspects of his race. The enthusiasm and emotion that went along with doing things better, i.e. what Bill was doing with his words was encouraging. “You’re getting better, you were faster!” develops a picture, and the emotion that this young swimmer wanted to achieve, so it didn’t take very long at all before it was actually the best part of his race. Over and over, and over again, great coaches like Skip Kenny, Eddie Reese and Richard Quick ( I could name dozens and dozens) have learned that in teaching you need to teach exactly what it is that you want to have happen. The old saying, “Practice makes perfect” is misdirected. The only thing that makes “perfect” is practice of perfection, so even if you do it only three times a day perfectly, that’s better than going five or ten thousand yards doing it incorrectly. That’s just like thinking about slipping on the block. We’ve move toward and become like the pictures we hold in our mind. Now, if you know this, then it helps your instructional technique.


That’s only part of the game. What kind of an advantage would it be if the athlete also knew this? Take it one more step. What if the athlete became accountable for his or her own thoughts, and therefore focused on the positive instead of the negative “slipping on the blocks”. What do you think the outcomes might be then?  Well, they’re incredible. Most often we always have control over the pictures, but we always are accountable for the images and the feelings that we dwell upon. Sometimes we have pictures that just occur, but the dwelling on pictures of a negative nature is something that we need to avoid at all cost.


The three things that I’m going to share with you today will help to raise performances. They are the simple fundamentals of the psychology of winning.. The first thing you do, and it’s a big process, is to lock out the negativism and the criticism from the world around you. We all know that everywhere, even in USA Today, in every newspaper, in every magazine, news reports, we don’t read about the boy scouts and the girl scouts unless something happens to them that’s negative in nature. We hear about the negative all the time and usually in exciting or provocative ways. It’s no wonder that we find that most people focus on the negative. We find that in some cases, not in all cases, parents focus on the negatives when the kids aren’t doing as well in swimming as maybe they should. Often overlooking the positive gains, they, too, believe that getting better or faster comes about by pointing out the mistakes. But coaches have got to get the athletes as well as themselves to lock out criticism and negativism because if we move toward and become like what we are thinking about, then we don’t really ever want to think about negative things. Now I’m not saying that we turn our back on problems.  I’m saying that we focus on the solutions.  Picturing and thinking about the exact ways to execute the technique properly.


The second thing is to control our Self-Talk.  We will talk about that bit later, and the third thing is something you are extremely familiar with, goal setting.  Basically stated, you  input a new reality, a goal you want to achieve, through visualization. Our sport has seen a great improvement in goal setting over the years and to your credit, kids now appear to me to be much more goal focused than in years past.


My observations are, however, that the fundamentals of achieving goals have not been adequately understood, by coaches as well as athletes. What I’ve seen is this. The young athletes of today are no different from those of 25 years ago, as far as I’m concerned, because I’ve been working with them off and on all that time.  But what they’ve always had a thirst for is why the mind works this way. And one of the things that’s difficult for coaches who haven’t studied the psychology of winning to explain is the why. It’s the part that I just talked about. The words, pictures and emotions, it’s giving them examples of the how it actually works.  It’s making it relevant and applicable to their everyday lives. But until they know why and how to control negativism, their goal setting and the impact of everyday conversations with other people are not going to be as effective. What we see today and it’s easy to find examples in some of the major superstars, is to read what they say, how they talk and what they focus upon. If you listen to what they say, you will really understand precisely where I’m coming from. Tiger Woods is a perfect example, whether you like him or not, think he is a phenom or not, is incredible. He was raised from the very beginning not only with great stroke mechanics but also with sport psychology, really the psychology of winning. Every single day, day in and day out, his father was absolutely fabulous at that aspect of his training. So today, we have a golfer who excels at both aspects of the sport, mental and physical, exceedingly well.  Those who play with him the closest, say that the best part of his game is his mental approach, which we all can hear when he speaks. When he won the U.S. Open by 12 strokes, 15 under par, unprecedented and so on, he said “I had kind of an eerie feeling this week, kind of an inner calmness.” Later on he reported that it was like others say, “Being in the zone.” What is interesting to me and also exciting is that we’ve all experienced the “zone”, but what if future athletes could enter the zone often like Woods does, not just occasionally?  Wow! Talk about setting the bar higher!


