Myths of Mental Skills Training #3

24 05 2018

As I shared in past writings, gaining an edge on the competition can take on many points of focus. One can improve their strength, agility, skills, and speed. However, one of the skill sets that often gets overlooked is that of the MIND. I realize that the reason is often a lack of understanding of what it means, along with some MYTHS that cloud one’s understanding keeping them at a distance from the experience. I am writing about some myths because if that is the reason why you have not pursued this work I want to attempt to take away that barrier.

Myth 3:  Doing MENTAL SKILLS work will be boring, painful, and a waste. I can do this on my own by just trying harder and being more positive.

If you talk to the people I work with, you will find that some started with this very thought. It was not too long before their Mental Skills work became their absolute FAVORITE part of training. It was INSPIRING, INSIGHTFUL, ENCOURAGING, HELPFUL, and maybe most importantly, SO BENEFICIAL!

Often people build up a perception in their mind before they ever have an experience. Some of the fears people often have are centered around the fear that they will have to share deeply personal, vulnerable, and maybe even long-held shame concerning mistakes made in the past. There might be a time and place for one to dive into these types of topics but, building a mental skills toolbox is not one of them. Different professionals specialize in this type of work.

A mental skills coach is concerned with teaching and training the skills that are most important in the midst of competition.

The building of confidence, overcoming failure, dealing with distractions, overcoming the fear of failure to name a few. These conditions can be overcome, and you can thrive in spite of these challenges. A GOOD MENTAL SKILLS COACH can give you an edge few others have. Not only that, but these skills can be transferred to every area of your life and give you the same kind of edge.

I believe that there is no more exciting, relevant, and inspiring work to do than the work that becomes part of you no matter what you are doing or where you go. This work is exciting, powerful, and enlightening on so many levels.


Myths of Mental Skills Training #2

18 05 2018

There are many questions athletes ask when they ponder the possibility of working with a Mental Skills Coach. Sometimes, many questions can be answered by simply unpacking some of the most common myths. In a past blog, I deconstructed one myth.

Today I’m deconstructing Myth #2.
Myth 2: If I work with a Mental Skills Coach it must mean that I am psychologically weak.

The truth is, engaging in mental skill work is more about mastery, leading to increased strength and skill. In other words, we are weakened because we lack skills. Most athletes are not weak people simply because skills are lacking. Over the last 20 years, I have learned that mastery is a long process and as one honors the struggle of mastery they see consistent growth and progress.

However, where our skills are inadequate to the challenge, then weakness is revealed.

In the world of sports when a weakness is revealed, then we become vulnerable. It is this vulnerability that leaves us lacking in getting where we want to go. We must quit being so ashamed, and protected around things that require growth or “MASTERY.” The world does not hold back its expectations. In fact, sport and life are getting more competitive and therefore, we MUST BE BETTER!

One way that we need to better is MENTALLY.

All it takes for most athletes is to have a personal experience with this type of coaching before they realize the power of strengthening this aspect of their life and performance!

Ready to experience this for yourself?  Click here to try it FREE now!

I sincerely hope you take me up on this free coaching call offer!  Let’s flip your weakness into mastery!


Myths of Mental Skills Training

23 04 2018

Myths are beliefs that guide our thinking and behavior that may contain partial truth while also containing misguided information.

When I was growing up my mom would tell me I could not go swimming after dinner because I would drown from immediate cramping. For many years I thought that eating and swimming were dangerous only to find out that it was not true. I could now eat and the jump in the water! FREEDOM.

I suspect that we all have hooked our wagons to mythical beliefs only to uncover or find out the error of our ways. When myths are uncovered, it is because a NEW TRUTH that dispels that myth is learned or discovered through experience. My purpose for writing about myths and mental skills training is to bring new and fresh information to you in a manner that helps open up new roads of understanding. When this happens, you just may uncover something that could help you reach new heights of living and performance.

Myth 1: You have to be struggling to benefit from mental skills coaching.

Back in the day, you might have heard a story of an athlete working with a Sports Psychologist, or Mental Skills coach, primarily initiated when a STRUGGLE was sabotaging performance or life. Much of this work was done privately (nothing wrong with this at all) and with only a few having awareness. The work might have come to the forefront when the athlete had attained some space between that struggle, so they were better able to be open up about it. These brave and courageous individuals carved a pathway for more to consider the value of mental skills work. I have these people to thank and many others that have championed the value of these skills for 30 plus years. However, one shift that I believe is VITAL is to not only associate these skills with overcoming struggle but to understand that anyone CAN ENHANCE their performance, consistency, and overall life quality by learning, practicing, and strengthening their MENTAL SKILLS.

