A Little on Perspective on Sport…

Poise. Positive Perspective and Attitude. Centered. Sport-Life Balance. In my opinion athletes who demonstrate such attributes have my utmost respect. As the saying goes, sport can bring out the best and worst in all of us. In sport, like in life, “Circumstances do not make a man (or woman!), they reveal him (or her!).” (Dr. Wayne W. Dyer). In my experience and observations athletes at any level in sport can learn and develop a great sport-life perspective. My current Olympic favorite is Missy Franklin, who at 17 has already won gold in the 100m & 200m backstroke (a world record) and a bronze in the 4 x 100m freestyle in London and shows incredible composure, maturity and perspective on sport for her age.

On the other hand, for those who are still lacking poise and a positive perspective, here’s what I believe might be getting in the way…

1. You’re a sore loser. When you don’t win or perform to your (or perceived other’s) expectations, you’re good at coming up with lots of reasons and excuses as to why you didn’t perform as well as you believe you should have. Sometimes you even rattle off your excuses before the competition starts as insurance to protect your ego. Bottom line: It’s okay to admit that your best just wasn’t good enough to win or achieve your goal result that day! And that’s precisely what Clara Hughes said about her 5th place finish in the time trial event on Day 5 at the Olympics, “Yes I am disappointed…I have everything, it was not enough, but ultimately, they were better than me. That’s it.”

2. You’re even a sore winner! Even on the days you win, you’re quick to publicly proclaim all the reasons it wasn’t a good day for you, and all the things you could have still done better! While a true competitor is always looking for ways to improve, it may be best to keep such reflections to oneself on such days in respect for your competitors.

3. You believe effort guarantees results. You are sure that if you put X amount of dedication, time, energy, and resources in to achieving your athletic dreams, then you should deserve to get the results you want. Nothing is guaranteed in sport. Nor in life! Accept that fact and you can truly enjoy the journey and results! Furthermore, this type of thinking also translates in to the belief that the one who wants it the most should win. Consider this excerpt from a blog post by Maxime Boilard: (the entire blog is written in context of the the Canadian men’s 8 rowing team’s silver medal and can be found here in French)

“Many people think that the athlete who wants it the most on game day is the one who wins the Olympic medal, as if belief alone will make it happen. We need to change that way of thinking. An athlete has to be in touch with reality as well as the level of competition. The desire to win makes no difference at this level. Each athlete wants it every bit as bad as the next. The difference maker here is, to be able to free yourself from the self-imposed obstacles we have a habit of nurturing, for all kinds of reasons. Each athlete wants to have the race of a lifetime. For some, that translates into a gold medal. It becomes problematic when an athlete wants the gold medal, believing it will translate into the best race of their lives. The difference between the two cases is subtle. In the first case we end up valuing that which we control whereas in the second case we are valuing a result that we are not able to totally control.”

4. You truly buy in to the cliché: “I’m only as good as my last performance!” While competition results are by far one of the best indicators of how you stack up to the competition in your given sport, if you chose to base your self-esteem and confidence solely on how your latest performance went (in training or competition), then you’re in for a very rocky ride!

5. You put too much importance on your performance. People don’t care as much as you think. And you shouldn’t either! Even as we are in the middle of the Olympic Summer Games, during which the whole world is watching, even these performances will be fleeting memories for most of us as soon as a few months from now! This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about preparing and giving it your best shot, it just means you keep it in perspective with the rest of life and your (hopefully many) identities outside of sport. And never take yourself too seriously! Fun and peak performance often go together! 🙂

6. The most obvious of all: you’d do anything to win, even if it means cheating.  Chris McCormack sums up the reason people cheat nicely in his book, “You can’t deal with the fact that you’re not good enough, or you can’t get past the fear that you’re not good enough, so you cheat instead of finding a solution. To me, that is a direct outgrowth of our sport’s (triathlon’s) obsession with results.” (p. 222)

So what defines a positive perspective on performance results. Again, I will quote some thoughts from Chris McCormack, arguably one of the most successful triathletes ever:

“I’ve said I love the entire process of being a triathlete and of breaking down races. That would be true even if I didn’t win the races, because I enjoy the process of becoming the best triathlete I can be – the best person I can be. I love the process of finding the secret to winning a particular race as much as the win itself.”

“Our sport should be about more than winning races. It should be about overcoming limitations, conquering fears, and inspiring other people.”