Let’s explore a bit of the background on “locking out the negativism from the world around you.” Take Awareness: It is how clearly I perceive and understand everything that effects my life. No two people have the same exact awareness. We’ve got a couple of hundred people in this room, all of whom see me through human eyes so I physically appear about the same to each and every one of you.  However, based upon your prior life experiences, you each have a different perception of me. Not through your eyes but in your mind.  This is awareness.  Aside from physical limitations to our senses; sight, hearing, touch, etc., we are limited in our absolute awareness by the mental perceptions we form.  We all see the same thing, we hear the same things and so on, but we react to them differently. The most powerful thing that prevents us from fully comprehending the world around us is mental process called the reticular activating system. It’s a group of cells in the brain whose function is to allow only profitable data to get through, it’s a filtering device, like a screen door that you have on your house.  In the spring or summer, you know it’s getting nice so you open up the doors and the screen allows that fresh air to come into the house while it keeps the bugs out.  Humans have a screen door in the brain that allows profitable data to get through and here is where you coaches have a problem when you’re attempting to share information with your athletes.


Think about this.  This is Tuesday and there is an important meet this coming week-end and the kids need to know the details of transportation, what time, where to meet, that sort of thing.  So you gather them together at the end of the pool to go over the information.  It’s important, right? Or at least you think so and assume the kids think so.  But after a few minutes of explaining, the kids seem to wander off in their minds – not really paying attention.  You’re having to repeat things and getting rather frustrated.  You’ve held their attention for awhile but they’re drifting. Objectively, an observer would think they should pay attention because, after all, this upcoming meet is all about them, not you, right?  Why wouldn’t they pay close attention to everything you say, i.e. hang on your every word?  After a few more minutes you realize that Bill, one of your best freestylers has moved out by the backstroke flags and is shooting his goggles to try and land on the flags and he has an ‘audience’ of several other swimmers watching him. The tendency is to fall back on “How many times do I have to repeat this?  Isn’t knowing about the upcoming meet important to you guys?” Coaches, does this sound like the parent again?  Repeating things endlessly to an audience that doesn’t seem to care?   This illustrates the filtering system, the RAS.  It screens out the ‘unwanted’ information (the info. about the meet) and allows the “fun” info. to get through, the stuff about Bill and the goggles.  Think about it.  If you will take on the responsibility and accountability for making sure the kids get to the meet on time, etc. then they don’t have to!  They get to screw around, take things casually because they know you’ll cater to them.  Great coaches often spend what appears to be a lot of time with kids on an individual basis.  That is, they find out what excites or motivates each athlete so that they can verbally trigger this mindset every time communication needs to occur. What’s wrong with this other  picture is simple. The kids are not perceiving that what you have to say is important enough for them to open up their screen receptor and allow the data to come through.  Real simple, “Upcoming meet, pay attention guys. This is the only time I’m going to tell you about the upcoming meet this Saturday. If you’re interested in reaching your goals, listen up. We are all going to meet in the parking lot of the bla, bla, bla, . . . etc, etc.” and that’s it, pure and simple.


If they don’t get the info. from you, they’ll darn sure get it from another swimmer.  If not, they’ve learned a most valuable lesson.  Where’s the accountability?  On them! Where it should be.  Again, the challenge you face is that these athletes have never been taught a structured and competent course on mental preparedness and since you are viewed as a ‘physical’ coach, they are often less likely to view you as an expert.  Again, not reality but their perception (awareness). What I’m suggesting is this, let’s teach these kids some of that information so that they can be personally accountable for their own progress and use their own filtering system to allow good data to come through.


Another example of how the filter works. You probably heard it before, but let’s say I give everybody in this room 2 American coins totaling .55 but one of them is not a nickel.  How many people are honestly having trouble with that?  I see most of you are struggling.  The answer is simple and you already had figured it out.  One coin is a .50 piece and the other is a nickel. Your mind worked fine and correctly until I said “but”, a negative word in our language and followed it up with “one of them is NOT a nickel.”  So instead of being confident in your first answer, you abandoned the solution due to what you perceived to be negative words.  What about the mind that thought, upon hearing the ‘but’ and ‘NOT a nickel’, “Of course . . . one of them is not a nickel, the other was is!” It’s much like the half-empty, half-full water glass.  The reality is the glass in half occupied with water, but what is your perception or focus.  Remember, we move toward and become like our pictures.


