Elite Performance – Coaches Boot Camp

Elite Performance

Dr. Dutch of TierOne Performance Consulting presenting poise and mental toughness training to a packed house at the WIAA Coaches School

Last week, TierOne Performance Consulting was at the 2018 WIAA Coaches School in Yakima, Washington.  TierOne’s Chief Performance Officer, Dr. Dutch, presented two elite performance classes to packed audiences.  The first class showed the coaches how to install a mental rehearsal program with their athletes to improve task performance and confidence.  The second class helped the coaches create a program to develop poise and mental toughness with their athletes.  The classes we organized as workshops, allowing the coaches to leave the hour-long session with a workable product to implement with their program on day-one.

Dr. Dutch also announced the launch of a new series of courses offered at the TierOne Performance Institute.  The series is call the Coaching Boot Camp and is designed to allow coaches to package different classes based on their need and interests.  These elite performance courses help coaches take their skills to the next-level.  Classes include subjects like systems-based coaching, developing team leaders, and establishing a values-based culture of excellence.  The thing that sets these classes apart from other coaching courses, is that coaches will use evidence-based methods to develop the implementation plan during the course with the help of peers and personal assistance from TierOne and Dr. Dutch.  The announcement of the new elite performance coaching classes was met with enthusiasm and over 40 coaches signing up to get more information about the new opportunities to hone their coaching skills.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters!

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Elite Quarterback Development – The Virtual Reality Difference

elite quarterback development

Rice University QB crushing the TierOne VR training system.

“They take this VR training to a whole new level, it is awesome.” – Quarterback, Rice University

Elite quarterback development is not just about throwing mechanics and whiteboard drills.  Virtual reality (VR) trainers can be game-changing technology for the aspiring elite quarterback.  To make VR worthwhile, there needs to be a progressive training system that is optimized with evidence-based cognitive processing tools.  TierOne Performance is the industry leader in developing elite quarterback performance using VR technology and cognitive performance tools.  The proprietary TierOne method immerses the QB in a functionally equivalent physical environment while establishing measurable standards for each performance task.  There is simply no other program as advanced that trains the full QB system (physical, mental, QB IQ, and game-time performance tasks).

This summer, TierOne developed VR- Situational Evaluation and Training Systems (VR-SETS) for Stanford and Rice University football programs.  The system trains playbook specific performance tasks while optimizing QB reaction time, focus, and decision-making in a time-sensitive dynamic environment.  The system enables QBs to learn the playbook more quickly than in the past and with higher fidelity.  The end result is improved on-field play and fine-tuning elite quarterback development.

There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and program-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.

March Madness Psychology – 3 Things to Know

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It is the time of year that basketball fans wait for all-year-long.  The excitement and drama of the NCAA basketball tournament for men and women will play out over the next month ending in a winner-take-all one-game finale.  In this post we will look at March Madness psychology to understand what makes this tournament so exhilarating.

To understand the mayhem, you have to understand the March Madness psychology.

  1. First, on a cognitive level, the athletes are in a tumultuous state of development. Emotions are being fueled by powerful neurochemicals and the decision center of the prefrontal cortex is still being formed.  This combination alone leads to erratic behavior and performance, mostly due to the wide emotional spectrum experienced by the athletes during the tournament and the physical toll this roller-coaster exacts.
  2. March Madness psychology is an endurance event with moments of frantic physical and mental effort. March Madness lasts nearly a month, more if you count the divisional tournaments.  This means players have to stay engaged through constant travel, adapting to new environments, missing loved ones, media interviews, and a grueling game schedule.  Most of us have a problem staying focused and engaged in our vocation for more than a week; these elite athletes have to do it for a month at the end of an already long regular season. In addition to this endurance, these athletes are expected to ramp-up their effort and focus during critical parts of the game.  Why do some 15th ranked teams beat #2s?  Odds are, the #2 team came out flat or shoots 20% from the field…sure signs of mental fatigue and a lack of engagement.
  3. March Madness psychology is also about understanding how chance and statistics impact the psychology of the players. A significant portion of sport outcomes involve chance.  We have all heard the statement, “the good make their own luck,” and this is true to some degree.  However, when a lesser team blows out a national power by shooting 70% from the 3-point line, it is the forces of statistics, not the magic of a hot hand at work.  And it is chance that this statistical shooting anomaly happened during the NCAA tournament and not in the opening round of a pre-season tournament.  How players respond to the fickle whim of chance is determined by resilience.  Resilience is a critical part of March Madness psychology and is impacted by emotional intelligence, confidence, leadership, and team cohesion.

