NAGC Conference Notes: Sports and Performance Psychology

This was probably the coolest presentation I have ever attended. I will be honest and come out and say it that I have been immersed in the gifted education world for about 4 years now. What I have found is that many are not fans of sports. Many view sports as not as important as studying and reading and working on our giftedness. I have a hard time with this notion as I am an avid lover of all sports. I coach several teams and believe that sports can play a fundamental role in the development of student athletes. Sports can help athletes work on mental toughness, understanding how important repetition can be, working hard to achieve goals, and most importantly being able to work with others as a team or unit. I agree that sports can be taken too far and at times have too much emphasis, but I cannot tell you how many times I have had a conversation with someone in the gifted field and sports just get torn apart. With that being said, I about fell out of my chair when I read a sports session on on the breakout sessions. I just had to attend and could not have been any happier with my decision.

The present was very thought provoking as Steve Portenga from iPerformance Consultants gave a brilliant presentation. It was then followed up by three educational experts who worked to make parallels to the education world. I really believe that we needed another hour of discussion. The audience was loving it. The room was packed and I think there were about 40 more questions if we had time. Anyways here are my notes as well as the slides from the presentation.

I love this quote that Steve stated early on, “You can’t make grass grow faster by pulling on the blades.”

When you start training you must have an end goal. Steve talked about how he always dangles the Olympic gold medal as a goal for all the athletes he trains. He knows that not all of them will make it this far, but what is the point in training if you don’t know what you are training for?

The question becomes how do Olympians get to the point of being Olympians? Can one retrace their steps backward and find any patterns? This really intrigued me as I thought about education. Can we chart where are gifted students end up in their careers and then work backwards to find out what the common links might be that lead them to being successful? Or is it just life situations that they react to accordingly? I think this is something that education needs to think about and begin to find these common links.

I am not going to repeat every slide as you have access to the presentation above so these notes from here on out go along with the slides.

Learning To Train – 9-12 years old (before puberty)
The body does not adapt physiologically so there is no need for strength and speed work at this stage.
At this stage we should be working on fundamental sport skills.

In terms of education I am thinking about the brain development and what our focus should be on? What else is the body and brain limited to doing at this stage? I need to find out more.

Training to Train – 12 – 16 years old
This is the stage where we are building their engines and working on sport specific skills. This is interesting because our society today has a such a demand on sport specific training at a very early age. There are 5 and 6 year olds who focus on solely baseball and play 40-60 games. This is crazy! This age is where things can start to be more specific. Very fascinating.

Training to Compete – 16 – 23 years old
This stage is where you focus on how to compete and how to optimize your engine. These are the high school years and college years. I just had this conversation with another coach this morning about how you cannot make a basketball player in their high school years if they have not developed a skill set previously. Yes, there are those rare athletes, but in a typical school system there just is not enough time to do it accordingly. This level is about preparing for games.

If you have not read Ericsson and the 10 year rule, then you need to! This is interesting research and used all the time in studies. Whether you agree with it is another blog post, but make sure you are aware of this research.

Talent is not enough!

Typically, training is done at chronological age. This is a problem due to the fact that it is based on who hits puberty fastest. I like this idea. I have had players at the 8th grade level just dominate and then not make the freshman team because they quit growing while others hit a growth spurt. Steve showed images of players of same age looking very different on the slides to prove his point. It would be interesting to take sports and and education and get rid of the chronological/factory/assembly line approach and place students and athletes with like minded abilities and skills. This idea has always fascinated me. I wish I knew how to get it done, but I guess I will just work with the system.

The line that stood out most to me was the following:

Sports are not 90% mental! Steve went on to explain that without the physical capabilities and talent. This really struck me as I never thought of it this way before. You can be as mentally strong as you want, but if you are 6’4″ odds are that you won’t be an Olympian gymnast. You have to skills or it is useless.

The head is the gatekeeper to the body so it is important to work on the mental aspect of training. It is not something you neglect. And we all know that there are no shortcuts or magic pills!

The key is focus, attention, and concentration

Concentration is knowing what to pay attention to during your training.

Prepare deliberately – you must teach and execute deliberate practice. Coaches have to coach how to practice! I found this to be very interesting and has really forced me to rethink how I handle things in practice and the classroom.

Elite are not that much different from the rest, but the multitude of how much they are able to do right. Often times they can just do more of the little things better.

Commitment
Can I succeed?
Do I care about this?
Why do I want to succeed?
What do I have to do to succeed?

These four questions are excellent questions to ask your players. I think they need a self reality check where they are open and honest with themselves.

The biggest issues in sports right now are burnout and identity. Who are we when the sport is no more or taken away from us? Have we developed our inner self to still lead a happy and successful when the training is over? Our whole being cannot be the sport. VERY IMPORTANT!

Confidence – different than self esteem. Confidence is knowing you can do it before you do it. You know you can because you put in the time and execution in practice.

Many struggle because they know they are not good enough because they took shortcuts in practice! Deep down they understand and know this is true even if they won’t admit it out loud!

To make connections from all this sports talk to education was super awesome!

There was some great talk again about the idea of mental development vs. age development and the idea of having students attend class based on ability instead of age. I think there will be a greater trend towards this type of schooling as parents and students want more education to cater to their individual needs.

The other key issue was helping students with their identity as mentioned during the sports talk. We need to teach students character and ethics as well as working on their whole being.

One idea that I wrote down that I want to expand bit further on is the statement that schools give average scores over time and celebrate. We should not be emphasizing average scores over time. We need to be shooting for excellence and moving away from tests that don’t help.

“Coaching” through assessments in school. What if teachers could help coach students during testing and assessments much like coaches do during games and events? This is a very interesting idea that would be cool to test and experiment with if given the opportunity.

Sports are in the performance domain and school are in the product domain. Schools need to develop long term goals that are clear and visible for everyone. Students don’t know where the math class they are currently taking will help them 10 years down the road. Schools need to start to bridge these connections.

Learning should be like sports. We should keep learning fun so when it is difficult the fun keeps them going.

Competition comes from the phrase meaning, “to search together”. Competition is necessary in both sports and education. As we work towards a common goal individuals and teams are pushing one another to new levels to search and expand skills and abilities.

Alright, this is a long post with lots of notes mixed in with my thoughts along the way. I would love to hear what you have to think about all this. I would love to attend another session or conference with Steve and educators to see where the discussion could lead when given more time.

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