“If all that matters to you is the result, what kind of person does that make you?”

The above quotes come from Chris McCormack’s book, “I’m here to WIN: A World Champion’s Advice for Peak Performance.” Read it and learn about how this amazing athlete has developed and learned over his long career, and ultimately has the mind of a true competitor balanced with a great perspective on life!

Gift from the Sea by Amy Golumbia

Ultrarunning mom of twins and holistic nutritionist, Amy Golumbia, recently posted a great blog which is a great reminder of why moms need to take time away to themselves, whether athletically or otherwise. She writes about the book, Gift from the Sea, and her own thoughts on motherhood guilt, trying to do it all, and the importance of taking time to step away, regain perspective, recover and find balance.

She writes, “Of my friends and the women I know, there seem to be two general types. Most of the mothers I know fall into the first category. This woman is constantly on the run but never really fulfilled…..” And later “On the other side of the spectrum, I have a few girlfriends who have figured it out and are great role models for me. They truly walk around with a genuine smile on their face….”

Click here to read the full post, a highly recommended read with some great reminders!

Amy also did one of my athlete-mom interviews which can be read here.

The Biggest Parenting Muscle?

Like most relatively new parents, I tend to think of my life in terms or pre-kids and post-kids. My husband and I joke about how pre-kids we were in control of our time – we determined when we could relax, when and how long to sleep, or when we could just chill and watch a movie. We also thought we were busy pre-kids!

And while it is always a challenge to get back in physical shape and workout consistently with all the extra (but rewarding!) demands of children, another big muscle gets extremely challenged to grow much bigger when kids come along. It can grow via many different stimulations: a child waking the middle of the night while you’re in a deep sleep, children waking up for the day much earlier than you would like, trying to get kids out the door and in the car in order to be somewhere on time (and then whining in the car while driving!), constant cleaning and picking up food off the floor for the third time in 5 minutes, waiting out a toddler’s tantrum, dealing with sibling squabbles over toys, reading a favorite story for the 5th time in one day, endless questions that begin with “Why”….the list goes on! 🙂

As defined by the dictionary, you know this muscle has grown, stretched, and been strengthened if you’ve increased you’re ability to:

1. Bear or endure pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance with calmness

2. Exhibit calm endurance through pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance.

3. Be tolerant and understanding.

4. Persevere

5. Calmly await an outcome or result without haste or impulsiveness

Yes, this muscle is called Patience! And I know I’ve had to work on it! Pre-kids, I could easily say I’ll never be THAT parent – the one raising their voice a few octaves too loudly at their kids, pulling them by the arm a little too gruffly in frustration, offering them candy or other junk food, allowing extra TV time – we all lose our cool or drop our intended standards at times – but like anything, we can learn from our mistakes and get better with practice.

Recently I’ve realized this “training” in building patience has transferred over to my athletic life as well. I don’t get as frustrated as I used to if a workout doesn’t go as I’d expected. I’m less of a potty mouth when I screw up technically on the mountain bike. I’m better at dealing with deviations from my pre-race routine. Heck, I’m happy to make it to the start line healthy, prepared and on time! I’m grateful for every OPPORTUNITY I have to workout, train and race. It’s not that I’ve dropped my standards as to what I expect from training and racing hard, but these tests of my patience have just put a new perspective on it all! And yes, mental toughness in sport can be improved and strengthened in quite creative ways if we are open to it!

Un Nouveau Monde: Focus and Persistence will Pay Off!!

It takes a big commitment. You must start with the fundamentals and be prepared to go through hours of basic repetition. You’ll have to break it down and be sure you understand all the rules. You’ll spend hours learning from the masters of it before you’ll be even close to putting it all together fluidly yourself. You can’t fake it. You can’t pretend you’re better than you really are. In a way, your current ability is the ultimate test of the focused effort and work you’ve put into it.

After our recent Christmas vacation in Montreal, I once again appreciated my persistence to learn the French language. It started in earnest while studying as an undergraduate when I spent one summer in France and another summer in Chicoutimi, Quebec as part of my studies. It demolished any anxieties I had about public speaking in English. Without it, I wouldn’t have much of a relationship with my mother-in-law, who only speaks French, or as much interaction with others from the culture of tourtière pies, fudge, poutine, the selection of choice of cheeses and wines, dramatic hand gestures, and pursed “O” shaped lips 🙂

When first dating my husband, I would struggle to follow the conversation around his family’s dinner table, and often what I thought they’d been talking about was totally wrong! Meanwhile J-F accused me of being shy around his family! I would also be exhausted from “comprehension concentration” after hour-long lab meetings in French in my Psychology lab at the University of Ottawa.