Truth 1: Mental Skills work can be learned, strengthened, and sharpened no matter how you are performing and what you might be going through.

You would never say to yourself, “I am playing good enough to stop getting stronger or more skilled.” It is common to keep pursuing mastery of sport-specific skills, so why would we ever believe that MENTAL SKILLS work is any different?

Learning how to improve your capacity to notice key triggers that lead to poor and unproductive thinking and re-structure the focus of those thoughts and the quality of the thought is significant. Just this one skill has become a game-changing skill for many I have coached.

Learning strategies for overcoming failure by committing to extracting the next piece of learning to enhance future performance has been a game changer not only in sport but life, for many I have coached. These are just a few examples of the importance of learning some skills that originate in the mind to enhance performance as well as overall life experience.

If you have ever thought that working with a mental skills coach is only for those that ARE STRUGGLING and hold the stigma that to work with this type of coach means you are FLAWED, WEAK, or ILL, then it might be time to re-look at this option.

I want to make it easy for you!

I invite you to join me for a free 30-minute MENTAL SKILLS COACHING SESSION.

Yes! Click here to get your FREE Coaching Call

Keep an eye out on our blog for myths two and three to follow.


**** It is important to understand that there is a difference between working with a Sports Psychologist and a Mental Skills Coach. A Sports Psychologist is licensed to diagnosis and therefore take into consideration influential factors that might be responsible psychologically for the struggle that often requires a more advanced treatment approach that is more broad and holistic than that of a Mental Skills Coach. When these psychological factors are present, Mental Skills Coaches need to understand where their training is insufficient because the needs of the client lie beyond their training. This understanding helps us to serve the individual with the utmost professionalism, ethics, and excellence.

Silent Screams

30 03 2018

One evening I got a call from a young athlete that had tried out for a specific team, and Silent Screamshe was struggling to understand why he did not make the team. With great frustration and anger, he detailed for me all the work he did and how angry he was that the work did not seem to make a difference. As is often the case, I dug a bit deeper to understand what was truly fueling his intensity. He went on to describe how many of his friends would be on the team and how sad he was to miss out on those experiences. I replied; “Is there anything else that is hard for you?” He then said; “I know my dad is really disappointed in me. He told me that I needed to work harder to keep improving rather than play video games.”

I have had this type of conversation too many times to count.

Tryouts bring with them fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, joy, relief, and uncertainty.

This blog is not designed to be about the fairness, or lack of it in youth sports, although there might be value in making some statements with regards to this topic. This blog is about the SILENT SCREAMS that often hide behind seemingly normal types of youth sports experiences. For the sake of clarity, I would like to highlight 3 SILENT SCREAMS I have experienced over 18 years.

The need to feel accepted is huge for young athletes. This need doesn’t discriminate according to skill and talent level at all.  As young people play, they carry an internal “acceptance” module. What this creates is a filter within that is constantly measuring and evaluating, with every action, the curiosity of acceptability. This need is so strong that many young athletes consistently look into the stands, or across the gym or field to read how they are doing from their parents or other loved one’s body language.

One story illustrates this: Some years ago I was working with a young hockey goalie. He was tremendously physically skilled, with cat-like reactions, great size and strength, and advanced instincts. But he was also plagued with tremendous anxiety, fear, and a lack of belief in himself. One day I asked him; “Are you afraid of failing?” He said; “NO!” I responded with; “Then why all the anxiety and fear?” He said; “Everyday I am afraid that I will let my dad down. I can tell by looking in the stands if he is satisfied with how I am doing.” He continued; “Somedays I look in the stands, and I see him with his hands over his head, and I know he is mad or disappointed about something. This makes me not want to play at all.”

I have since heard this type of story hundreds of times over the years.

The silent scream connected with the fear of rejection is often anxiety and a lack of belief. It rarely occurs to us that these symptoms may have a connection to us and the information that we are giving both verbally and nonverbally to our young people. Young people regardless of ability are looking to experience acceptance from the important people in their lives. At the core, this means the capacity to accept and positively reinforce the individual regardless of performance. Too often, parents and coaches relate to athletes like they are feelingless machines performing to make them happy and proud. When a player’s level of performance dictates the mood and posture in a relationship, then questions begin to form in the mind of an athlete about their acceptability and anxiety and fear strengthen. We must elevate our capacity to disconnect a player’s value from the quality of their performance and learn to communicate acceptance and appreciation for attributes that we notice that are worthy of reinforcement. Young people are super sensitive to this and because of this SILENT SCREAM anxiety, fear, and mental dysfunction is at epidemic proportions.

