Professional athletes require unique financial planning due to the amount of compensation and timing of the earning career. Athletes, with their families, should create a financial plan that spans the playing career, transition to post-play career and long-term life goals.
Information for educational purposes only.
While we’re all familiar with the concept of our “body clock,” recent studies indicate that daily and annual biological clocks influence physical and emotional health more than previously believed. In fact, our cells are strongly influenced by genes under circadian regulation and our behavior, including athletic performance, may be driven more by these “clock” genes than by external signals.
I’m certainly aware of jet lag as a circadian rhythm disorder, but I also discovered new information from a recent article in the New York Times: “The Quest by Circadian Medicine to Make the Most of Our Body Clocks.”1 by Kim Tingley, published July 6 of this year. As one who is committed to physical fitness, I was happy to learn that higher levels of conditioning allow me to adjust more quickly to changes in the sleep/wake cycle. At the same time, studies show that even professional athletes experience a hit to performance when their natural sleep/wake cycle is disrupted.
A few pertinent notes from the Times:
- “Professional athletes and their trainers…know that physical performance peaks in the late afternoon or early evening. (Most world records are broken in the evening.)”
- Studies by physiologists suggest that physical activity is…”ideally undertaken at certain times depending on the outcomes you prioritize (weight loss, blood-sugar control, strength).”
- For elite athletes…”the slightest advantage can make the difference between a loss and a victory” and cross-country or international travel induces “tremendous circadian disruption,” which takes a toll on sports teams’ performance.
Charles Czeisler, sleep consultant for the Boston Celtics and other pros, addressed travel fatigue by persuading players to maintain consistent sleep-wake times…”practicing in the afternoon, going to bed at 3 a.m. and sleeping until 11 a.m. When they traveled to the West Coast, he advised them to shift their schedule by three hours to keep their bodies on East Coast time.” While Czeisler did not quantify the effect of his adjustments, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) did analyze 20 years of MLB statistics, citing evidence that circadian disruptions caused being “on the road” decrease a team’s winning percentages—especially eastward travel.2
So, to better your tennis game, reduce your 10K time or make it to the top of Mount Everest, it seems that sustaining healthy circadian rhythms can help. And that requires consistent habits like sleeping in a cool dark room, turning off the lap top an hour before sleep, and waking up and going to bed at the same time every day—all those sleep hygiene guidelines do make a difference.
And what of travel? Are there specific strategies for athletes flying to Europe or Asia to climb a mountain or compete in the Tour de France? In spite of recent research, it continues to be difficult to apply new knowledge to travel due to factors such as individual differences and the challenge of measuring physiological responses in the field, using markers like core body temperature (CBT) and levels of melatonin. However, according to an article published online by the Center for Sports Knowledge and Innovation,” in Barcelona, some guidelines pertain:4
Researchers distinguish between travel fatigue and jet lag. Travel fatigue, which is associated with short trips, requires relatively simple interventions that promote sleep and allow for a recovery and rest period prior to competition. Additionally, athletes should be well hydrated, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and shift postures as frequently as possible during travel.
Jet lag results from trips that cross multiple time zones, causing “an asynchrony between “peripheral” clocks”3 like sunlight and the body clock. It is recommended by some experts to adjust the timing of sleep and light exposure progressively before starting a trip, perhaps also ingesting melatonin or, if clinically indicated, a hypnotic medication to induce sleep. Interventions aimed at promoting sleep (e.g., using an eye mask and noise-cancelling head-phones during flight) have been shown to improve quality of rest both during and in the days after travelling—thus reducing the adverse effects of jet lag on physical performance. These strategies should be combined with proper hydration, avoiding heavy, high-calorie foods, and stretching during the trip. Training should coincide with exposure to light.