But with continued practice, I’ve come out the other side into what feels like a whole new world at times. I don’t panic when someone addresses me in French. I can catch and completely understand a passing French conversation. I can follow a lively dinner conversation, pitch in my own two cents easily, and even catch most of the jokes now. Watching television in French is relaxing and enjoyable. I can differentiate the Quebec and France accents and even some differences in the accents around Quebec. I can make myself understood easily enough in French. I am FAR from perfect but I am confident enough to call myself bilingual at this point.

As with the challenge of learning a new language, there are many parallels to striving to reach our most challenging goals as an athlete….

1. You have to be motivated and be able to answer the “WHY are you doing it question! I live in Canada, and I think it would be great if everyone could communicate in both official languages, my husband’s family is French, I want to be able to communicate with and understand, and fully experience the French side of my country. I also love the challenge of learning it! “Life is a journey, not just a destination” – Aerosmith

2. You have to be okay with stumbling and making mistakes. You can’t master a second language as an adult without being comfortable with making plenty of errors. You’ll repeat them often, learn from them, and eventually get it right. You need to spend many hours of focused concentration to comprehend the language before you can even begin to speak it and make coherent sentences. Nothing comes easily, especially at first. As in sports it takes countless hours to solidify those neuromuscular connections for the coordination needed for any given skill, as well as the time needed to build endurance, strength, speed, and power! Patience is needed for both!

3. You have to persist when it gets hard. Like physical mastery in sport, language mastery takes hours of practice, and it often gets tougher (e.g. converting all those classroom grammar lessons into conversational ability) before it becomes easier. Even at the highest level, the best athletes are always working to improve something when every edge in ability can count! And persisting at improving weaknesses is a challenging task! And if you’re getting into shape again, you may feel more sore and fatigued for a few weeks before you start to feel stronger and fitter!

4. You may never reach your ultimate goal but it doesn’t make the pursuit of it any less worthy! I have the goal of being perfectly bilingual, but my French accent will never be perfect. I will continue to make grammatical errors, and have difficulties expressing myself as well as I can in English. But its been worth it!! I have richer relationships I wouldn’t have had without it, it’s pushed me out of my comfort zones, I’ve learned about French culture from the “inside”, it has opened doors in many ways given me confidence that I can achieve things I set my mind too, even when it feels impossible at first. Similarly in sport, if we don’t win the race, make the team, or reach our highest goal our efforts are not in vain!

What to THINK so races go by in a BLINK!

It was early June in Buffalo, New York during the 1500m heats at the 1998 NCAA Division 1 Outdoor Track and Field Championships. As I ran I heard my 800m split time – 2:10 – only 2 seconds slower than my best 800m race time that season but I didn’t care. I just went with it and was feeling great. Then we were through the bell lap, around the bend and with 300m to go, usually too early to start kicking I couldn’t hold back any longer. My legs were begging to unleash another gear and I started a long kick towards the finish. The entire closely matched pack seemed to surge towards the finish together and it was a photo finish between five of us. It was the most effortless 4 minutes and 18 seconds I had ever run.

I recently finished a popular and well-known book in my to-read list called Blink by Malcom Gladwell. His well researched stories site examples of “thin slicing”, snap judgments, listening with your heart, and following your intuition in contrast to deliberate, fully thought out decision making. It got me thinking about how peak performance in sport is related to the ability to just trust what was termed in the book as our, “adaptive unconscious.” On race day, the work is done, the pre-race thinking and strategizing should be mostly decided. It is time to trust all the hard work, the training, the “studying” you’ve done and trust your experience to take you through each moment. When we can tune into that zone where we let our adaptive unconscious guide us, we make decisions before we’re even conscious of why we’re doing them.

So when is it important to really think about what you’re doing in sport? And when is it important to just go, keep things as simple as a blink, just trust your feeling?

I was observing the short track speed skaters in Calgary the other day as they were focused on praticing starts, which are particularly important for the 500m distance they race. They had instant video feedback on top of coach and teammate suggestions for how to tweak things. It was a practice they could break down their body position and try different things. A time to really THINK about what they were doing. Of course, come race day, it will not be the time to be adjusting race start position, it will be the time to just “put it all together” and GO when the gun goes off.