Now, while you are watching your bracket getting demolished by upsets, you will have a greater understanding of the hidden forces of March Madness psychology.  These uncertain and dynamic psychological forces will play a significant role in determining the next NCAA national champion.  Did you consider the March Madness psychology factor when you completed your bracket?

 

There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, mental toughness and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and team-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.

Elite Performance Psychology – Mental Rehearsal and Visualization at the Olympics

shiffrin visual

Mikaela Shiffrin conducts mental rehearsals before her Olympic ski competition

If you have been watching the 2018 Winter Olympics you have probably noticed our Olympians hanging over their ski poles doing some strange fluid movements prior to their race.  These athletes are using mental rehearsal to get extra reps on the slopes and visualize successful performance.  Gold medal winner Mikaela Shiffrin uses elite performance psychology techniques to get an edge on the competition and quiet the noise in her head before a race so she can focus on the performance tasks that result in elite performance.

See Shiffrin talk about her pre-race mental preparation here.

Mental rehearsal is based on the concept of neural functional equivalence. Research has shown that the same brain activity occurs when we imagine doing a performance task as does when we actually perform the task.  The brain activates the neural networks that prepare the body for a specific performance action.  Conducting mental rehearsal prior to a performance event can prime the body for action and can be used between performance events to get more mental reps in the performance environment.

Visualization is a bit different.  Visualization in elite performance psychology is used to foster confidence and quiet negative self-talk.  Think of this as a personal highlight reel, you see yourself being successful, performing at a high level, crushing the competition.  Visualization can be particularly useful to short-circuit anxious thoughts or rumination that often spirals out of control after experiencing a setback.

There are several key concepts used in elite performance psychology to enhance mental rehearsal and visualization, not all methods are scientifically proven and take advantage of multiple performance systems to optimize the benefits and enhance performance.  If mental rehearsal and visualization is done incorrectly, it could actually degrade performance.  It is beyond the scope of this article to cover these concepts, be sure to find a qualified trainer that has the scientific background to conduct this training responsibly.

There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and program-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.

NFL Combine Preparation – The Mental Advantage

ANT collage

A lot of money and effort goes into NFL combine preparation, but most programs don’t train the area that has the greatest potential for the largest performance growth…performance mind training.  De’Quan Hampton at the EVO combine training camp.

NFL combine preparation is all about getting bigger, stronger, and faster.  Squeezing out that tenth of a second that shows you belong at the elite level of play.  What if that tenth to three-tenths of a second wasn’t only found on the track and in the gym, but could also be reliably trained using cognitive training tools that increased reaction time and decision making on the field and gave the combine athlete the mental advantage over his competition.  Right now, most combine camps leave mental development to chance, that all changed last week at the EVO Sports Training Combine Camp.

This year, TierOne Performance Consulting teamed up with Gary Cablayan and the trainers at EVO Sports Training to integrate performance mind training with traditional NFL combine preparation.  The comprehensive program ensures that the athletes have optimized performance at the mental and physical level, giving them the greatest opportunity for success at the combine or Pro-Day.

The training revealed some startling performance results.  Former USC receiver De’Quan Hampton showed exceptional capacity on the modified Attentional Network Test (ANT).  The ANT measures all aspects of the cognitive attentional network that drives reaction time and decision-making on the field.  Hampton scored in the 92 percentile, scientifically showing that while he is already fast and a great receiver, he is able to process information on the field and make accurate decisions faster than 92% of his competitors.  Research has shown that performance mind training can improve reaction time and decision making by one to three-tenths of a second, this increased processing speed translates into one to three yards of gained ground on the field.  Think of all the plays during a game that are decided by less than a yard.  Why wouldn’t you train this performance measure in your athletes, especially during NFL combine preparation?

TierOne Performance Consulting helps elite athletes improve cognitive processing, poise, command presence, and decision making in time sensitive high-stress game situations.  Learning how to control and self-regulate your cognitive and physiological states is a must to perform at the highest levels.  Elite performance psychology at TierOne Performance Consulting can help you learn the skills to perform on the biggest stages.

There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and program-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.

Elite Performance Psychology – QB Command Presence

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Elite Performance Psychology – This post explores command presence in elite college quarterbacks.

