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Rider coached to clear mental hurdles
Competitor loses her self-doubt after expert takes up the reins


By Sandra McCulloch, Times Colonist September 25, 2011



Catherine Lines-Antoniuk is a 36-year-old wife and mother to a four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. She teaches school 4 1 ?2 days each week in the Cowichan Valley School District.

In what spare time she can carve out of her day, she rides her horse, Moses, and takes part in eventing - a three-phase competition which demands finesse for dressage, technical precision for show-jumping and lots of courage for clearing cross-country obstacles.

An upcoming competition in Maple Ridge means it's vital Lines-Antoniuk keeps up with her lessons and practice to achieve her best performance. But focusing on riding is difficult with so many pressing distractions.

Last Sunday, Lines-Antoniuk sat weeping in a barn at Avalon Equestrian Centre in North Cowichan during a pre-ride session with Dave Freeze, a Kamloops mental coach who works with athletes in 40 sports.

It was only a few minutes into the session with Freeze that Lines-Antoniuk's fears and insecurities bubbled to the surface.

Falling off her horse and getting hurt could impact her job and family hard. She never used to be a fearful rider.

"I've been riding since I was 12 and I used to be able to stay on all the time," she told Freeze through tears.

"I get in this [mindset] where I think 'Oh, I don't want to fall off.' Then I realize if I did fall off, I'd be fine."

She brightened momentarily, but fresh tears erupted as the self-doubts returned.

She sometimes pulls up her horse and stops before a jump if things don't feel exactly right and she is critical of every error she makes. This quest for per-fection is familiar territory for Freeze, 52, who works with athletes ranging from recreational equestrians to Olympians.

Last year, he helped 1,100 athletes to overcome mental obstacles and achieve their best performances.

Freeze is a former elite athlete himself, with national experience in whitewater kayaking, dragonboat racing and triathlon.

Self-doubt is a common problem among women, he said. Female athletes make up 75 per cent of Freeze's client base.

"Sometimes you get lucky. You show up late, throw the saddle on the horse and you go out there and have a flipping amazing day," said Freeze to Lines-Antoniuk.

"Sometimes you show up early, you do all the preparation, you look after every detail and when you go out there everything feels like crap."

Many things are out of an athlete's control, Freeze said.

His intention is not to help athletes win a gold medal, he said.

"My intention is to make them feel great about themselves. And I feel that, if they do, that's likely to be where their highest levels of performance come from."

Lines-Antoniuk's customary response to less-thanpar performances is to blame herself and focus on the negative.

She has always been competitive. When she was younger, Lines-Antoniuk used to be able to immerse herself in the pleasure of riding and not think about anything else.

"It's not like that anymore - I'm just not focused," she said. "There are so many other things to think about."

Beating yourself up over issues in your life doesn't get you anywhere, said Freeze.

"The tendency towards wanting to be great, I won't complain about," Freeze told Lines-Antoniuk. "But you not being satisfied with what's already great about you, I've got no time for that. You've managed to stack the plate pretty darn full, but my hunch is you don't cut yourself very much slack."

He suggests she try to have fun and focus on things other than her desire to be perfect all the time.

"I work athletes who train full time," he said. "Don't compare yourself to them because it's not your world."

Freeze coached Lines-Antoniuk to banish her inner critic - the one that goads her for taking time away from her family and spending money on her passion - and leave that critical part of her psyche away locked in the tack room.

"When you drive through the driveway [to the riding stable], you have to be ready to leave the rest of the world behind," said Freeze.

Developing a "threshold technique" takes practice, Freeze said.

"You should do it when you leave home and go to school, so on the way you think about what a great teacher you're going to be and not feeling inadequate because you're leaving your children at daycare or with their grandmother. You need to bring yourself fully to the school.

"Then when you leave school, you think about what a great mom and great wife you want to be. Then when you leave home, you think about what a great rider you want to be.

"It's all about compartments, and when you get the wrong information in the wrong compartment, it just doesn't help."

The mind has to form new habits and that isn't easy, he said.

The session over, Freeze and Lines-Anoniuk, mounted on her horse, joined riding coach Jane Stone in a large field scattered with cross-country jumps. Freeze watched for any tension that showed Lines-Antoniuk was letting her inner critic to take over, and immediately stepped in to correct it.

He reminded her to focus instead on key words: calm, relaxed, grounded, centred.

"Less thinking, more feeling - connection," Freeze shouted from the sidelines.