Achieving peak performance more consistently in sport is much like becoming an expert on yourself and your sport. To know yourself and your sport well enough to be able to make decisions in a blink during performance means doing much of the thinking beforehand. Thinking beforehand means preparing yourself mentally and physically for race-like conditions in training, methodically experimenting with technique, equipment set up, and pacing while training. At a race it means getting to know the venue, having a plan A, B, C etc for race day, being prepared for ANYTHING and ANYONE! Unfortunately, potential great performances sometimes get interrupted by unexpected scenarios or conditions that cause over thinking and overanalyzing, instead of just quickly refocusing, and maybe even resetting the goal for the day with the most positive focus possible.

Focusing on a few key, simple things on race day can get you in the zone to get your best effort in, AND be over the finish line in what CAN feel like a blink! When I think back to my 1500m race at the very end of my track running career for the University of Washington Huskies described above, it was after 12 years of running and racing on the track. Peak performances like that didn’t happen every day but with enough practice and experience – I’m guessing I’d run at least 100 1500m races to date at that point – it was the perfect opportunity against optimal competition to run a personal best. With the right preparation I was able to focus on many of the ingredients that characterize a peak performance -confidence, optimally relaxed and calm yet focused and alert, positive, looking forward to the competitive challenge, ready to trust my instincts in the moment, and perhaps most importantly – ready to have some FUN!!

One of the few times an Xterra run has felt almost effortless, the 2008 World Championships

When Less is More!

My coach and I finished our second workout of the day today keeled over and sucking wind. At the top of the narly, steep hill in the rain soaked woods Cal exclaimed, “I am VO2 maxed!”. Once we caught our breath and started heading back down the hill, we chatted about how it is that time of the season, now under 3 weeks out from the Xterra World Championship, when it is mainly about high intensity and getting sharp. Hence, the reason I was feeling pukey for the second time in one day, first on the bike and then running! It is the transition time where training takes less time, but the effort is more, maximally more some days!

The race season can be long. With my first race each year being as early at late March and usually finishing up by the end of October, there are many ways I’ve followed the principle of “less is more” in order to arrive at the end of the season at the most important races feeling as fresh (mentally and physically) and fit as I possibly can. Here are the top ways I like to apply the “less is more” motto as an athlete….

1. Its not the end of the world to throw a training day out! This is what my brother Geoff reminded me of every so often when he coached me in my mountain bike racing days while at grad school in Ottawa. Whether it be due to the accumulation of outside stresses, feeling on the edge of getting sick, losing too much sleep as the parent of young babes, or feeling under recovered, throwing a day of training out never hurts once in awhile, and is WAY better than losing up to a week due to being sick!

2. Applying “Less is More” is a personal thing! Learning to respect when less is more for you personally takes some trial and error, good self-awareness developed over time, and trust in the purpose behind the type of training you’re doing (another reason a coach can help you maximize that time!). Unfortunately a number of athletes believe if they just do more than their competitors, and do the maximum amount of training that they can then their “hard” work will pay off. Learning to balance the quality of training versus the quantity at the appropriate time of the year on top of balancing the overall training load with work, school, life, and/or family is a fine art that takes practice, and wisely erring on the side or “less is more” from time to time can be the key to staying healthy and seeing overall improvement.

3. Racing less for more motivation! I’ve definitely had race seasons when I reach the final month or more of racing and I’ve felt like I’m just going through the motions. The drive to compete and push maximally at the end of a long season of racing can be tough if you don’t pace the race season. Figuring out what is optimal for you as far as number of races to enter, and how much time to spend away from home racing can make the difference in ending the season without feeling like your competitive fire has burned out! Pacing the season sometimes means opting of fun local races (since there are SO many in the Calgary-Canmore area!) in order to take real breaks from the emotions of racing.

4. Sleep – less can be more! If there is anything I’ve learned since becoming a parent its that I’m capable of a lot more on less sleep than I ever thought I would be! In my early days with my firstborn, Zoe, I often felt like I’d rather take a nap than get out the door and train. But once I got going, most of the time I would feel great. And the workout would leave me with more energy than I started with! Of course, in line with point number one in this post, once in awhile a nap is more important than completed a training session. I’ve learned not to sweat it when I’ve been up feeding or changing diapers too many times in one night, and because I no longer have control over what time my “child” alarm clock will go off in the morning! 🙂 And as for sleep before races we all know that how much sleep you get the night before a race isn’t nearly as important as the sleep you get two night’s before! And getting up early on race morning can be a good thing to wake up your body!