The graphs below offer specific strategies:
- “The Quest by Circadian Medicine to Make the Most of Our Body Clocks,” Kim Tingley, New York Times, July 6, 2022
- “How Jet Lag Impairs Major League Baseball Performance,” Alex Song, Thomas Severini, Ravi Allada, PNAS, January 2017, https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1608847114
- Managing Travel Fatigue and Jet Lag in Athletes: A Review and Consensus Statement, July 14, 2021, Abstract accessed via the National Library of Medicine (NIH), originally published in Sports Medicine, Janse vanRensburg, et al., 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm,nih.gov/pmc/articles
- “Strategies to Reduce the Negative Side Effects of Travelling on Athletes,” Barca Innovation Hub, The Center for Sports Knowledge and Innovation, Pedro L Valenzuela, accessed July 19, 2022, https://barcainnovationhub.com/strategies-to-reduce-the-negative-side-effects-of-travelling-on-athletes
Watching Eugenie Bouchard rule the court or Lindsey Vonn race down a mountainside, one cannot help but admire such athletic prowess. But even an elite athlete has good days and better days. Thanks to an article in The Economist, I learned of recent attention given to the effects of the menstrual cycle on women athletes’ performance, which can fluctuate with phases of the cycle. In fact, world-class performers like Chinese Olympic medalist Fu Yuanhui are now speaking frankly about this matter. When her team came in fourth in Beijing, Fu said, “…my period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired – but this isn’t an excuse, I still didn’t swim well enough…” 1
Virtually all top male and female athletes are aided by a nutritionist, sports psychologist, and trainer—and lately, some female athletes are working with menstrual-cycle coaches to address the fluctuations in hormones that occur each month. Transitions between the phases of menstruation, pre-ovulation (follicular phase) and the luteal phase (post-ovulation) are very likely to have psycho-physiological effects that athletes and coaches need to understand in order to counter negative symptoms that intervene in training and performance.
As example, during the first phase the menstrual cycle (prior to and during ovulation), a higher level of estrogen and testosterone have a positive effect on mood and motivation, as well as allowing the body to access stored carbohydrates and maximize high-intensity training. Post-ovulation (the luteal phase), a higher level of progesterone impacts nerve activity, metabolism, and protein synthesis, making the body less resilient and thus, increasing fatigue in response to stress. Angela Naeth, a partner at United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy suggests that rather than build muscle in this phase, it is better to focus on “steady-state aerobic activity.”2
While individual women have different sensitivities to hormonal shifts, strength and conditioning coach Cody Roberts writes in Science for Sport, that “…the best thing that any coach can do (male or female) is to create a safe space for the athlete to be honest…about their mental and physical state. The menstrual cycle is not everything, but it is a component that at times, regardless of sleep, nutrition or recovery, is going to interfere with performance.”3
As a climber, I found it interesting that Maddy Cope, a British professional climber and coach, emphasizes the need to balance scientific research and what athletes report about their individual experience. Cope notes in The Economist…”that most research does not translate well to her own discipline [climbing].”4
The Economist article continues, “Climbing is a supremely technical matter, and the tests used in research compare poorly with the actual demands of the sport….[omitted sentence] Most good training plans for climbers include exercises of a range of intensities and incorporate a “de-load” week, to allow the body to recover. Menstrual-cycle-informed training in this case might be as simple as arranging for the de-load week to coincide with the stress-sensitive luteal phase.”
Food and drink affect fitness and performance at all times and top athletes are almost always intentional about favoring nutrient dense foods. Equally, women can address hormonal fluctuations by emphasizing certain foods and avoiding others, especially during the luteal phase the week prior to menstruation. “The luteal phase is often the time when cravings hit for carbs, sugar, fatty foods, etc.”5 It is suggested that women eat foods rich in B Vitamins, as well as magnesium rich foods like avocados, nuts and legumes, and dark leafy greens that support mood and energy levels. Ideally, one should also avoid alcohol, animal fats and added salt during this phase.
Menstrual-cycle sports science looks like a promising field of research, one that will allow women to achieve their full potential in sport, whether one has the ambition to compete at a high level or simply to experience a personal best.
- “Chinese Swimmer Fu Yunahui Praised for Breaking Periods Taboo,” Tom Phillips, The Guardian, 15 August 2016.
- “The Menstrual Cycle and Female Athletes,” Angela Naeth, UESCA, accessed July 26, 2022.
- “How Can Coaches Best Understand and Approach the Entire Menstrual Cycle?” Cody Roberts, Science for Sport, 31 May 2022.