Now let me show you something else that you have seen before and it’s another example of a filter based upon conditioning, I think that you will enjoy this. I’ll put this on the overhead and have you read it several times and memorize it.  In fact, read through it – I’ll give you ten seconds to memorize the sentence.






Go!  8 seconds, 7,6,5,4,3,2,1, stop!  How many memorized it?  None?  How many said to yourself as I was loudly talking backwards from 10 . . . “Jeff, if you’ll just shut-up I’d have a better chance of getting this right!” many of you in the last 6 seconds said to yourself, Jeff if you’d shut up it would make it a lot easier for me.  That wasn’t real helpful was it.  Place the accountability on me for your inability to memorize it.  Distractions, pressure.  Makes it difficult to concentrate and accomplish things.  I created a brief but powerful stress situation by taking while you were trying to concentrate and the affect it had on your performance was significant.  Think what pressure and stress does to your athletes – especially immediately prior to important competitions.  In sport, we find great accomplishments occur when one is able to discount the pressure, have an inner calmness, great expectations, and fervently hold on to the end result.


Now this time, since you didn’t memorize it, I want you to read through it again and count the number of letters ‘F’ that you see in the sentence.  Read through it and count the letters ‘F’.


Got it?  How many saw 2 F’s? A couple people. How many people saw 3 F’s?  Huge number, the vast majority of folks. How many saw 4?, 5 ?good, 6? Great! Don’t talk to anybody just try it again, especially those who saw 3 or less.  Just read through it, it’s the same sentence, how many still see 3 F’s be honest raise your hands, about a third of the room maybe half.  OK, here is the solution:  This time, count the number of OFs that you see in the sentence and then give me the new total. There are three OF’s,  correct?  So how many F’s are there?  SIX!  Some of you have seen this before, and you are saying to yourself right now, geez I’ve seen this before and I don’t know why I couldn’t get it. I knew it was a trick, but the trick is this it’s a filter. We have been conditioned to read phonetically and there isn’t anything wrong with that; conditioning doesn’t necessarily have to be negative.  But in this example, even though your eyes saw all 6 F’s, your brain, based upon the conditioning saw only 3.  Because phonetically we read OF as OV.  The sound of a V in our brain registered, thus tricking our eyes to the F on the card.


Here’s a sobering thought.  If I can ask you to find the total number of F’s on a simple card and even through repeated searching you are only able to find half of them . . . HOW MANY OPPORTUNITIES  i.e. F’s MIGHT YOU BE OVERLOOKING RIGHT NOW THAT ARE STARING YOU IN THE FACE, based upon this prior conditioning filter?  Example:  Who are you to think you couldn’t be an Olympic coach in 2004 or an International Team coach sometime down the road? How come with this same situation, one kid sees opportunity and the other one sees adversity? How come? The mind, the mind.  And in fact once kids start to learn how their minds work they become fascinated with the practical application of how it works. And they begin to focus on the kinds of things that they have been conditioned to believe, which may not necessarily be true. One final thought.  Some of you may have noted that I continually directed you to READ the card.  In fact, I mentioned READ many, many times and that was done on purpose.  Recall Words – Pictures – Emotions.  I said READ because it brought forward in your minds the process of reading, which was phonetically derived, and the phonetics led you in the wrong direction – namely to process OF as OV.  When you conduct this exercise and ask participants to PICK OUT the F’s instead of READ it and count the F’s, they do a better job!


Words truly do create images and directions for people.


So those are the first things that I wanted to share with you about locking out the negativism from inside (self-talk) as well as outside from the world around you.  Again the majority of the things that we run across on our lives on a daily basis tend to have a negative slant.  We need to be able to understand the effect that that’s going to have on us and our athletes and be able to change that in a way that we can swallow it in a positive format.  We must picture it in a way that it is solution oriented, that it is going to help us get to where we want to go.