Practicing Mommy Mindfulness

On a very busy day with kids everywhere at a downtown park the other day my “mommy GPS brain”, now apparently strengthened with improved wiring for sight, sound, and movement felt overloaded. I was trying to keep up with Nico, the escape artist, who likes to run off in any direction as fast as he can, and only laughs and runs away faster and farther when I call his name. The ever more sociable Zoe happily goes off and plays with whoever she can find at the park. Finally, I was also trying to keep an eye on our parked stroller and bags off in another direction.

The playground experience reminded me how tracking our children constantly is just one more skill women naturally aquire for our constantly multitasking brains! And perhaps the best way to prevent ourselves from experiencing multitasking meltdowns is to take time to practice mindfulness and turn perceived chaos into calm. I like the definition of mindfulness by John Kabat-Zinn, a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and
nonjudgmentally.”

I have tried to put the art of “keeping my consciousness alive to the present reality” (Thich Nhat Hanh) into practice not only in day to day tasks but also while training or competing. Here are some examples…

1. Mindfulness while exercising. For me, working on being mindful of what I’m doing comes most easily while training. With workouts planned and a coach to help set the training goals, the purpose behind each training session is already in place. Then I work on having something to focus on for each part of my workout with no more than one or two things at a time.  For example in the pool depending on the part of the workout I may be focusing on my stroke technique, my stroke turnover, or just going all out and not worrying about technique at all. Running intervals are still some of my toughest training sessions to get through. I might focus on staying relaxed, breathing deep, or turning my legs over fast, and just take it one interval distance at a time! While the high intensity and high quality workouts often take very specific and high mental focus to get through, I also try to be mindful of completely enjoying the easier workouts when I can just go with the flow. For example, on long easy runs or rides, I enjoying just go the pace my body wants to go without paying too much attention to gadget information like heart rate, pace, cadence, or watts.

2. Mindfulness with day-to-day work or tasks. About a year ago, I took a two-day workshop on meditation with a team I work with. We worked on breathing, sitting, staying in the moment, and just observing our thoughts and physical sensations without judgement for three hours each session. It was tough and very difficult not to let my mind wander to thinking about what I was going to do later or other distracting thoughts. Just like training your muscles for endurance or strength over weeks and months of physcial training, taking time to be mindful for even one hour, let alone 5 minutes, during a day takes practice! Some simple examples are eating a meal slowly and savoring every bite, being completely present in a conversation and really listening to what someone is saying to you, or just washing the dishes with complete awareness of washing the dishes.

3. Mindfulness with your children. In the age of constant communication it is hard not to become a “crackberry mom”, you know the moms who are constantly on their phone or blackberry while at the park, in the mall etc. I see them everywhere and the only reason I haven’t be prone to it is that my phone is so old school that I don’t even have a keyboard and hate texting….for now! I think as mothers these days we need to be displicined enough to realize that every e-mail, phone call, or text message does not need to be answered immediately. We don’t have to be available to the outside world 24-7. Often when I’m with my kids, especially in the house, I can get distracted by wanting to get a million things done. But I strive to be organized enough that when I have time to just hang out with my kids I can be fully present to read a story, get down on the ground and just play, or just go to a park and be fully engaged in having fun with them!

Emotional toughness training?

You never know what each morning will bring! Although most of the time Zoe acts like the “big sister” she is, this morning was one of her regressions into “I want mommy!” (as she’s clinging to me and can’t possibly get any more plastered onto me), “Carry me!” (no, you’re a big girl and are perfectly capable of walking downstairs by yourself), “I’m too tired, waaaaaah, collapsing on the floor full out crying” (well, you’ll have to stay upstairs then and come down when you’re ready to be calm). After about an hour of whining, crying, snivelling and being carried back upstairs a few times by me she was downstairs as calm as could be happily eating her breakfast, and chatting like nothing had happened!