Elite performance psychology can help develop QB command presence in elite quarterbacks.  This post looks at the elusive intangible of QB command presence.  If you watched the Rose Bowl, you heard the announcers talk about the command presence of Baker Mayfield and how it comprised a performance intangible that set him apart from his peers.

First, the announcers are right that Mayfield has command presence at the line of scrimmage.  However, the announcers (along with many players and coaches) are wrong that command presence is an intangible.  Elite performance psychology identifies command presence as (1) confidence, (2) emotional and social intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management), and (3) emotional regulation (manifested as poise and mental toughness).

These psychological constructs are very tangible, they can be measured, and (best of all) they can be trained and developed.  To help illustrate the tangible of command presence, we are going to look at some film of elite quarterbacks that are either displaying command presence or NOT displaying command presence.

Before we look at the film, I acknowledge that we are, to a certain extent, viewing game situations that are as similar as apples and oranges.  But, I will argue that my analysis is valid in the narrow vein of the command presence behavior I am illustrating.  So here we go.

 

The first film clip is from the epic goal line stand USC made against Stanford in the PAC-12 Championship.  Stanford’s QB is sophomore K.J. Costello.  What we are watching here is his body movement, as the downs tick from 1st to 4th without a touchdown, look at the wasted movement and how jerky and disjointed his body movements become.  During one down, he is walking to the line of scrimmage still looking at his wrist play sheet.  This does not display command of the offense and does not relay confidence.  You can see the other offensive players responding to Costello’s lack of command of the situation – communication is impacted, situational awareness is impaired, player assignments and confidence are impacted.  In elite performance psychology there is a saying that goes…slow is smooth and smooth is fast.  This means that when you have a true command of your performance, your movements are smooth and deliberate.  When you are stressed and lack poise, your movements become quick and jerky because your mind is spinning and trying to cope with a flood of environmental data that is slowing down cognitive processes and impacting other functions, like smooth deliberate movement.  This is not a criticism of Costello, he is a talented young quarterback, this is simply an illustration of how stress can impact cognitive performance – it can and does happen to the most experienced elite athletes.

The next video clip is from the Rose Bowl where Baker Mayfield put on a quarterback clinic during the first half of the game.  Again, I acknowledge the difference in the game situations.  What we are watching here is body movement and his command of the offense.  Notice the smooth deliberate movements, no wasted actions, he moves with confidence behind the offense communicating with authority and a firm grasp of the offense.  This is textbook QB command presence.  As you know, the second half of the game was much different for Mayfield’s Sooners, but what didn’t change was his command presence.  Even as Georgia retaliated with vengeance, Baker never looked like Costello on the goal line vs. USC.  Now, putting this into context, Baker is older and more experienced than Costello…and the Heisman Trophy winner, so no dig on Costello.  In Mayfield we are simply witnessing a seasoned confident QB with total command of his game (at the college level anyway).

In the last video clip, we are looking at an interview of Washington’s QB Jake Browning after they were stunned by Arizona State.  The Sun Devils were coming off a bye week and dialed up a healthy dose of chaos for the Huskies.  There are two takeaways from the Browning interview.  The first takeaway is that a consistent lack of execution is an indicator that the other team has disrupted your decision loop and is causing cognitive processing errors (overwhelming the thinking system) for your QB.  The second takeaway is that Browning acknowledges the mental component of the moment and his need to reflect and improve.

Browning normally has good command presence; the ASU game shows how much of the game really is mental.  The good news is that poise, command presence, cognitive processing, and decision making can all be trained and optimized in QBs.  The bad news is that few programs or coaches know how to do this or don’t do it in a deliberate evidence-based way.

Elite performance psychology at TierOne Performance Consulting helps elite athletes improve poise, command presence, and decision making in time sensitive high-stress game situations. Noticing the fluidity of your movement and your eye movement are a few ways your body tells you that stress has hijacked your performance.  Learning how to control and self-regulate your cognitive and physiological states is a must to perform at the highest levels.  Elite performance psychology at TierOne Performance Consulting can help you learn the skills to perform on the biggest stages.

There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and program-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

 Remember – Put your mind on what matters.

Elite Performance Psychology – Optimizing Performance Through Self-Awareness

Elite performance psychology

Elite performance psychology is about developing the mental skills needed to play at the next level.

Elite performance psychology is about optimizing performance through cognitive mind training and emotional regulation.  This training develops focus, improves decision making, improves reaction times, and develops poise and mental toughness.  The foundational competency of elite performance psychology is having a mastery of self-awareness.