- “How Menstruation Affects Athletic Prowess is Poorly Understood,” The Economist, Science & Technology, 20 July 2022.
- “Menstrual Cycle Nutrition,” Ivy Eliff, OnPoint Nutrition, accessed 27 July 2022. https://www.onpoint-nutrition.com/blog/menstrual-cycle-nutrition
A young athlete with a promising pro career, often plans to buy a house, along with a new car and a few luxuries as soon as the contract is signed. But is that the wisest move? While there’s no doubt that a comfortable home can offer pride in ownership, it also comes with costs and risks if finances are unstable. And the fact is, players often spend at a level that only makes sense during peak earnings. When those earnings end, a house payment, along with attendant expenses like property tax and maintenance continue.
Consider this: the average playing career for an athlete in the NFL is 3.3 years; for an NBA player, it’s 4.5 years; and in the MLB, one in five players will have only a single year career although the average is 5.6 years. Career volatility and the propensity for injury varies with position in football and baseball, but across the board, most players enjoy only a handful of years of active play. What happens after?
Professional athletes must also think about how long they will be based in one city. Players get traded from one franchise to another, moving from city to city and across the country. Accepting a trade may be required by the player’s contract—and life changes in an instant. Given the possibility of a trade or simply being cut, means renting can be a better option. Moving out too soon can result in tax penalties. If you don’t live in a home for 2 years, you will probably pay capital gains on any profit made in selling the house. As the seller, you also pay a realtor’s commission that ranges from 4% to 6% of the selling price. And property doesn’t appreciate quickly enough to turn a profit if you have to relocate in a year or even two.
Additional costs of ownership can occur if an athlete buys houses in different states—especially if one or more of the houses is an investment property. Loans for an investment property are often at a higher rate than an owner-occupied property. Estate and tax issues can also arise if you own multiple homes in multiple states, as well as legal complications should a dispute arise about the properties. You’ll need a good attorney in that case.
Home ownership also entails a time commitment. Again, consider how often a professional athlete travels during the playing season. While absent from the home, someone has to deal with maintenance or any damage that may occur due to fire, flood or earthquake. Renters can expect a landlord to take care of repairs and other chores, but a homeowner cannot. Do you want to take time to find a plumber when you’re on the road? Or, do yard work when you return?
While owning a home offers benefits like equity and certain tax breaks, renting offers greater flexibility. After all, real estate is an “illiquid” asset, meaning a property can take a long time to sell and you may not get the price you want. So, there are several considerations to take into account to make sure it’s the right time to buy, and the right place to buy—remembering that no one can foresee the trajectory of a playing career or guarantee a comparable income in the next phase of life Sudden reversals are just the nature of the business.
Home ownership is the American dream, but at a minimum, you must have:
- Enough cash for a 3%-20% down payment (while first-time homebuyers can get a loan for as little as 3% you will have to pay PMI)
- No debt – student loans or consumer debt
- Financial reserves to cover all expenses for at least 6 months should your income be disrupted in any way
- Beyond the down payment, and mortgage, you’ve factored in expenses like homeowners’ insurance, PMI, HOA fees, utility bills, property taxes, upkeep, etc.
Interviewed in Chicago magazine, professional basketball player Nazr Mohammed described how he learned the hard way about buying a home, renovating and losing money when he had to relocate from Detroit to Chicago. “I tell everyone, not just the rookies: rent. Because as an athlete, the only person making money when you’re coming and going [to new cities] is the real estate agent.”
Often, we think about pressure as existing in moments of high intensity—the pressure to save a life in the ER, to pass the bar exam, or to score the decisive point in the last seconds of a game.
Pressure, however, can exist over an extended period time as months of grueling athletic training or the protracted effort required to build a business.
How can we handle sustained pressure without losing focus, nearing exhaustion or succumbing to a sense of futility about one’s goals?
While I’ve encountered various prescriptions for avoiding burn-out, or making stress work for you, I found Dane Jensen’s perspective on the “problem” of pressure intriguing.
Jensen proposes idea that pressure is potentially a “solution;” actually, a form of energy or fuel, and that one’s mind-set is what matters most.