Meanwhile, I’m working hard at staying cool and calm myself as mornings like this put my goal of consistent parenting performance in the emotional control department to the test. As Zoe’s emotions fly out of control now and then as they naturally should at her age, it made me realize that I’ve actually honed my emotional management skills a little over the years too. As I’m always connecting dots between work, racing, and motherhood in many of these posts, I’ve realized that bringing out your best emotional toughness is great for racing, and your best emotional softness is best for parenting but they both take the same kind of work. Vicarious observation, personal experience, and parenting have taught me that…

1. If you feel the need to shed some tears let it go as fast as a terrible two forgets about a tantrum! I remember when Zoe first started the lovely tantrum stage sometime around two years old, I used to feel myself tense up and feel pretty stressed until she finally calmed down. It took some work, and still does not to just snap sometimes, but with some practice and strategies in place I’ve become a lot better and staying calm, physically, emotionally, and verbally. Just because she is spewing emotions, doesn’t mean I have to too! Sometimes I would find myself staying angry at her behavior after it was all finished. But just as she lets it go faster than you can blink, I’ve tried to practice doing the same.

Zoe at 2 years

2. Managing the emotional highs and lows of racing avoids burnout! In sport, the practice of letting go quickly is just as important. I learned this really well in my work with short track speed skating. They often race two distances in one day with 3-4 rounds per distance. If they spend too much emotion either being overly excited or disappointed after each race, they will end up twice as fatigued by the end of day, and then they have to do the same thing all over again the next day! There is a reason the best athletes in any sport don’t get overly excited after a victory and don’t get overly down after a sub-par performance. Top athletes often have to race back to back in one day, over a weekend or weekly depending on the sport. Good emotional management and perspective is key to pacing the season and avoiding sheer exhaustion by the end.

3. Sometimes it is wisest to save emotions for future spending! With all the above said, it doesn’t mean that emotions need to be suppressed or bottled up. But if we give them free rein at inappropriate times, things can backfire when it comes to performance. Think of yourself or an athlete with a lot of nervous energy in the week or two before an important competition. You can sit around twitching, worrying, and spending nervous energy over a performance that is out of your control because it is X days away, or you can use any passing twinges of pre-race anxiety to remind you to refocus on the present, and save those emotions for race day! Other examples are athletes who give in to emotions too soon and start to celebrate before the race is over, give up before the race is over, or spend unnecessary emotional energy getting angry at other competitors, race officials or competition circumstances before it is over (think John McEnroe in tennis). The ability to save the processing of strong emotions until its all said and done is also a piece of the pie in haivng your best competition.

4. When strong emotions come up we can CHOOSE our reaction! Finally, while it is okay and developmentally normal for children and babies, especially under the age of three, to let emotions rule their behavior, as adults hopefully most of us have realized and learned that we can be in the driver’s seat! As a parent, we can choose to stay calm and cool through tantrums and sibling squabbles. As athletes, we can choose the most productive responses to our own mistakes, competition conditions and circumstances, hard to get along with teammates or competitors, or bad calls. If it sometimes appears that a top athlete is acting like they “don’t care” under high stakes circumstances, it may well be that they are just well practiced, wise, and calculating in how they manage and fuel their emotions in order to perform their best!

What have my kids taught me about a winning mindset?

In my opinion, there is nothing cuter these days than watching my 14 month old son waddle around. He is getting faster every day and it seems like his body is just trying to keep up to whatever direction his feet want to take him in! Of course he falls down often and gets right back up, most often without any complaining. It is a whole new world to discover up on his feet and his curiosity to explore everything in sight is infectious!

As I observe my two little ones growing up so full of wonder about the world, enjoying being more physically capable every day, and the incredible rate of Zoe’s language development as she doesn’t even notice she speaks “Franglais” (mixing her French and English) so often now, I’m struck by all the things they do so naturally that are most often associated with reaching our highest potential in life, in sport or otherwise.

Why is it that as we get older a certain self-awareness develops that allows us to be suddenly painfully self-conscious, always comparing ourselves to others, and nervous about what the future will bring? When athletes feel overwhelmed with these natural tendencies that occur as we come of age, sometimes reminding ourselves that if we once did the opposite so well as a small child, maybe we can cultivate the same mindset again when the pressure is on to perform. So tap into your inner child and reconnect to the things that are associated with best performances such as….

1. Staying in the Moment. Although Zoe is already at the age where she gets excited about upcoming events, that usually only happens when I remind her about something coming up. Otherwise, she and Nico are experts at staying totally absorbed in the present moment, whether it being playing with their toys, fighting over their toys, or being engrossed in a story, call it experiencing flow, or being in the zone for an adult. When stuck in the past or too wrapped up in some “uncontrollable” in the future I like the reminder of my favourite quote from the Peaceful Warrior movie, “What time is it? NOW. Where are you? HERE!”. When playing with my kids they remind me to practice being fully present! And they notice when I’m not!