Just a bit about Potential, since so much is said about it. I use the analogy of people and icebergs.  People are like icebergs in that we only see a little bit of them above the surface of the water. We see how people look and act.  Same with the little we see or observe of icebergs. We all know that about 90% of the iceberg is below the surface of the water, and from what we know about human potential that is probably true of humans too. The majority of our unused potential is beneath the surface and we haven’t tapped it yet. So potential is basically the total capacity that exist within each of us, like the entire iceberg and effectiveness is the degree to which we use the potential, that little part at the top.  As swimming coaches you know that you can be surprised by athletes who don’t appear to have any talent whatsoever when they are 8, or 9 or 10 years old but by the time they are 14 they are smoking everybody else in the pool! It just happens. Where did they get the genes, I mean what happened?  Sometimes you have an athlete that’s all heart and no talent, that can swim the socks off of everybody else. Other times people have all the talent but they can’t get their heart and their head into it. Lost opportunity.  All that potential and so little effectiveness to show for it!and want to share one thing about self image.


It says in your brochure that I’ll be addressing self image psychology. My remarks are more about the psychology of winning than self-image but let me share a few thoughts.  Researchers in self-image have found that a person’s self-image, which is their perception of themselves in any given area, is closely related to their performance level.  That is to say, whatever the person perceives their level of competence to be, it manifests itself in performances that are in alignment with that perception.  Simply stated . . . we act or perform in accordance with our current self-image, whether it be in swimming or coaching or it may be freestyle vs. the breaststroke.


We all have multiple images of ourselves and not surprising, these images trigger corresponding emotions that control our performance. So the basis of the psychology of winning is to teach methods that by nature are not physical, technique oriented, or nutritionally sound.  Studies of behavioral change indicate there are two fundamental ways to change.  The first is the most common and traditional.  The vast majority of coaches in all sports ascribe to this method, at least it occupies most of their efforts and attention.  It basically implies that performances will improve when technique, strength, nutritional habits, rest, etc. improve.  From this we are to assume that when the body is ready and primed for success, then it will do so . . i.e. become successful through improved performances.  Yet we know this type of preparation does not always work to improve performance.  Sometimes, and frankly quite often, the athlete is ‘ready and prepared’ to improve their performance long before they do so . . . something is holding them back.  We’ve found that it is their expectation of improving, their mental picture if you will that comes in conflict with actually improving performance.  The mere effort of ‘making’ oneself improve, even if the body is prepared to do so, seldom enhances performance.


The other method of improvement presupposes that the person’s self-image or self-perception is a strong determining factor, and must be taken into consideration for any lasting performance improvement to take place. If the mind does not believe the person is capable of reaching a higher predetermined performance, then the mind will work against any physical attempt to force this performance into happening. Because the mind sometimes works ‘against’ the preparedness of the body, it baffles the coach and athlete when desired improvement is not realized. What we have determined through teaching and testing, is that when individuals use mental techniques that are in alignment with physical training, i.e. developing in the mind an expectation of improved performances, the likelihood of improvement occurring increases significantly. It is this combination of mental and physical that seems to bring the best results.  Not only does it create a harmony between body and spirit, but it tends to eliminate much of the stress related to not achieving one’s goals.


Let me show you this on the board because it brings into play the concept of comfort zone, and I know you are familiar with that.   If in fact self-image is basically where we see ourselves performing, then we feel ‘comfortable’ performing in a range or zone that is close to our image. Performing either slightly better than our image or slightly worse is ‘acceptable’ to the self-image that ‘feels’ OK in this range of performance.  If you have a ‘C’ student, one who across the board usually gets ‘C’ in most everything, then the assumption is that even though he or she has the potential to get ‘B’s or A’s’, they will not until their expectations of higher grades changes.  Of course they probably need to change their study habits or whatever behaviors they currently possess in order for the knowledge level to improve thus enabling test scores to raise.  But study habits alone often do not result in higher grades.  To the contrary, when a student is performing at a level higher than they ‘see’ themselves performing, or in the vernacular of comfort zone (outside their comfort zone) they will creatively goof up enough to get themselves ‘back where they belong’.  That is, where they ‘see’ themselves performing.  This is true with  athletes when they ‘see’ (self-image) themselves performing at a certain level and yet find themselves out faster than they ever have been by a large margin and thus must creatively goof up or sabotage their good performance in order to again, ‘get back’.  It boils down to this.  We as athletes or simply as people, tend to get what we expect, rather than what we want.  The reason lies in the dynamic of this self-image concept whose function is to bring about the performance we believe we can achieve – not necessarily what we want but do not believe we are capable of achieving.