Under “long haul” pressure, we need to get in touch with the “why,” the “purpose-driven stuff.” We need to ask, what’s truly at stake?
In an article that contains an excerpt from Jensen’s book “The Power of Pressure,” he states that it is “…possible to not just endure these periods but actually become committed to navigating them as meaningful challenges we can rise to….[and] deep down we can feel a sense of pride in our resilience, confident that we can handle whatever life throws at us….”
The long haul, with its multiple professional and personal pressures, may not be as comfortable as we would like, but it can be a meaningful experience, a source of self-respect and confidence.
We need to be in touch with our passion, our over-arching intention, as well as the will to persevere and the capacity to know when we are low on fuel and need a moment to breathe.
Read the full excerpt of Dane Jensen’s book here: https://bit.ly/3B9Mtx7
I’m always looking for new insights into mental tools that help us to be more constructive in our approach to work and life.
While reading an article about self-confidence, I was struck by the idea of reframing one’s “less successful” experiences, not judging such events as “failures,” but rather as steps on the way to success.
The writer, West Point psychology professor Carmine Gallo, points out that the secret to improving performance is to “release” our feelings of disappointment or harsh self-judgement.
After all, we all make mistakes or fail to “match our expectations” whether our client presentation fails to impress, or our golf ball lands in the rough.
We need to learn from our mistakes, make note of what worked and what did not, and keep driving ahead towards the ultimate goal.
The “disaster” is just a bump in the road if you see it as incitement to practice (and practice more), as an experiment or as part of an active process in discovering what helps you relax, focus, and feel empowered.
If you’d like to read Gallo’s article “A 2-Step Process for Building Unshakable Self-Confidence”, here’s the link: https://bit.ly/3JoE1Nv.
Can we learn to work with time, instead of struggling against it?
Recently, I added a post about Parkinson’s Law, which seems to be too often true, although not inevitable. So how can we apportion the time we have on any given day, for any task, to be more efficient, productive and ultimately, creative?
In the 1980’s, Francesco Carillo developed the Pomodoro® Technique, a time management strategy that helps to increase productivity using focused work sessions and frequent short breaks. The name “pomodoro” was inspired by a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato.
The basic technique:
- Prioritize a list of tasks – consider the amount of effort each requires
- Set a timer to 25 minutes – discourage interruptions
- Work on a task until the timer signals (25 minutes)
- Take a five-minute break
- After four subsequent pomodoros, take a 15-30-minute break
Proponents of the technique advocate for physical stimuli that act as cues. Winding a timer confirms one’s intention to start the task; the ticking represents the user’s desire to complete the task; ringing announces a break. Additional tips: At the beginning of each “Pomodoro” period, take a moment to review your work. Evaluate the time you give to each aspect of the project, proposal, budget or report you want to complete. Do you need to spend more time on research, less on revising? More time thinking than collaborating?
If you’d like to learn more, you may want to check out Franceso’ Cirillo’s web site: https://francescocirillo.com/
If you’ve studied productivity, you’ll recognize the axiom above as Parkinson’s Law, the proposition of British naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson. The statement first appeared in a 1955 article in The Economist and later, as the basis of one of Parkinson’s books, The Pursuit of Progress.
To illustrate this principle, Parkinson used the example of an elderly lady who sets about writing a postcard to a niece. Since nothing else requires her attention, the simple task takes all day. She fills the time searching for stamps, looking up the niece’s address, worrying about whether the post office will be open, making a cup of tea, and discarding the original note to tinker with the language of the missive.
It’s easy to see how this example translates to emails, memos, and written reports in our workplaces. The impulse to give tasks more time than they require may be our desire for a bit of leeway, insecurity about one’s abilities or, it may relate to the idea that by taking longer, we will do a better job—although most people are limited in how long they can engage in purposeful activity without fatigue. Should we then impose strict time constraints on our work? Or that of those we supervise?
A relevant post on BBC WORKLIFE, addresses those questions and discusses Parkinson’s Law in more depth than I can do here. The article also quotes Princeton behavioral scientist Eldar Shafir on attentional fatigue: “Because our attentional capacity is limited, we divide it sporadically any way we can as we run through everyday life,” he says. Yet, now and then, we have to buckle down.