Young people not only want to experience acceptance but also want to be noticed. On every team, there are those that are the most skilled and those that are less skilled. We tend to have preoccupation and unbalanced focus on those that are most skilled. I am not referring to playing time here. As young people grow and play at higher levels, I believe that the best players should play. However, this does not mean that less skilled players have to become invisible. Often, most of the feedback, coaching, and focus goes to the most skilled players. One’s level of skill should not dictate the quality of coaching or feedback. Every player deserves to be coached and given the opportunity to progress their craft. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many. Once they have been slotted as a “role” player often, they become invisible. From this experience motivation drops, practice engagement slips, and desire to keep playing decreases with every experience. In this case APATHY SCREAMS! The foundation of this apathy is invisibility. When asked about why an athlete has “lost their motivation” it is hypothesized that they simply have other interests. I am not denying the viability of this argument, however, when young people do not feel or experience evidence that their presence is valued or needed motivation drops significantly, and the SILENT SCREAM OF APATHY OCCURS.

Taking the initiative to focus on the contributions, and assets that every player brings to a team goes a long way to silencing the scream of invisibility.

At first glance, you might take a double take when reading the title of this silent scream. Let me attempt to explain this. I think most if not all of us would like to raise confident and self-assured young athletes. In fact, many parents retain my services to teach this to their young athletes. However, my concern is that we are not truly raising CONFIDENT and SELF-ASSURED young athletes but, athletes that feel “special,” “privileged,” “entitled,” and “delusional.”

Confident and self-assured young people understand that struggles, disappointment, and failure will find them. In spite of this, they can stay engaged, find the value in the experience, and turn the moment into learning that elevates their capacity to grow themselves and their skills. All of this without damaging their sense of self or motivation to move ahead. Contrast this with young athletes that have been told they are “special,” “talented,” and are “unfortunate” when a moment of failure or disappointment finds them. We make excuses, feel sorry for, and find words to soften the impact of disappointment. The message here is often; “YOU ARE INVINCIBLE.” When young athletes believe that they are invincible, struggle, disappointment, and failure DISRUPT, DISMANTLE, and DESTROY them leading to emotional breakdowns, pouting, crying, and internal disarray. Recently, a young man called me in a total emotional meltdown. His team had just lost a game they were expected to win without much effort. The talent was not at all equally distributed. His team was the favorite. He was so distraught I could barely understand him. After calming him down, I asked why he was so emotional? He said; “I have never experienced such a bad loss.” “What makes the loss bad?”, I asked”  He answered, “Maybe we were not as good as we thought, maybe I am not as good as I thought?” One loss in a season of great moments was enough to have this young man question it all. There are a plethora of young men and women playing youth sports that are emotionally destroyed and deeply discouraged from NATURAL AND NORMAL occurrences in youth sports.


Because we reinforce the message of specialness and entitlement, our young athletes often conclude that they ARE FAILURES WHEN THEY EXPERIENCE FAILURE. This is the SILENT SCREAM OF INVINCIBILITY. This conclusion erodes one’s sense of self and leaves them feeling hollow and without the tools to turn those moments into platforms for growth and future accomplishment.

After 18 years of working with young athletes on the mental side of things, I have learned that what presents itself as the problem is rarely the real problem. These three silent screams of young athletes often hide. As a result, creating solutions to transform the scream into growth can be a challenge. However, I have seen many young athletes turn these screams into improved self-awareness, greater confidence, and overall self-mastery. As leaders and parents, we need to look deeper when we see attitudes and actions that are troubling. More often than not we will find a SILENT SCREAM.

Motivationally Impaired

30 03 2018

I first thought of this concept when I was on the pool deck of a club swimming team with individuals as they, one by one, jumped out of the pool for a short mental-skills coaching session. (for 2 hours I rarely have a break because of the interest these amazing athletes have in mental skills development)

Many want to know how they can strengthen their levels of confidence, reduce anxiety, mentally prepare for their races, or move on from a discouraging race.

However, the most often asked question is, “Shaun how do I stay motivated?”

This is an understandable question because most of these athletes train and compete year round. Fatigue, questions about what is being missed out on, and sacrifice lurk under the surface and grow intensely during times of disappointment and discouragement.

Because of the sheer numbers of athletes asking this question I was forced to dig deep and figure out how to respond responsibly to this important question.