"Calm and relaxed is a better place to get optimum performance from," he said.

"It's not possible for many people to find that place easily because we have years and years of practice of ramping it up, getting tense and getting it done."

At the end of the riding session, the tears were gone and Lines-Antoniuk said she felt "elated. I was there for [the horse]. He was like, 'Let's do it!' "

"He picked up on your positive energy," Freeze said.

Lines-Antoniuk said she was able to remind herself at regular intervals while riding the course to focus on the positive, not the negative.

Working with Freeze allowed her to focus on riding instead of all the other stuff, she said at the end of the session.

"Before I would just go, and feel scattered. He got me to focus and keep that other [critical] girl locked up in the tack room.

"I feel like I'm going to be able to do this every day."

Read more: http://www.timescolonist.com/sports/Rider+coached+clear+mental+hurdles/5455675/story.html#ixzz1YyoDwquY


Dean
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Huff questions the mental toughness of his Stamps

Allen Cameron, Calgary Herald September 26, 2011



John Hufnagel is running out of answers for what ails his Calgary Stampeders, and that frustration started to show through after Sunday's humiliating Touchdown Atlantic loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Still drenched in sweat after a warm, muggy Sunday afternoon in Moncton, Hufnagel strongly suggested his team's issues are more mental than physical, and questioned the mental strength of his squad.

"I believe sometimes people don't know how to handle success," said Hufnagel. "You work hard in training camp trying to win a position, and you try to get off to a good start, and the momentum is going well for you and good things are happening. I challenged my football team (after the game) because right now we're not a good football team.

"I don't think we're tough enough mentally to overcome bad situations in football games. Every game has peaks and valleys; you have to fight through it, and over the last month, we haven't been a very resilient football team."


The evidence is overwhelming: the Stamps have given up 142 points in that four-game stretch, which has produced just one victory. They've committed too many turnovers, taken far too many penalties and have been unable to keep momentum when they've gotten out to early leads.

"If we want to change the course we're going on, we have to change, No. 1, our mental capabilities of deciding how we're going to play the game, and how hard we're going to play the game," said Hufnagel. "I know what our strengths and weaknesses are, and I'm not going to broadcast that. Every team has strengths and weaknesses. I just don't like the way we're losing football games.

"We're losing because we're turning the ball over and we're taking penalties that put us closer to our own goal-line or keep their offence on the field. It's a repetitive thing. Until we fix those two things, it's hard to win games."


Hufnagel's pointed comments appeared to catch his players by surprise.

"That's a bold statement," said slotback Nik Lewis. "But it is what it is. I wouldn't say I agree with it. I control one person and that's me. I don't know if people are scared or if people are just not good enough. If you feel that way, then you have to find an edge."

"I can't read into that," added middle linebacker Juwan Simpson. "Neither can the rest of this team. We know we're a hard-working team, a resilient team. We know we have the tools to get where we want to go. It's just a matter of putting it together. Hopefully, it comes ASAP.

"I think we're definitely mentally tough. But after today? I guess you have no choice but to agree with him."

In the end, it's universally believed in the Stampeder locker-room that the physical tools are in place for this team to assert itself on the rest of the league.

"I think we're the most athletic team in the CFL," suggested defensive back Keon Raymond. "We can run around anybody. Our size matches up. But guys have to hone into it.

"I think a lot of guys just have to buy into it a little bit more. Just buy into our system as a team. I mean, this is a winning organization. Since I've been here (since the 2008 season), the max I've lost is seven games. We need to get the young guys up to speed on how we do things in here. It's the CFL, games are going to be tough. And you have to be able to rebound and keep chopping wood."


Dean
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Jokinen growing into shutdown role

Vicki Hall, Calgary Herald October 1, 2011


Calgary Flames centre Olli Jokinen, left, and right winger David Moss celebrate after Moss scored the first goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during second period NHL action during their exhibition game at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Photograph by: Colleen De Neve, Calgary Herald

For Olli Jokinen the turnaround in his game came about due to a change in his personal GPS.

No more east to west movement. Under orders from Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter, the Finnish centre shifted his on-ice compass last November to north and south.

“I told him, ‘Olli, this is the way I want you to be,’ ” said Sutter, recalling the informal summit that marked a turnaround for No. 13. “ ‘You’re going to play against the other team’s top players. I expect you to shut them down. I expect you to be more responsible defensively. I want you to be a straight line-guy.