In his book “Scarcity,” Shafir and co-author Sendhil Mullainathan discuss the potential costs of laser-like focus: “When you have a deadline it’s like a storm ahead of you or having a truck around the corner. It’s menacing and it’s approaching, so you focus heavily on the task.” And while you may whip off a brilliant piece of work, problems can arise when all else is pushed to the periphery of one’s attention.
Plus, there’s a chance that pushing too hard, going too fast, can make us prone to errors in our work—just as it can lead to injury in athletic endeavors. “If your deadline is too short and you’re panicking…you might work inefficiently, and things might go badly anyway,” [Shafir] says. Ideally, we can find an effective way to complete our various tasks while managing both time and quality.
My recent post quoting mental training coach Colleen Hacker inspired me to watch a handful of YouTube videos featuring Dr. Hacker (professor of kinesiology Pacific Lutheran University). I found her words inspiring and useful not only for those who train for a sport as an amateur or a pro, but also for anyone pursuing a profession.
In one interview, Dr. Hacker emphasizes the power of the imagination – not just visualization – as a poly-sensory technique to improve performance in any competitive culture. One imagines vividly, specifically, in detail, and using all of one’s senses to achieve measurable results.
On another track, Dr. Hacker identifies the “4 pillars, plus one” of every sport—and perhaps any demanding endeavor. Those pillars are: Technique (whether the craft of cookery, surgery or sport); Tactical (adroit planning and prioritizing), Physiological (good health that supports one’s energy and endurance); Psychological (mental skills). The Plus One? How do I make my team better? How can I help others on my team, can I help my fellow players (or my family members, my colleagues) look good and succeed as well as myself?
Dr. Hacker is a great source of pithy quotes that might serve as useful mottos: “Do Now well.” “Go loose.” “Do simple better.” And importantly, “Mistakes are a part of living…a part of sport. Mistakes are a part of every role that we find ourselves in…a part of the fuel that fires us to improve.” When, inevitably, we miss a putt or drop the ball at work, recognize the error, own it and move on – let it go!
If you’d like more, click the following links. The videos are short and to the point.
For top athletes, mental skills training is essential to dealing with the pressure of competition. Can the strategies Olympians use improve performance in any field?
An August article in the New York Times features a handful of top “psychological consultants” who work with world class athletes, counseling them on “…how to avoid choking under pressure, how to tune out media chatter and how to quell stomach butterflies.” Pressures arise in any profession on those days when it’s imperative to perform and keep cool, even if the spotlight is not quite as intense as it is during the Olympic Games. What do mental coaches have to say that we can apply to our own life?
1. Use Your Imagination
When Colleen Hacker worked with the 2018 women’s Olympic ice hockey team, she asked them to imagine the moves they would perform in competition. In many cases, the repeated use of such sensory-based imagery improves performance as much as a similar amount of actual practice. Try it on your tennis backhand.
2. Stress Out – With Intention
Find ways to boost your stress level as you prepare for a presentation or difficult conversation. How? Role-play with friends or practice in front of colleagues who might toss out provocative remarks as you learn to stay calm and collected.
3. Loose Up, Laugh It Off
Crack a joke, watch an SNL sketch, or dance around the office supply room. Laughter or horsing around with others can break the loop of negative thoughts and escalating tension.
We can take a tip from Julie Foudy, Olympic gold medalist, who says. “It’s like, OK, come on, laugh about it. And then let’s go win.”
Source: Svoboda, Elizabeth, “An Athletic Coach for the Mind,” New York Times, August 2021,
I’ve written previously about developing “mental armor” to handle the pressures and demands of life and work. The subject came up once again when I saw a Twitter post featuring Gordon Parker, AO (Officer of the Order in Australia), a prominent psychiatrist, who speaks briefly about burnout—what it is and how to prevent it. Scientia Professor at the University of South Wales, Parker’s research into the symptoms of burnout leads him to promote physical exercise and meditation as two helpful ways to prevent or remedy the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion we know as burnout.