In terms of expectations we experience the following: “Geez, someday I could make regionals, someday I could make junior nationals, someday I could make seniors, someday I could make this or that. This is where we all WANT to be, but that is uncomfortable for us because we currently don’t EXPECT to be that fast. We see time and time again where people, where athletes for one reason or the other are prepared to do it, they go faster then they expect to go, they momentarily blow by their self image and find themselves at the150 ahead of everybody else where they didn’t expect to be.  What did they do in the last 50? They choked or whatever you want to call it, to get back to where they are comfortable.  We also see athletes who, at the end of 150, who expected to win the race or expected to do their best time and were at a slower rate swim faster than they ever have before to get back into their ‘zone’.  So my message is rather simple and straightforward.  These two different methodologies for improvement need to be combined.  They need to work together, just like in mind and body, to compliment each other in the overall objective of improving performance. You raise the performance by all the kinds of things you do on a daily basis, while you also are raising self image and expectation levels in the athletes themselves and that is not a function that can be handled solely by the coach. It should be handled by the athlete; hence their complete understanding of the psychology of the mind and of how to increase performance. Once the knowledge is imparted to the athlete, then the transfer of accountability for performance I mentioned earlier can and will take place.


Some thoughts about Goal Setting. It is deciding today what it is you want to accomplish in the future. Let me illustrate.  The 1971 Miami Dolphins, great team, great quarterback in  Bob Grease. This fabulous team came from nowhere and went to the Superbowl and lost to the Dallas Cowboys, we worked with them that year. Don Shula the great head coach and the team did all the positive things.  They learned the psychology of winning just like I’m sharing with you now and we do with your athletes. One of the things that they did was to place a big sign up that said, Put Up or Shut UP inside the locker room above the door to the field.  So from the locker room to the field they had this sign right above the doorway and they would all touch it and then they put another one on the outside, so when they came in from the practice field to the locker room they say it again.  Now you all know that this comes from your mother. She has told us repeatedly,  “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all!”  So put up or shut up.  So what these guys did was instead of going out and cutting each other down verbally, they went out and supported one another when they went out on the field. When they came back into the locker room they put each other up and when you put people up, you start thinking about the future, you start thinking about what you are gonna be able to accomplish later on that day or the next day or this Sunday when we play Pittsburgh or whomever it might be. What they did in that process was something called praise; they were giving each other positive strokes and that enabled them to believe positively about reaching their team goals!


I’ve been granted a few more minutes so let me share with you one of the most important studies that I think has ever been done in sports psychology, by Tom Tutko.  Tom took 125 boys ages 13 and 14 and divided them up into 5 random groups of 25 each on their ability to run the 50 yard dash. Each group, as a group, ran at the same rate.  He wanted to find out what kind of reaction they would have to different sorts of verbal cues, namely the effect of statements of praise. He had them run the 50 yard dash several times over a number of days and as they finished he would say different things to them.  The first group was a control group; he didn’t say anything to them at all, nothing.  The second group got constructive criticism. Have you ever heard of that? OK. The third group he gave criticism and then told them that they had to improve. The fourth group was told they must improve and then was criticized. (Reverse order from group 3)  The last group was just given praise, regardless of how fast or slow they ran.  Here are the results.


Over a period of about a week, the control group stayed about the same. Those in group two (constructive criticism) became a little bit schizophrenic in their performances. They got a little better and then they got a little worse and then a little better and a little worse. Those in groups three and four who were criticized and told ‘you must outperformed the others so far.  In fact the demand for improvement actually worked fairly well, for awhile. Group five, those who were given praise outperformed everyone else.  But not for awhile.  The first couple of days there seemed no improvement, just praise.  Does anyone know why?

Right!  They had received so little praise in the past, they didn’t know how to react to it!!! Once it continued, it felt good and they ‘enjoyed’ running for this guy who had nice things to say about their efforts.