“ ‘No more of the swooping and looping all over.’ ”

Jokinen arrived in Calgary in 2009 via trade from Phoenix. Finally, the Flames had secured the No. 1 centre to play with captain Jarome Iginla.

Only one problem: The chemistry between Iginla and Jokinen failed to materialize.

That botched experiment ended with a trade to the New York Rangers. But the Flames ended up bringing the six-foot-three, 210-pounder back for another round — this time at the reduced price tag of $3 million.

He made $5.35 million his first time around.

“I always thought Olli Jokinen would be a better player playing a different way,” Sutter said. “When he was first here, it was a situation where there was so much talk. ‘Can he be our No. 1 centreman? Can he be our No. 2 centreman? Can he fit with this guy? Can he fit with that guy?’

“There wasn’t a lot of fairness there to him.”

Fair or not, Sutter ran out of patience himself in November. So he called the former 91-point scorer in for a chat.

From that moment on, Jokinen had a new job as the centre on Calgary’s shutdown line. Depending on the night, he would face the likes of Jonathan Toews, Joe Thornton, and Henrik Sedin.

“I take pride in that,” Jokinen said. “It’s a very important role to play against other team’s top lines, but at the same time put up the numbers.”

In 79 games last season, Jokinen collected 17 goals and 54 points and finished the year at minus-17. Regardless, Sutter praised the 32-year-old for his improved attention to defensive detail during the second half of the season.

“We all want to be productive,” Jokinen said. “We all want to score and get points. Help the team that way. But the mindset is defence first and not to be minus by the end of the night.”

Jokinen played his best hockey last season on a line with Curtis Glencross and David Moss. That trio was busted up in March after Moss suffered a high ankle sprain.

The OMG (Olli, Moss, Glennie) line is back together again with a clear mission in mind.

“Our line’s job is to be plus-players this year,” Jokinen said. “Obviously, I was a minus player last year, but there’s nothing I can do about that anymore. I just have to look forward and try to do better in that department.”

To that end, Jokinen studies the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Kesler and Henrik Zetterberg.

“They play a really good two-way game, and they’re still productive,” he said. “They still put up numbers. That’s the way I want to play as well.”

Before every game, Jokinen phones his “guy” — or sports psychologist — in Florida to clear his mind and mentally run over the task at hand.

“I take 20 to 30 minutes to visualize the guys I’m going to face that night and who I’m going to play against,” he said. “I started doing that last year, and it really helped my game. I’m going to keep working on that. That way the mind stays clear.

“A lot of times when you have somebody from the outside who is not your wife, is not your agent, is not your friend, is not your coach or GM, you get a different opinion. A lot of times, it’s not the one you want to hear.

“But the mental training — that’s been the biggest change of what I’m doing.”


The coach, for one, likes what he sees from Jokinen.

“You’re looking at a player who is very responsible now,” he said. “You’re looking at a player who is very good in three zones.

“That’s what he’s evolved into as a player. And that’s a good thing.”


Dean
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Pushing the Limits of Performance

Science Daily, Oct. 17, 2011
Web address: http: //www .sciencedaily. com/releases/2011/10/111017075514.htm


Deceiving the brain can lead to an improvement of up to five per cent in sporting performance, according to research from Northumbria University -- news which could have a significant impact on athletes' chances in the 2012 Olympics.

In a research project, trained cyclists were asked to race against an avatar on a computer screen which they believed was moving at the rate of the cyclist's personal best.

However, the avatar was actually going at a speed one per cent faster than the cyclist's fastest time. Despite this, the cyclists, who could also see themselves as an avatar cycling the virtual course, were able to match their opponent, going faster than they ever had before.

Researchers believe this is because there is a reserve of energy production that can be tapped into, even in well-trained athletes.

In training, the mind anticipates the end of a bout of exercise in order to set an initial pace. Sensory receptors, which monitor the body's responses, feed this information back to the brain, allowing it to control the body's resources to last until the end of the exercise to avoid damage.

Professor Kevin Thompson, Head of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Northumbria University, who carried out the research along with PhD student Mark Stone, said: "We feel that this system is conservative and even in well-trained individuals, who have a well developed pacing template, there is a reserve of energy production which can be utilised to further enhance performance."

He added: "These findings demonstrate a metabolic reserve exists which, if it can be accessed, can release a performance improvement of between two and five per cent in terms of their average power output.