Doing a little further “research,” I learned that while burnout is not recognized as a distinct clinical diagnosis like major depression, the World Health Organization has recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.” In this context, when stress is excessive and/or chronic, one’s resources become depleted, affecting one’s performance at work—even if, or perhaps intensified by—working from home.
Professor Parker and a colleague, Gabriela Tavella, recently authored an article on burnout published on the ABC News web site, discussing burnout in a broader context than that of work alone. The authors point out that an event like the pandemic created stress in virtually every context and that while escaping stressors isn’t always possible, there are “…some de-stressing strategies to help curb your burnout symptoms. Things like exercise, meditation and practicing mindfulness are consistently nominated…as most helpful.”
For my own part, I find that challenging physical activities—like climbing mountains—along with meditation, are good preventative medicine and invaluable in maintaining mental clarity and emotional balance.
#ICYMI: As the pandemic, the stresses, and the WFH/school life continues for many, a different kind of fatigue has set in – burnout. @blackdoginst's Prof. Gordon Parker says there are four things people can do, if they're feeling burned out and want to change it. #TheDrum pic.twitter.com/HqmaLwZMwL
— ABC The Drum (@ABCthedrum) September 17, 2021
In July of last year, an essay in the New Yorker proposed that crises can be a catalyst for positive change. As the U.S. suffers a fourth wave of COVID-19, is optimism still warranted? I am hopeful that we can count on human resilience in the face of adversity and historical evidence that suggests the potential of crises to “shake up the way people think.” Those words were spoken by Gianna Pomata of Johns Hopkins University, and quoted by Lawrence Wright’s essay, “How Pandemics Wreak Havoc – and Open Minds.”
A professor of Medical History, Pomata notes that in the 14th century a virulent disease known as the Black Plague devastated Europe (as well as China and India), but also ushered in the European Renaissance. Arts and sciences flourished in this era of profound change, while hereditary class divisions and control of wealth gave way to new social and economic forms. “After the Black Death, nothing was the same,” Pomata says. “What I expect now is something as dramatic is going to happen… in economy and culture. Because of danger, there’s this wonderful human response, which is to think in a new way.”
Wright adds, “We seem to be at another point when society will make radical adjustments, for good or ill,” and his essay offers a look at the mixed effects of pandemics that emerged throughout the history of the western world. Pandemics almost always triggered economic volatility, but responses varied widely. Wright is hopeful that our present pandemic will open minds to the possibility of “major transformations.” He notes that, “Like wars and depressions, a pandemic offers an X-ray of society, allowing us to see all the broken places.”
The events of early September 2021 might alert us to the urgency of a response to climate change, as well as to the effects of a COVID-19 rebound which has dramatically slowed hiring. Much still seems uncertain, but perhaps a look at history can help us to find a sense of perspective if not equanimity—and also inspire us to take up the work of creating positive change.
HOW PANDEMICS WREAK HAVOC – AND OPEN MINDS
Lawrence Wright, July 13, 2020
The New Yorker magazine
Over the past year, elite athletes have brought unprecedented focus to the psychological challenges of performing at the highest level. Unsettled by pressure to win the Gold, Simone Biles pulled out of gymnastics events at this summer’s Olympic Games. Earlier, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing depression and mounting anxiety. And in England, Tyrone Mings revealed that his mental health plummeted before Euro 2020, prompting the footballer to call upon his psychologist to cope with competitive anxiety. An excellent article by Simon Usborne in The Guardian takes a look at the pressures faced by professional players and the rest of us: “How to win at life: What sports psychologist can teach us all.”1
To capture a few points in The Guardian article: sports psychiatrist Steve Peters, who has worked with British cycling, football, and taekwondo teams, says that he asks athletes to think about possible scenarios prior to competition to prevent panicky reactions during competition. “I’d take a sprinter and say, this is what could happen in this 100m race: a world record; underperformance; or an unexpected event.” Dr Andrea Furst, who works with England Rugby and the Australian sailing team, says the ability to focus on specific things that need to be improved separates elite athletes and mortals. It’s the focus on the thing that needs to be changed, “. . .done day after day that makes supreme performers.” Others emphasize pausing at critical moments to take control of a situation—but without overthinking it.