What follows is my response:

First, I AFFIRM the athlete for being vulnerable and honest about how they are feeling about the work needed to continue to progress in the sport (after I affirm them tears are not uncommon). Many of these athletes have believed LACKING MOTIVATION was a sign of weakness. I often tell them that I am amazed at their dedication, commitment, and sacrifice. I also tell them I am not shocked by their struggle with motivation. Lacking motivation is not a sign of weakness!

Second, I ask them an important question, “What is your expectation for motivation? In other words, do you expect to be excited, motivated, and energetic every day?” The shocking truth is YES. They are carrying the burden of expectation believing that they SHOULD BE HIGHLY MOTIVATED every day! Unpacking this I find out that they have been carrying this for a long time…the myth of daily motivation.

Third, I ask them, “What if you did not have to be HIGHLY MOTIVATED all the time?” A big sigh of relief is experienced right at that moment! But, the sigh is followed by a BIGGER QUESTION, “Shaun what do I do then? If I do not have to be motivated all the time, how will I ever get where I want to go?”

Fourth, I bring them through a series of questions that focus on the VALUE OF OBLIGATION.

Question 1: “Is there anything that you do consistently BECAUSE IT gives you a chance to SEE WHAT YOU ARE MADE OF? In other words, challenges you to reach your potential?” The answers vary but they tend to focus on doing homework and eating well.

Question 2: “When you do what you are OBLIGATED to do when you are done do you feel proud of yourself?” YES is always the answer.

Question 3: “Is it possible that coming to swimming out of OBLIGATION to yourself because you have a long-term goal is a good enough reason to come during those times that you are FEELING UNMOTIVATED?” Often there is a look on their face that resembles a new found FREEDOM. “I do not have to be MOTIVATED all the time?” they ask. I can come to practice because I am obligated to because of my desire to reach some ambitious goals. (Character is deepened when WILL overrides the need for COMFORT and path of least resistance) It is not weakness to come to practice out of sheer obligation. I believe much of what we do to pursue success in any endeavor requires us to act out of a sense of obligation. THIS IS NOT WEAKNESS. I think this points more to maturity.

To be fair there are times when a lack of motivation goes deeper. Chronic fatigue is real and needs to be assessed. However, more often than not the athlete is trying to come to grips with the MOTIVATIONAL IMPAIRMENT that is born out of a belief that they ALWAYS have to be motivated to reach their goals.

Let’s not be afraid to help our young athletes unpack some of their mental challenges to arrive at frameworks for engagement that strengthen their ability to navigate through personal challenges and come out on the other end stronger and more resilient.

To the swimmers and coaches at the AQUAJETS, I thank you!!!

Progress is Power

15 03 2018

Some months ago I was talking with a young athlete, and I asked him how things were going for him.

His response was, “I DONT KNOW.”

To most people this response would be a dead end and the conversation would have moved on to something else.

Not this time!

I continued to explore with him what “not knowing” meant. My next question was, “Does ‘I don’t know’ mean you don’t know how to describe how it is going?” With immediate tears, he said, “YES.”

This experience opened my eyes to the reality that many young athletes are living with deep disappointment, discouragement, and despair without the words to describe their reality. This has emerged as a trend as I have worked individually with young athletes. Much of their experience leaves them confused, frustrated, and without direction.

Recently, I spoke to a young athlete that expressed to me his deep desire to succeed, but with frustration and anger he said, “I have no idea what I can do to get better.” This is an epidemic in the youth sports culture. Many young athletes that have the MOTIVATION TO IMPROVE have little, to no clarity about how to invest their energy. In fact, when a young man/women have the actual courage to approach a coach and ask what they need to get better, they often hear, “Just work harder.” I do not think there is any intent here to frustrate or anger these young athletes. I believe we have a great number of coaches that are unskilled in communication. This inability to communicate with clarity is what leaves these athletes at a loss of what to do. The accumulation of this over time leads to a great deal of frustration, confusion, and at its height, ANGER. The result is motivation is decreased, enjoyment is dissolved, and engagement is replaced with distraction and dissatisfaction.

We all want to feel like the effort we invest is leading to progress. PROGRESS IS POWERFUL!!

Recently, a young athlete reached out to me for coaching concerning his desire to control his emotions and have better focus. During my initial interview with him, he expressed tremendous discouragement and frustration because he was “trying” without PROGRESSING. During our first coaching call, I gave him some clear and specific strategies to invest in his “trying.” After just a couple of weeks, he reported feeling significantly better. When I asked why he felt better, his response was, “I am improving!”