"At elite level sport, even an increase of one per cent in average speed can make the difference between somebody being placed in a race or not.''

The study found that adding a competitive opponent to motivate participants to access this reserve was not effective when the participant was aware that their opponent was exercising at a power output 2% or 5% greater, but was effective when participants did not know.

Prof Thompson added: "We believe a small deception of the brain can enhance performance. Despite the internal feedback to the brain being heightened by the extra power output being produced, the participants still believed it was possible to beat their opponent."


Dean
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How Exercise Can Strengthen the Brain

GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, NY Times, September 28, 2011


Can exercise make the brain more fit? That absorbing question inspired a new study at the University of South Carolina during which scientists assembled mice and assigned half to run for an hour a day on little treadmills, while the rest lounged in their cages without exercising.

Earlier studies have shown that exercise sparks neurogenesis, or the creation of entirely new brain cells. But the South Carolina scientists were not looking for new cells. They were looking inside existing ones to see if exercise was whipping those cells into shape, similar to the way that exercise strengthens muscle.

For centuries, people have known that exercise remodels muscles, rendering them more durable and fatigue-resistant. In part, that process involves an increase in the number of muscle mitochondria, the tiny organelles that float around a cell’s nucleus and act as biological powerhouses, helping to create the energy that fuels almost all cellular activity. The greater the mitochondrial density in a cell, the greater its vitality.

Past experiments have shown persuasively that exercise spurs the birth of new mitochondria in muscle cells and improves the vigor of the existing organelles. This upsurge in mitochondria, in turn, has been linked not only to improvements in exercise endurance but to increased longevity in animals and reduced risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease in people. It is a very potent cellular reaction.

Brain cells are also fueled by mitochondria. But until now, no one has known if a similar response to exercise occurs in the brain.

Like muscles, many parts of the brain get a robust physiological workout during exercise. “The brain has to work hard to keep the muscles moving” and all of the bodily systems in sync, says J. Mark Davis, a professor of exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina and senior author of the new mouse study, which was published last month in The Journal of Applied Physiology. Scans have shown that metabolic activity in many parts of the brain surges during workouts, but it was unknown whether those active brain cells were actually adapting and changing.

To see, the South Carolina scientists exercised their mice for eight weeks. The sedentary control animals were housed in the same laboratory as the runners to ensure that, except for the treadmill sessions, the two groups shared the same environment and routine.

At the end of the two months, the researchers had both groups complete a run to exhaustion on the treadmill. Not surprisingly, the running mice displayed much greater endurance than the loungers. They lasted on the treadmills for an average of 126 minutes, versus 74 minutes for the unexercised animals.

More interesting, though, was what was happening inside their brain cells. When the scientists examined tissue samples from different portions of the exercised animals’ brains, they found markers of upwelling mitochondrial development in all of the tissues. Some parts of their brains showed more activity than others, but in each of the samples, the brain cells held newborn mitochondria.

There was no comparable activity in brain cells from the sedentary mice.

This is the first report to show that, in mice at least, two months of exercise training “is sufficient stimulus to increase mitochondrial biogenesis,” Dr. Davis and his co-authors write in the study.

The finding is an important “piece in the puzzle implying that exercise can lead to mitochondrial biogenesis in tissues other than muscle,” says Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of medicine at McMaster Children’s Hospital, who was not involved with this experiment but has conducted many exercise studies.

The mitochondrial proliferation in the animals’ brains has implications that are wide-ranging and heartening. “There is evidence” from other studies “that mitochondrial deficits in the brain may play a role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases,” including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, Dr. Davis says. Having a larger reservoir of mitochondria in your brain cells could provide some buffer against those conditions, he says.

Dr. Tarnopolsky agrees. “Epidemiological studies show that long-term runners have a lower risk of neurological disease,” he points out.

More immediately, Dr. Davis speculates, re-energized brain cells could behave like mitochondrial-drenched muscle cells, becoming more resistant to fatigue and, since bodily fatigue is partly mediated by signals from the brain, allowing you to withstand more exercise. In effect, exercising the body may train the brain to allow you to exercise more, amplifying the benefits.

Revitalized brain cells also, at least potentially, could reduce mental fatigue and sharpen your thinking “even when you’re not exercising,” Dr. Davis says.