I believe that we can all learn from how athletes are nurturing well-being as well as prowess through disciplined preparation, learning to relax while remaining focused, and finally, allowing ourselves to celebrate even a small win. The following is an edited list of 8 practices proposed by the psychologists quoted in the article:
- Break big goals into do-able chunks
- Use positive self-talk
- Visualize success
- Consider potential outcomes. Prior to competition, deal with the chance of a brilliant showing, a stumble or a random event to stay focused and “in the moment.”
- Use relaxation techniques: breathing, meditation, music
- Ask yourself—and your coach or mentor—what’s not helping. Then work on it.
- Pause before all-out effort – but not too long
- Celebrate triumphs big or small
- Usborne, Steve, “How to win at life: what sports psychologists can teach us all,” August 21, 2021, The Guardian, retrieved 8/22/2021 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/aug/21/how-to-win-at-life-what-sports-psychologists-can-teach-us-all
At the Summer Olympics in Athens, twenty-one-year-old Oscar Figueroa placed 5th in the men’s weightlifting competition and came to Beijing in 2008 hoping to better his performance. Unfortunately, due to a cervical disc injury, he failed to make a lift in the snatch category and left the Games without posting a result. Failure and a risky surgery did not stop Figueroa. With a new coach, he began training immediately and arrived in London in 2012 stronger and mentally committed. With maximum concentration, he completed an Olympic Record lift of 177 kg, earning a Silver Medal.
A second painful surgery followed success in London, yet Figueroa maintained focus, practicing meditation and preparing mentally as well as physically for Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Observers noted that he remained remarkably calm before a roaring crowd, with Colombian fans “in a frenzy” and rivals falling away.1 In Figueroa’s own words, he knew that in order to win, “…you had to believe, to trust, to desire, to be disciplined…the only way was to keep working.”2 At age 33 in Rio, Figueroa fell to his knees and burst into tears after winning the men’s competition and taking home Gold. “I never give up.”
- “Against All Odds,” video, retrieved January 10, 2021, https://www.olympicchannel.com/en/athletes/detail/oscar-figueroa/
The emergence of Covid-19 has forced all of us to change the way we conduct our lives. For nearly a year, people in every circumstance and walk of life have dealt with an invisible threat to the health of family, friends, and neighbors, as well as the distress imposed by economic uncertainties.
While there is encouraging news about COVID vaccines, daily life continues to be challenging as infections again surge. We still need what some military sources call “mental armor” to cope and carry on, to remain resilient and adaptable.
A key component of my own mental armor is meditation, which I use to mask the “noise” of the daily news and other distractions. I use both inner-focused meditation techniques and outwardly directed practices to help me to focus and “clear the decks.”
The second component is finding a purpose beyond my own immediate concerns. As psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” I also adhere to ideas expressed in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience: “It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.” For me, this means being clear about my intentions, setting goals slightly above my ability and engaging in physical activity. I see these philosophies at work when I run marathons and climb mountains to raise money for cancer research and in my commitment to financially support an Asian researcher. Fighting cancer has profound personal meaning for me.
Finally, I find the Stoic philosophy helpful. Epictetus (50 A.D.–135 A.D.) wrote that, “Some things are within our control and others not.” The Greek philosopher consistently considered the capacity for choice and the limits of “volition,” writing, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
In essence, leadership is the art of guiding a group of people toward a common goal. But what are the qualities of an effective leader? Is it a matter of charismatic personality or something that can be learned and cultivated? My interest in leadership led me to an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart?”
The writers of the HBR piece, noting that 25% of CEO departures are involuntary, conducted a ten-year study called the CEO-genome project. The resulting data disputes the frequent assumption that a successful CEO is most likely to be a tall, extroverted visionary with an Ivy League education and an astronomical IQ. In fact, the key finding was that, “successful chief executives tend to demonstrate four specific behaviors” and that most high-performance CEOs excel in more than one of these four behaviors. Those with a poor leadership profile rarely do so.
The Four Behaviors
Deciding with speed and conviction
High-performing CEOs “make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction…even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains.” In fact, leaders who were indecisive were much more likely to be fired than those who simply made one bad decision.