IMPROVEMENT IS POWERFUL! Progressing leaves young athletes with an internal center of power that their efforts are getting them somewhere. They are not spinning their wheels and shooting into the dark about what they need or can do to improve. This is huge! In my opinion, the feeling and feedback that one is progressing may be the single greatest source of ongoing motivation for young athletes.

The next motivational variable is having a clarified role that brings with it a way to mark contribution. When a coach has observed and evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of an individual, communicated that to the athlete, and followed that with continued feedback as to the ongoing level of progression concerning the skills needed to contribute effectively within that role, motivation and perseverance are at their highest. Doing this well requires the capacity to look beneath the obvious. A contribution is often only associated with that which is most glamorous and easily observed. However, success in any team sport is dependent on different roles performing at high levels that combine for high-level team performance. When players are not clear about their role and opportunity to mark contribution, WINNING is of little value or consolation.

One player exhibited this with this example:

Following a weekend tournament that her team had just won a coveted championship while talking to Jill, I  asked her how it felt to win the tournament. Her response was troubling. She said, “I didn’t feel like I did anything to help the team win.” Her head was down, and her body language was discouraged. It would be easy at this point to shame Jill for not being a team player. However, her response speaks to the importance of leading young people to understand that they often have great contributions that go unnoticed. At least, in this case, her discouragement wasn’t about selfishness, it was about the DESIRE TO MARK A CONTRIBUTION TO THE TEAM.

I wonder how often we misread this?

Being a great teammate is about OFFERING WHAT YOU HAVE for the betterment of the whole.

What if the discouragement we see in some players is connected to their lack of clarity as to how to MARK THEIR CONTRIBUTION? When CONTRIBUTION cannot be marked, belonging is eroded. This can lead to discouragement often appearing in body language and actions that get labeled as immature and selfish. Telling athletes to be “team players,” without giving them a clear role, is nothing short of systematic rejection.

Young athletes are craving a clear path towards improvement. With clear roles, qualitative feedback, and a team atmosphere that values and reinforces differing forms of contribution, engagement increases, and discouragement and confusion decreases. This will lead to more young athletes feeling proud of their contributions.

Progress is POWER.

Cultures of Care

19 02 2018


Over the years I have been paying attention! I realize that this statement is quite vague on the surface. One could easily ask, “What have you been paying attention to?” The answer is what provides the clarity and understanding.

What I have learned over 30 years of working in the personal development field is this: what we “pay attention” to is what determines how we think, act, and live. If we have trained ourselves to notice what is lacking, wrong, insufficient, frustrating, or problematic then we are focused on all the information that supports these principles.

I want to suggest that the danger in our focus is not simply WHAT we are focusing on. Maybe the bigger danger is what we are NOT focusing on.

Let me explain. For the better part of 18 years, I have dedicated myself to learn and pass on the most advanced science on what unleashes HIGH PERFORMANCE for athletes, individuals, business professionals, and others simply seeking to “BE THEIR BEST.” My focus led me to pay attention to and help individuals succeed within the context that they were performing or competing. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. However, I have become acutely aware of something that requires my ATTENTION.

When the group succeeds, individuals thrive as well. Where individuals succeed only, the group rarely thrives.

I have come to believe that the future success of many individuals is going to exponentially increase as more and more intentional efforts and strategy are invested in the RELATIONSHIPS that turn a group into a team.

Simply stated, for youth sports to THRIVE we must bring back a focus on DEEP FRIENDSHIPS. What I mean is that we must consistently and intentionally put teammates in positions to not only express themselves authentically but teach others how to embrace the individuality of each person. I think we have neglected this because we think the shared goal of winning and succeeding is what brings people together. This only proves to be true when everyone on the team plays to win. This is where the myth begins. Most youth sports athletes do not only play in order to WIN. They play, ironically, to be with their friends and share experiences. What if we focused on amplifying the connection between teammates? I believe we would find an explosion of MOTIVATION, ENGAGEMENT, CONSISTENCY, and, quite frankly, I believe there would be less drama, more fun, and coaches would enjoy the process more.

I am not saying that WINNING does not have value. However, I believe that a focus on winning has created a point of focus that will keep us unaware of what truly will lead to greater success! Fully engaged, energetic, caring, and connected teams will outperform the opposite all the time when talent is equal.

In other words, we do not have to focus on WINNING to CREATE A WINNING EXPERIENCE.

In the depth of where my passion and experience resides, I believe our young people are craving genuine, authentic, and caring cultures to freely experiment, fail, succeed, and, maybe most importantly, LEARN ABOUT WHO THEY ARE.

My passion is designing team experiences that build a caring culture and teammates learn about themselves and others.