Amazingly, Tom found out that these guys whom he pushed and said ‘You must improve.’ even though they did run faster, finally had enough of it and quietly said  ‘Hell, old man, it doesn’t matter how fast we run you’ve always got something negative to say!’  So they basically gave him half of the peace sign and quit. Remember, Tom only gave praise to group five, no help as to technique or whatever might help them physically run faster.  Can you imagine how fast they might have run if he combined the praise with proper technique? Wow!


Be appropriate with your praise, which means that you coaches must get with your athletes so that you know your athletes really well, so you know the difference between a solid attempt to do well and something that is fake.  It’s kind of like in the workplace. Example:  Somebody you work with has been out with the flu for 4 or 5 days and so it makes it tough on everybody else in the office.  They come back after 5 days and what do you say to them. “Well, it’s about time! We’ve been working our butts off all week while you’ve been laying around!  I sure hope you plan to put in a good days work – we’re all tired around here!” NO! You give praise and show concern, and after a half-day when they’re looking real peaked, you say,  “Hey, you have done enough and we appreciate you being back, but don’t overdo it.  Go home and rest up this afternoon so you can give us a full day tomorrow.” But you send them back after a half day and you give them some praise for a solid attempt to do well.  Remember I talked abut the 2% slight edge? All they need to do is to learn how to get a little better and the enthusiasm and the excitement takes over from there.


OK, remember the three things I said; lock out negativism, criticism from the world around you, the second is self-talk. How many of you talk to yourself?  I see some of you aren’t raising your hands, so what are you thinking?  Are you thinking to yourself, “I don’t talk to myself, only crazy people talk to themselves, I’m not gonna raise my hand.”  O.K. we all talk to ourselves and we do so at a rate that can be up to six times faster than I am currently speaking to you now.  It occurs at a very fast rate.  It never shuts up and continues on once we fall asleep.  This self-talk is a predictor of performance.  Remember Henry Ford . . . “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right!” It’s no wonder that you might experience difficulty in communicating with your athletes if all of them were speaking to themselves at the same time! It’s difficult to break in!  So you’ve got to understand what they’re pay value is and hit them with the information you need when they are ready for it. Self-talk is incredible.  Just like Bonnie who slipped on the blocks once but seeing it over and over again due to her self-talk affected her performance. You must be able to break that cycle whenever you are thinking negatively and replace it with something positive.  We only have time to mention it, but there are techniques that you and your athletes can learn to make self-talk more positive and goal oriented.  If they would control their self-talk and make it more positive than it currently is, they would automatically move toward faster performances because it is the mind that is holding them back.


Here is one of the best coaching tips I’ve ever seen. It is from Timothy Galway who just put out a book on management and coaching and at the very end of the book is a little bit on coaching, Galway also put this out years ago in The Inner Game of Tennis.


Performance equals Potential minus Interference


Our job as coaches and mentors is to eliminate as much interference from their lives as we possibly can, and as Nort was saying yesterday, the main mission of his University of California program is to create the right kind of environment where athletes can realize the greatest amount of potential that they have.  That is job #1 as far as I am concerned, among the 50 thousand other things that swim coaches are responsible for. I really mean that.  I don’t know how you get the energy to do it, but it’s almost beyond me to really understand how much you coaches do. I do believe the most important thing you can do is to create that right environment where excellence can take place.


The last thing I want to share a little about goal setting.  Again, there are 3 areas; eliminate criticism from the outside, control self-talk and make it positive, and create a new reality through goal setting visualization.  Goal setting is critical, but the process that makes it works effectively is the first-person visualizing that accompanies it.  A remarkable quote that was in Sports Illustrated from Jack Nicholas said, “I never hit a shot, even in practice, without first picturing in my mind exactly where the ball is going to land.” When you think about it, why would you ever not think about where it lands – that’s the end result – the goal’s attainment, at least for that particular shot!