This sounds like a simple skill, but it is surprising how many elite-level athletes lack self-awareness.  This lack of self-awareness can lead to less than optimal performance and emotional meltdown.  Elite performance psychology training can develop self-awareness.  Self-awareness has components of both cognitive awareness (knowing what you are thinking) and body awareness (knowing how your body is feeling).

Elite performance psychology at TierOne Performance Consulting optimizes each component of self-awareness to strengthen the mental aspect of sport that makes the difference at the elite level.  Cognitive self-awareness helps athletes know when they are not present moment focused, in other words, when their mind is wandering away from the performance task required in that moment of the game or practice.  Cognitive self-awareness also helps athletes know when they are conducting negative self-talk that erodes confidence and produces behavior that is counter performance focused.  Negative self-talk often leads to emotional responses that reduce poise and the mental toughness needed to endure in difficult performance situations.  These emotional response indicators are usually first manifested physiologically.

Elite performance psychology at TierOne Performance Consulting helps athletes develop body awareness to recognize the physiological effects of negative self-talk and high-performance time-sensitive stress. Heart rate, breathing, and tightness are good initial indicators of mental red-lining.  Noticing the fluidity of your movement and your eye movement is another way your body tells you that stress has hijacked your performance.  Learning how to control and self-regulate your cognitive and physiological states is a must to perform at the highest levels.  Elite performance psychology at TierOne Performance Consulting can help you learn the skills to perform on the biggest stages.

There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and program-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.

How to practice mindfulness, self-awareness, and emotional regulation this holiday season

mindfulness

The holiday rush is here, practice mindfulness while driving and arrive at your destination revived and happy.

A few weeks ago, I was working with elite college athletes and the question came up about how to practice performance mindfulness in the real-world.  Before the workshop had started, I listened to several of the athletes and coaches lament about the terrible traffic in their region.  I realized that driving your car can be an excellent way to practice performance mindfulness, self-awareness, and emotional regulation in the real-world.  Each of these skills can improve performance (and happiness) in any domain and the hectic holiday traffic is a great training ground for skill development!

Mindfulness is the act of directing attention to and awareness on ongoing events and experience without judgement.  This definition of mindfulness includes awareness of internal and external events.  As you are driving your car around holiday traffic, you are aware (hopefully) of many traffic specific inputs; stop signs, traffic lights, merging cars, turn-signals (or lack of a turn-signal), bumper stickers, and the people driving the other cars.  Practice mindful driving by noticing these inputs of the road without judgement or attachment, just notice them.  You will likely get distracted by songs on the radio, thoughts about the holidays, or things happening at work or at home.  When you notice yourself being distracted by those thoughts, bring your attention back to driving.  Next, notice how your driving experience is making you feel.  Both physically and emotionally.  Notice if you are white-knuckling the steering wheel, notice if you are slumping, if your heart is beating faster than normal, and notice if you are getting angry or frustrated with your fellow drivers on the road.

This is the beginning of developing self-awareness, the foundational competency of emotional intelligence.  Mindfulness practice is a great way to develop this valuable competency.  In research I conducted with the Stanford University mindfulness program, I found that an 8-week mindfulness program significantly improved the self-awareness of business leaders compared to that of a control group.  Let’s look at how we can apply this research to your holiday driving performance.

Notice the emotions that are arising while driving in this busy, stop-and-go, hectic traffic.  Are you feeling anxious to get to the mall, work, or home?  Are you angry or frustrated by other drivers on the road or the time you seem to be wasting in traffic?  The next step, is to look at these emotions more closely.  Strong emotions are often a great window into self-exploration.  Why are you in such a hurry to get where you are going?  What self-talk is happening, why are you attached to these thoughts and how they define you?

Do you feel entitled to drive as fast as you want or to block others that are trying to change lanes because they will get in front of you?  If so, why are you entitled over others?  Are you entitled to that parking spot so you are going to wedge your car into the spot recklessly before someone else can take it.  If you let that car merge do you feel you are giving up power and are being taken advantage of, maybe like other areas of your life?  If you don’t get home immediately will you miss spending time with a loved one, time you feel guilty about because of your hectic busy schedule that you keep adding stuff to?

Now, think of the thoughts that arise when someone has offended you on the road.  Do you say things like, “that figures, they are (insert gender, race, religious, political, or economic stereotype here).”  When you catch yourself thinking these things, it is a great opportunity to observe your implicit bias and a chance to challenge those thoughts and grow.  It is also a great chance to notice how your behavior is driven by these thoughts and emotions.