Of course, this experiment was conducted with animals, and “mouse brains are not human brains,” Dr. Davis says. “But,” he continues, “since mitochondrial biogenesis has been shown to occur in human muscles, just as it does in animal muscles, it is a reasonable supposition that it occurs in human brains.”

Best of all, the effort required to round your brain cells into shape is not daunting. A 30-minute jog, Dr. Davis says, is probably a good human equivalent of the workout that the mice completed.


Dean
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Not sure how many of you are on twitter but if you are not, you really should be. There is a wealth of knowledge on all subjects the people share. You don't have to write anything ever, but following people who share great articles or bits of information is a great resource and time saver.

For those who are on twitter and are looking for a great follow in the Sport Psych genre, I recommend @DanAbrahams77

He is a professional from the UK who updates daily reminders for coaches. As you read his tweets, substitute hockey for football every time you see it and your set.

   
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Thanks Eric. I will add this one to my account.


Dean
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Go figure: Serena Williams doesn’t like sports or working out

Wency Leung, Globe and Mail, January 2, 2012


She may be one of the world’s leading tennis stars, but Serena Williams says she’s not all that into the game.

In fact, the U.S. champ says she doesn’t even like sports in general.

According to the London Telegraph, Ms. Williams made the stunning revelation while discussing her plans to further cut back on playing this year, after taking off the latter part of 2011.

“It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with tennis. I’ve actually never liked sports and I never understood how I became an athlete,” she said. “I don’t like working out, I don’t like anything physical. If it involves sitting down or shopping, I’m excellent at it.”

Ms. Williams, 30, nevertheless won the opening round of the WTA Brisbane International on Monday, beating South Africa’s Chanelle Scheepers 6-2, 6-3.

Even though her heart may not be in it, she told reporters she still finds it difficult to imagine a life without tennis.

“I don’t love tennis today but I’m here. I can’t live without it. There’s a difference between not loving something and not being to live without it,” she said, adding that taking time off to do other things “helps keep my motivation up.”

By scaling back her playing schedule, she explained, the tournaments in which she does participate will be special for her and her fans. “It’s going to be a forum where I’m really excited to play there.”

Ms. Williams, who learned to play tennis from her father at a young age, has won a total of 23 career Grand Slams. Beyond tennis, she has also been involved in television, fashion and philanthropy. In September, she was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

If Ms. Williams were able to become an all-time tennis great as a closet couch potato, one wonders how much better a player she might be if she were actually passionate about the game.

Does passion really improve one’s performance?


Dean
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Habs enlist sports psychologist

BILL BEACON, The Canadian Press, Feb. 03, 2012



A regularly scheduled visit by a sports psychologist came at an opportune moment for the struggling Montreal Canadiens.

The club is coming off a 5-3 defeat in New Jersey in which it blew 2-0 and 3-1 leads and now has a pair of afternoon home games against the Washington Capitals on Saturday and the Winnipeg jets on Sunday.

Psychologist David Scott, who talks to players from time to time during the season, spoke to the players ahead of an optional skate on Friday.

“It's good timing,” coach Randy Cunneyworth said. “Mentally, physically, these are the challenges we have.

“It's difficult, that mental part of not having the level of success you want. It's about starting fresh, getting ready, recovering. No one says it's easy but if we stick together, we will battle it by committee.”

He said the visit was scheduled well in advance and had nothing to do with the club's current plight. Montreal is 0-2-0 since the all-star break and is tied for last place in the NHL Eastern Conference.

“Everybody has some level of frustration,” said Cunneyworth. “But you have to get in the right frame of mind and try to improve.”

-----

"Scotty" was one of the best professors I ever had! He taught Sport Psych to me during my Master's Degree at UVIC in the 1990's. I ran into him in Moose Jaw - in the bowels of the old "crushed can" in 2006 while out in Sask. on a winter scouting trip. I wanted to show my wife the Hell-Hole that used to be my office downstairs... walking around, I saw a door open in what used to be our weight room. I see this guy sitting behind a laptop, his eyes peek over the top, and I hear his Irish accent asking, "Can I help you?" Wow! I hadn't seen him for ten years! All of a sudden, he recognized me, lept up and we had a great chat. Small world! He had been working in Hockey, Cricket and a variety of other sports that took him all over the world; plus he still maintained a teaching appointment at UNB. I hope Scotty can help the Habs turn things around.


Dean
M.Ed (Coaching)
Ch.P.C. (Chartered Professional Coach)
Game Intelligence Training

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Registered: 08/05/09
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