Kobe Bryant said when he won game four of the MBA finals this year in overtime, “I had imagined this ending over and over again and then when it happened I was ready for it.”  Goal setting, visualization, mental rehearsal.  And when the opportunity presented itself he did it, referring to the dazzling steal of the ball and making a reverse lay-up with only five seconds to go, giving Los Angeles a commanding lead to go on to winning the MBA championship.  Mental rehearsal.  Billy Jean King, probably the greatest of all time in being able to teach people how the visualization process works in sport. In tennis you’re supposed to keep your eye on what? The ball!  How do you keep your eye on the ball while seeing where the ball is going to land on the other side of the court?  Billy Jean was able to do it by visualizing and then taught  it to others better than  anyone else I’ve known. Excellent mind control.   So as the ball came off Margaret Court’s racket in major competitions, Billy Jean would already be focusing in her mind on where that ball was going to go once she hit it . . . while her actual physical eyes watched it into the head of her racket.  Visualization.  The mental imagery that goes along with ones goal setting practices.


The most asked question:  What are the essential ingredients of a top sports program as it relates to the psychology of winning. I’ve been asked this question many times and have visited numerous sports programs where excellence abounds so here goes.


There are three essential ‘mental’ elements that must be present in a world-class sports program.

First and initially most important, the club’s coaches and athletes must be firmly grounded in all aspects of the psychology of winning.  A number of excellent trainers/communicator are highly skilled at coming into a program and teaching the fundamentals in a 2 day workshop. Choose this person carefully as they must be proficient at relating well to the athletes and their specific sport.  A number of you are very capable of teaching this material yourselves and do so on the deck.  This is good but in my experience, bringing in the outside ‘expert’ lends even more credibility to the coaching staff as the concepts presented will reinforce much of what you are already doing.  The athletes learn from someone other than the coach, but never doubt that the coach was aware of this information prior to the workshop itself.  A competent presenter will leave the athletes much better educated and aware of their one role in improving their performances.  Competence also means that the individual teaches the concepts separate from themselves lest they be perceived as a ‘guru’ or the athlete’s personal sports psychologist.


Second.  Following the workshop presentation, the club needs to dedicate sufficient time for review of the materials which includes athlete involvement in the re-presentation of the concepts with fellow swimmers as well as on-going sharing of how the concepts are being applied in their daily lives and swimming regimen. I always suggest that you assign a topic like ‘comfort zone’ or ‘visualization’ to two or three of your best athletes to start off with. Choose smart kids first to set the right tone and have them do a little bit of scull session work amongst themselves ahead of time, develop a format and then when you have a team meeting they present this concept. Now the kids put it in their own words, they develop examples of their own and they get everybody in the team talking about it during this 20 or 30 minute part of your team meeting. How often? A brief but formal gathering every week if you can.


Third.  All coaches (including each and every assistant) must be well versed in the psychology of winning and MUST LIVE BY IT EACH AND EVERY DAY – BOTH ON THE DECK AND OFF!  There is no substitute for role modeling . . . and besides, living in alignment with these principles is easy, fun and will be the most rewarding aspect of your career with the kids. You coaches can easliy monitor attitudes and progress on a daily basis, because you get to see the kids and determine if, in fact, they’re behaving in alignment with the concepts. What you’ll be accomplishing by this is transferring the accountability to the kids for their own progress toward reaching their goals..  Coaches involvement is daily reinforcement around the pool. You need to keep a positive attitude be solution oriented and need to be focused on what it is that the athletes need in terms of their pay value and where they want to go. You need regular goal setting meetings for two reasons. You need to know where their interests lie, and what they want to accomplish. And you are in a very good position to help them with different kinds of strategies to help them get there. When a strategy isn’t working, you’ll need to get with that athlete right away and change strategies or find out what is wrong and fix it.


If you are working with an athlete that is moving toward their goals very rapidly, you’ll also need to sit down with them often, because one of the problems we find in all sports is that some athletes will catch on very quickly and move more rapidly then the others only to slow down because they haven’t reset their goals as they approached them. And when you don’t reset your goals as you approach them, the athlete hits plateaus, that can be difficult to overcome due to the increased volume of negative self-talk when a person sits on a plateau for very long.


Good question.  The first step (fundamentals) should be taught every 2 years.  Daily deck reinforcement is essential but bringing in the ‘boys or girls from Dover’ as experts gives the club a lift and re-focuses the team on the mental essentials. Again, once the ‘expert’ is gone, involvement with team members and coaching reinforcement proceeds as I mentioned a few minutes ago.  Well, as usual, you guys have been most attentive, polite and thanks for inviting me back.


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