Engaging for Impact
Once a decision has been made, the CEO must get people “aligned around the goal of value creation.” Per the study, CEOs with a results orientation were “75% more successful in the role.” And while good leaders do solicit information and ideas, they must also be willing to engage in conflict and ultimately, chart a clear course—giving “everyone a voice but not a vote.”
The authors’ analysis shows that leaders who excel at adapting “are 6.7 times more likely to succeed.” Equally, the ability to adapt requires an ability to think long-term and anticipate change.
Project data indicates that reliability is paramount. “A stunning 94% of the strong CEO candidates we analyzed scored high on consistently following through on their commitments.” The writers also note that reliable results require the ability to effectively organize, plan, systematize and build a strong team.
I think anyone can benefit by practicing these four behaviors. After all, imagine an indecisive military leader, a football quarterback who can’t adapt to moment-by-moment shifts on the field, or any leader in business who doesn’t engage and motivate his or her team. I hope you will find this information as useful as I have.
— CNBC (@CNBC) May 20, 2019
Botelho, Elena Lytkina; Powell, Kim Rosenkoetter; Kincade, Stephen; Wang, Dina, “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart,” Leadership Transitions, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/05/what-sets-successful-ceos-apart
The question arose after reading an article in The New Yorker by Douglas Starr, professor emeritus of science journalism at Boston University.1 Although the article was written with regard to how the concept of swarm intelligence might apply to guiding a response to the current pandemic, Starr prompted me to consider how it might apply to sports and even more broadly.
First, a definition: swarm intelligence is the “phenomenon in which groups of animals act in concert” or when people “come together to create a synergy that magnifies their individual capabilities.” It differs from cooperation, in which people work together in a structured way to achieve a specific goal. Starr notes that, “…it’s an emotional and reactive behavior, not a plan that can be written out on a flowchart.” It’s the unified action of soldiers in battle, or the way that a basketball team can seem to move as one.
I drew from Starr’s article 5 essential elements of “swarm intelligence:”
- Unity of purpose
- Adoption of a spirit of generosity
- “Stay in your lane”
- “Check your ego at the door,” decline to seek credit or assign blame
- Interpersonal trust and respect
In an interesting way, retired college football coach Urban Myers’ in a recent Twitter post, refutes the idea that “bad players” are the cause of poor team performance. According to Myer, you have to “look under the hood,” where you will discover:
- Trust issues – between players and coach or among the players
- Dysfunctional environment – e.g., high-performance expectations, but a lack of discipline and hard work
- Selfishness – a lack of generosity and mutual support among players
For both journalist and coach, exceptional performance as a team or in Starr’s case, a task force, requires a shared sense of purpose, a spirit of generosity and an environment of trust and respect. These values are at work whatever your game.
Over the years I’ve learned a couple of useful facts about cutting weight. Once the food you eat leaves the stomach, it passes into the large and small intestine, which are approximately 25 feet long. Generally, it takes steak three days, chicken two days and fish one day to travel through our gastrointestinal tract (GI). Take those time frames into consideration as you get closer to competition day. Since your intestines are a membrane, proper hydration is necessary. Be sure to drink plenty of water and get in some pool or tub time.
I blend half of my favorite cereal along with Fiber One Cereal, Original Bran. It makes a great late-night snack instead of a midnight burger run. Also, consider cutting out fiber the night before a competition.
Intestinal health appears to be important to one’s overall health, resistance to disease and response to treatment. Recently, I read a study stating that cancer patients with good gut bacteria were more receptive to immunotherapy treatments.
If you had 15 minutes with a Nobel Laureate, what would you ask?
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) March 7, 2019
“The organization will let you work on whatever you want to work on. You just have to make sure you are working on things only you can work on… Certainly true if you are going through a period of tremendous scrutiny or big changes… You have to set time aside to make sure you know where you are.” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, minute 22.
Mr. Mollenkopk’s words had a big impact on me as an entrepreneur as there are no shortage of items that need attention. His comments bring clarity to how to prioritize tasks to determine what needs should be delegated versus owned. End goal is efficiency as to avoid burnout as one scales mountains.