Why do you do what you do? And how? Ok, what do you do again? Philosophy of Practice.
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
As I continue my work in Mental Performance training, a word (or 500) regarding my philosophy of practice are in order. I am lucky to have come through great training via my Master's program in Sport Psychology at JFK University and now serving as Affiliate Faculty with Holy Names University. Part of my Master's degree training was really honing in on a philosophy that is authentic and which encapsulates who I am and how I believe the work of mental training can best be practiced. Over time I have adapted that philosophy so that it more clearly represents who I've become as a person and a professional.
In doing this, I think it's vital to start with my purpose, my "why." I believe in the Golden Circle, this notion that your "why" should live at the heart of what you do:
For me, my why has crystallized neatly over time:
Sport has had a profound, positive impact on
my life and it's my passion to use sport as a
medium to help others. Handled with care,
sport has the capacity to be a playground for
deep personal meaning, great human growth,
and a tool for making the world a better place.
With that said, here is a basic way I express my philosophy of mental training practice:
At my core, my center, I am Coach Dan. This moniker has followed me from my first days coaching basketball during college and immediately after. Also, it represents a great deal of how I work: coaching. Training. Challenging. Taking an athlete where they want to go. I believe my coaching hat is at the center of how I practice because it taps into the world of athletics and all the topsy turvy, roller coaster thoughts and emotions that comes with it.
As a coach, I believe that sport is a playground for deep personal meaning and a site for great human development. I also believe sport has the capacity to help make the world a better place by bringing people together in solidarity towards competition (when done right!). Shout to PeacePlayers International! Let's remember, that the world "compete" comes from a Latin origin competere which means "to strive together." As a coach I help athletes recognize the value in competition and in doing so we honor and are grateful for those we compete against.
Surrounding my role as a coach are 3 tenets of my philosophy: MAC approach, Rogerian or client-centered therapy, and holism, a holistic perspective.
Holism is a theory that posits that humans are parts of a whole which are in intimate
interconnection, and that these various parts can't be fully understood without reference to the whole person. This notion suggests that an individual as a whole is greater than the sum of his/her parts and that we must understand the broader contexts in which people are living in order to properly understand them. This resonates with me for several reasons. First, I believe we are too quick to judge people without knowing the specific challenges, worldviews and experiences they have or have had. Second, I feel it is important that we look at athletes as people first, and include dialogue into their lives as a whole in order to assist them in their sport performance. Lastly, I believe in the holistic approach because I don't think you can reduce an individual's performance to just the performance domain; you must consider the whole person in order to consider how their performance can be impacted.
A Rogerian, or client-centered approach, is based on the work of American psychologist Carl Rogers. Rogers contributed an immense amount to the field of psychology and believed that clients were the center of the work of psychology and should be treated as such. Rogers concluded that an individual can reach their fullest potential if they were provided with a genuine/authentic relationship, were held in unconditional positive regard, and received empathy in the counselor-client pairing.
Rogers work informs how I handle sessions with clients. I want my clients to know that their potential is limitless, and that I am listening deeply and with genuine care as to their challenges. By asking open ended questions, using active listening skills and other counseling techniques, I'm able to provide an open arena for sharing and allowing an athlete to work through their challenges and help them highlight their strengths!
Lastly, the MAC approach. Oh, the MAC approach! MAC stands for mindfulness acceptance commitment and was born out of acceptance commitment therapy (ACT). While mindfulness may be a big-time trend these days, I've studied the topic for over 20 years and it is a concept that has existed for thousands of years! This approach is the cornerstone of the work I do with athletes in terms of the tools/techniques I hope they can transfer to their field of play.
In this approach, I guide athletes through present-moment focused meditations, help them recognize and be more aware of their habitual thought patterns, and work with them on setting 'intentional attention' habits. We then work with this idea of acceptance, which can be very difficult for hyper-competitive athletes. Acceptance doesn't mean "being OK with negative results," as much as recognizing and not resisting thoughts - positive or negative - as they come but rather, allowing them to go instead of getting stuck on them. By doing so, they become less judgmental - less harsh - on themselves and instead can focus on their commitment: live in alignment with their values.
We all have values, and part of my work is to help an athlete identify the core values by which they want to live and perform. By eliciting those values I help athletes commit to behaving in a way that is congruent with what they believe in, leaving the rest behind. This is HARD to do! It takes practice, just like training the physical body and your on-court skills takes practice. Yet, in the end, it provides you with the freedom to be at your best when your best is needed.
Given the framework that depicts how I work, it's also important to give those I work with a sense for what I believe in (see: center of that Golden Circle). I have created a conceptual model of mental skills, concepts, and objectives that guide my work with performers. And it goes a little something like this:
At the root of this work is having great awareness. To change an aspect of your game you must first be aware of a challenge in it. Awareness of your physical senses, your thoughts and feelings, and the thoughts and feelings of those around you is a fundamental building block from which to start. Once that is established, there are a variety of mental skills we train on a regular basis. These are the trainable techniques that can be prescribed, worked on individually or together, and which can help move a performer from point A to point B in their mental game. Those mental skills feed into four core concepts an athlete benefits from honing: optimism, team cohesion (and yes, even individual sport athletes are a part of teams), robust confidence and intrinsic motivation.
The refinement of all these concepts and skills help move an athlete towards core objectives generalizable to anyone: self-reliance, personal meaning, and self-actualization. To that end,
I work to help athletes:
a. train me out of a job (they are their own best coach! Ultimately they need their own
counsel when they are out there on the field or court) - speaks to SELF-RELIANCE
b. find deep meaning in their sport; find satisfaction; have a greater purpose beyond
wins and losses that speaks to WHY they play the game - speaks to PERSONAL
c. be the best versions of themselves (cue Wooden's quote on success: "success is
peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to
become the best you are capable of becoming.” - speaks to SELF-ACTUALIZATION
And that, my friends, is the core of my philosophy of practice. If you think this can help you in your athletic journey, please don't hesitate to reach out!
Thanks for tuning in and good luck on your path.