Monday, July 6, 2009

A Sport Psychology Perspective

I love sports analogies; they just make sense to me. Why do I like them? Well that’s an easy answer, it’s because I am a big sports fan. In fact I like sports so much that I actually got a degree in it, Sport Psychology to be exact. Most of my work these days consists of general mental health counseling, but I do get the experience of working with athletes from time to time, and freely admit that those are some of my most enjoyable sessions.
I am currently preparing to teach a Sport Psychology seminar. While I’ve been prepping I keep thinking about how much some of these principles apply to Sarah Palin’s career and current situation. So, I thought I’d share them and would love to get other’s opinions.

When I first introduce athletes to Sport Psych I ask them three questions.
1) Think about your really good performances. If you broke it down in percentage points how much do you think your good performance was influenced by mentally being ready and in the Zone? (usually I get responses ranging from 50% on up)
2) Think about your really bad performances. How much of those were influenced by just being mentally off? (usually I get responses that are even higher)
3) Final question (which is the kicker). How much time do you spend practicing mental skills? (usually a big fat zero)

You hear from commentators all the time that certain athletes are mentally tough. But, how exactly do you get that way? Well, some are just born with more ability but still have to hone it. But, anyone can get better at it. Sarah Palin is one of those gifted people that is tough in just about every way you can think of, including mentally. Here are some of the skills that I feel like she has and is, especially recently, practicing more of.

Individualized Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF)
IZOF is often just referred to as being in the Zone. A lot of people make the assumption that the Zone experience is one that is just happenstance. But, the reality is that you can put yourself in the best position to have a Zone experience by knowing what works best for you. The Individualized part is absolutely key. One of the problems that political pundits have is that they think they know what is best for each politician. Well, they don’t. There is no cookie cutter Zone that works for everybody because everybody is different. I know it sounds simple, but some people just can’t seem to get that common sense thinking in their heads. Some athletes perform best when they are at peace with the world. Some athletes perform best when they have a chip on their shoulder. There are as many different IZOF’s as there are people.
Now I cannot say specifically what Sarah Palin’s IZOF is (unless she wanted to sit down with me and go through the assessment, dream on Jordan dream on). But, I do think there are a couple of features that can be pretty easily identified.
Sarah Palin performs best when her priorities are set straight. God, family and country seem to be her rock, and when they are her focus she does well. She seems to perform at her best when she is able to communicate directly with people. This trait has been quite hampered especially following the campaign. She seems to perform best when she is confident and at peace with who she is and what she stands for. She also seems to perform well when she is fighting for others, or in Mama Grizzly mode. I would love to hear other peoples thoughts on what may be some more attributes of her IZOF.
I think her recent decision is part of getting herself back into the position to be in the Zone, especially nationally.

Goal Setting
When I teach goal setting I break it down to three different types of goals.

1) Outcome Goals. The Outcome Goal is the longest, farthest reaching ultimate goal. It is the dream that we reach for. The example I use for this is the outcome goal for most Olympic athletes is to win a gold medal. It is absolutely essential that they have that goal so that they can feel inspired to work through the more tedious goals in order to get there. The Outcome of an Olympic race is not always in the control of the individual athlete though. You cannot control the performances of your competitors for instance. You cannot control the weather or the track conditions etc. So, in order to best put yourself in a position to achieve your Outcome Goal you need to have other goals that you are working for, that are more in your control.
2) Performance Goals. Performance Goals are more individually driven. They are things that you know you can accomplish as an individual regardless of what other competitors may be doing. An example of this is a specific time that a track athlete will attempt to run. They can set a goal that is achievable which also puts them in a good position to get that gold medal should they be successful in running that time. In order to best put yourself in the position to achieve your performance goals you have to condition yourself, physically, technically and mentally.
3) Process Goals. These are the day to day things, and sometimes more tedious ones that need to be achieved in order to achieve your Performance Goal and hopefully, ultimately, your Outcome Goal. The process goals include things like amount of sleep, strength and conditioning training, nutrition regiments. These are the goals that we as fans don’t see, but which are absolutely essential to the success of athletes. The Outcome Goal inspires a person to go through the grunt work of the Process Goals. And the Process Goals make the Performance Goal and eventually the Outcome Goal.

So what are Sarah Palin’s goals? Only Sarah and her closest peeps know. But, we can take our educated guesses at what some might be. I for one honestly do not believe that her biggest Outcome, dream goal is to be President of the United States. I believe that her biggest Outcome Goal is for a safe, strong, secure America. This is where so many of the political pundits are off base. She is driven to help make America a better place for her family, for Alaskans and for all Americans. The Presidency might be like a Sub-Outcome Goal, or you might even consider it a Performance Goal, if that is indeed something she desires. But, again I believe she is driven, at the most basic level to serve the nation for the betterment of the nation, not for her own personal ambitions. She has a servant’s heart. Performance Goals right now probably include things like putting out an excellent book (I’m so looking forward to that), getting more involved with grassroots movements and probably getting her voice out there on specific issues like Life and the caring of children with special needs. I think she is probably excellent on achieving daily Process Goals. She takes care of herself physically, mentally and even spiritually. I hope she is also studying a lot and keeping up with current situations and formulating her own specific, clear stances on issues. I have no doubt she will continue to do the day to day things that best put her in a position to achieve her goals.

Sarah Palin comes from an individual sports background (running) and also a team sports background (basketball). Having skill sets in both types is awesome. We know she is individually driven to achieve success, but she also knows how to work with a team. That is an important characteristic for her success. I love the fact that she was the point guard. She directs the flow of play, the control of the offense and such, but she also is the one that passes the ball if needed, and encourages others to play their part. The most important team to her right now, I think, is her family. Todd Palin is one awesome man. I think he sets the absolute standard for political spouses. He is 100% supportive and is a rock. Her children also are an inspiration for her. Her children are the reason she started politics in the first place at the PTA. But, she does have some great team members outside of the family. I am increasingly impressed with good people like Meg Stapleton and also Thomas Van Flein. She has a good team in place, and will continue to inspire and be inspired by them.

Well, I could go on and on about Sport Psychology and how it relates to just about anything. Ask family and friends they will confirm :) Bottom line, Sarah Palin already has some incredible skills. We have seen them in action and seen her be successful. The best predictor of success is previous success, and the best roadmap to success is to use the things that work best for you individually. If that means being unconventional, than be unconventional. She is one of those rare athletes/politicians that uses all of her strengths including the mental ones in practice and in performance. I think she is putting herself in the best position to use those strengths to best achieve what she hopes will be a better stronger America. I for one look forward to not just being a spectator but a part of her team in whatever way that I can.

1 comment:

Deena said...

Excellent references to your training and relating that to real life and how Sarah Palin is already doing those things she needs to in order to accomplish her outcome goals. Also a good way for each of us to look at what our goals are