The last part of this exercise is to practice emotional regulation.  Instead of cursing and honking and filling the car with shoulds (I should be there by now, I should be able to find parking, I should not have to slow down for you, you should merge behind me, there should not be this much traffic…you get the idea), try practicing radical acceptance (congested roads are a normal part of modern life) and letting these thoughts and charged emotions go.  The process is called cognitive defusion and your newly enhanced self-awareness can help you identify when negative self-talk is happening.  Once you recognize what is happening, you can challenge the noise in your head and let it go.  A funny thing happens when you let things go…you feel better and those charged emotions are no longer controlling your life – congratulations you have developed some emotional regulation!

One last experiment for you to try.  Once you have let those charged thoughts and feelings go, try smiling at the offending driver and motioning them in front of you.  Concede the contested parking spot to the other car.  Resist the conditioned urge to speed up at the traffic light and block the intersection.  In other words, practice driving with compassion.  The science is crystal clear on this, when you give to others, even on the road, YOU FEEL BETTER.  And, it is the holidays after all, is there a better time to practice compassion for your fellow road warriors?

I know this sounds like a lot, but you are stuck in holiday traffic, you have hours to practice!

If you want to learn more about how emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and emotional regulation can improve your performance…and life…contact dr. dutch franz and TierOne Performance Consulting.  Want to give the gift of high-performance?  Gift a course at the TierOne Performance Institute,  new classes will be starting in January 2018.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters!

Improve Performance – 5 Ways to Improve Performance in any Domain of Human Performance

Improve performance

These five things can improve performance and help you win the mental game.

At a mixer with business leaders recently, I was challenged to identify five things that could improve performance in any profession.  I thought I would share my list, do these five things and you will improve performance in your chosen field.

  1. Develop Self-Awareness. You can’t improve performance without honing your self-awareness.  Developing self-awareness is both a cognitive and somatic process.  Cognitively, you want to identify your blind spots, biases, habitual thinking patterns, and how you emotionally respond in stressful situations.  The goal here is to improve the quality of how you perceive and interpret your environment.  If you are making decisions and behaving based on a cognitive bias, maladaptive habitual thinking patterns, or unchecked emotion, you are acting on bad data that you helped create.  Somatically, you need to become aware of the bodily expressions of stress and emotion.  You also need to know how your body feels in optimal performance.

How To:  My own research of the Stanford Mindfulness program has shown that mindfulness-based training improves self-awareness in organizational leaders and elite performers.

  1. Do Predictive Modeling of Your Performance Environment. What performance tasks do you want to improve and when are these skills likely to come up in your profession.

How To:  Think of critical and routine performance skills and skills needed to succeed on the biggest stages of your profession.  Distill these moments into a checklist of critical performance skills.

  1. Mental Rehearsal. Now that you know what your critical performance moments are and what critical skills you need to use to improve performance; visualize these moments in your professional environment.  Mentally rehearse your performance in this environment over and over; start in slow motion and then progress to full speed.

How To:  Start with writing a script or outline of the environment, how the performance situation unfolds, and the emotions that occur before, during, and after the situation.  The more detailed and descriptive the script, the more cognitive networks will be activated and the better the rehearsal (and your performance) will be.

  1. Practice in Low-Threat Environments. The first place to actually practice your new skill and improve performance is probably not in the big meeting or big game.  Find a friendly non-sanctioning environment to practice your developing skill.  Often there is a barrier to trying new skills if you feel like there could be a negative outcome or sanctioning if your new skill is not performed perfect the first time.  Here is a hint…no skill is performed perfect the first time, or the second!

How To:  Volunteer opportunities provide a great place to practice new skills and improve performance in a low-threat environment while doing something positive for your community.  Practice communication, leadership, organization…all with people who are just happy you are there to help!  If you are an elite athlete or coach, be sure to set-up these low-threat environments during a portion of practice.

  1. Integrate New Skill. Now that you have developed some capacity with your new skill during your mental rehearsal and practicing in a low-threat environment, it is time to use the skill when you actually have skin in the game.  Start by using the new skill with peers, and then apply them on the big stage when all the cards are on the table.

How To:  I can’t give you all the answers…besides; you have done the hard work and are now an expert, Move Mountains!

There is a reason why elite athletes and high-performing executives have personal coaches.  It takes expertise to assess performance strengths and weaknesses and develop evidence-based training to optimize performance at all levels.  Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, and poise under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and program-based training to optimize elite athletic performance and executive coaching.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.

Elite Athletic Performance – Cognitive Demands of a Modern Quarterback

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Peyton Manning displayed the cognitive skills and emotional regulation to master the quarterback position and demonstrate elite athletic performance.

The job of a quarterback at the NCAA Div. I and the professional level is arguably the most demanding position in sport.  Quarterbacks in today’s game are expected to display elite athletic performance; agility, strength, speed, and pinpoint accuracy.  However, these athletic performance skills are just the price of admission to the elite level of play.  What makes a quarterback effective, or even great, at this level, is the cognitive capacity the quarterback develops.

Let’s forget for a moment the intelligence it takes to learn the playbook and vocabulary of modern football; those are more traditional intelligence (IQ) type skills.  What we will focus on is the cognitive demands and emotional regulation needed in the 40 seconds between plays that separate the effective, or even great, quarterback from the others that try to play the game.  Scott Hanson of the Seattle Times describes this period of elite athletic performance pretty effectively.

Imagine you have just been thrown to the ground by a 300-pound man.  But you have no time to wallow in the pain.  You must get up, and fast, because the clock is ticking.  In the next 40 seconds you will assess the situation, receive the next play, communicate it to your team, make sure you are properly protected and everyone is aligned correctly….  And then maybe change it all up, depending on what you see from the defense.

Encapsulated in Hanson’s passage is a description of cognitive capacity at the elite athletic performance level.  The performance starts with self-awareness and the quarterback assessing his own physical and mental state dispassionately and without judgement.  “I got hit hard, am I okay? Yes. Move on.”  An emotional response to the hard hit will bog down the cognitive process and waste valuable seconds in either self-pity or acting out.

As the quarterback gets off the ground, he is assessing the situation; game situation (down, distance, time, and score) and the mental and emotional condition of his teammates.  He uses this data to build an initial predictive mental model or multiple models and begins to test environmental inputs against this model.  During this period of athletic performance, the quarterback gets the play either through a visual signal from the sideline, or in the NFL, through a microphone in the quarterback’s helmet.  During this critical transmission of game-time strategy, the QB has to eliminate noise (real and mental) and visual distraction from the crowd, sidelines, and other players.  And then he has to relay this message clearly while helping to minimize these distractions for his fellow offensive players.  Any distraction or break in focus degrades the optimal cognitive processing performance the QB will need to be successful.

At this point, the quarterback breaks the huddle with 15-20 seconds remaining – 20 seconds earlier, he was picking turf out of his helmet.  With the time remaining (think about it, roughly 17 heart-beats), the QB must assess the defense at the macro and micro level.  At the macro level, the QB assesses the defense set, coverage, personnel, and likely course of action.  This data gets fed into the QB’s mental predictive model and any adjustments to protection or the play is made (5-10 heart-beats remain before time runs out).  Next, the QB assesses micro level inputs.  Where is the safety in relation to the hash, what shoulder is the DB lined up on and where is he looking.  This information gets fed into the QB’s predictive model further building the analytic snapshot the quarterback will use to optimize decision making.  Times Up!

All of that must be done in a pressure cooker.  Besides the cognitive capacity to analytically process the situation, the QB must have the emotional regulation to minimize the mental distraction of fear, stress, destructive self-talk, and pain.  Emotional distress takes up a lot of precious cognitive processing capacity and can short-circuit elite athletic performance both at the physical and mental level.

The good news is, that scientific research (including my own studying a Stanford training program) shows that cognitive processes and emotional regulation like I have just described can be training and developed.  Cognitive processing speed can be improved at the neural level and reaction times and decision making can be improved.  The bad news is that no college or pro program (except maybe the Seahawks) have a formal cognitive training program and none of the big business quarterback factories have figured out how to train this yet…not in a real way and not with evidence-based methods.

If you look at the demeanor of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, there’s always a calm about them no matter what’s going on and the chaos that’s going on around them.  Those are guys that you know are in control of what they’re doing.”  Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon

Develop your cognitive skills, decision making, and emotional regulation under pressure with the TierOne Performance Consulting team or at the TierOne Performance Institute.  We offer state-of-the-art individual and program-based training to optimize elite athletic performance.  Also, checkout this YouTube clip on improving poise and mental toughness through distress tolerance training.

Remember – Put your mind on what matters.