2. Failure is Good for Us! Unfortunately too many athletes self-worth fluctuates wildly according to their last training session or last race result. Lucky for little Nico, he isn’t saying, Geez, why aren’t I walking as well as that other 14 month old over there? Or I wonder if I’ll ever be able to run like my big sister? Maybe I should just give up! Heck no. Kids get up, fall over and over again and keep tyring. Failure is how children learn so quickly and they don’t beat themselves up over mistakes (okay maybe just a little bit if a boo boo occurs). If all athletes could think like a child again, maybe we’d reach our potential faster. Falling and failing is good for us. We learn our limits faster and how to improve!

3. Do it because its FUN! So many times after a top performance, you may hear yourself or other athletes often say, “I was just having so much fun out there!” When children try out their first sports, most of the time they stick with something because they find it fun. When something is no longer fun, we quit. Zoe has recently caught the biking bug and was whoo hooing over the bmx bumps with feet in the air the other day. And that’s why we should continue in sport at any level – because we love it!

Here is Zoe shooing away the Mommy Paparazzi today before she rides on by, with Nico keeping up behind pretty well on foot for awhile too!

The Science of “Mommy Brain”: Can it hurt or enhance performance?

Often when I’m trying to get out the door once our babysitter arrives, I end up coming back in several times to get forgotten keys, cell phone, gear, or whatever else I realize I’ve forgotten on the way out to the car! During pregnancy and ever since I’ve jokingly blamed my absentmindedness on “Mommy Brain”. When I recently read a great book called The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine I was happy to discover that a mother’s brain is truly altered structurally and functionally, and even irreversibly through the hormones of pregnancy, close contact with a child, and breastfeeding. Understanding this phenomenom a little better helped me realize the reasons for the mental fog, and appreciate the sometimes tough balance of being away from my children to work or train.

An interesting fact I read in this book is that between six months and the end of pregnancy a pregnant women’s brain actually shrinks! Scientists aren’t sure exactly why but believe it may be due to the massive restructuring of brain circuits, the “birth” of all our maternal circuits you could say, or everything needed to make sure we are rewired to protect and care for our babies. Apparently during the first six months after birth the parts of the brain responsible for focus and concentration are overrided with protecting and tracking your newborn. Brain size only returns to normal at around 6 months postpartum and breastfeeding can also prolong moments of ditsiness. Of course, if your focus and memory isn’t quite where it used to be in the first year after childbirth or more it could also be due to the fact that mothers lose an average of seven hundred hours of sleep in the first year postpartum!

When I first started training and working after Zoe was born I also often felt a little anxiety and guilt about being away from her. After every workout I would hurry home as fast as I could hoping she’d made out okay without me. Although I’ve been a little more relaxed and more able to just enjoy my time away the second time around with baby Nico, it is interesting to learn that these withdrawal feelings are normal. Mommy brain can cause feelings of “withdrawal” when physically separated from your baby due a decline in levels of the hormone oxytocin, produced from nursing, especially if the separation is more than a few hours. Hmmm. It is comforting to have these biological explanations but since most of us can’t be with our children 24-7, I know for me it is important to have childcare that I trust and allows me to go to work or for a workout stress and guilt free.

And the positives of the changes of mommy brain according to this book are that 1) surges of dopamine and oxytocin in the brain switch off judgmental thinking and negative emotions, while also switching on pleasure circuits, 2) breastfeeding causes blood pressure to drop, and increases feelings of peacefulness and relaxation, and 3) maternal brain circuits change in ways that may allow mothers to have better spatial memory and be more flexible, adaptive, and courageous than females who haven’t given birth – all skills and talents we need keep track of and protect our babies (note: the brain transformation hold true for adoptive mothers too as it happens when in continuous close physical contact with your child). You know, like if you have to lift a car or fight a wild boar!

So in the end, in the first year or more of your babies life, you may feel like you’ve lost your mind, you’re incredibly in love with your baby, it is stressful to be separated from him or her, you’re constantly tired, you need support from others in your new role as a mom, and you love the excitement of what each new day brings with your little one all at once.

While of course, there is the initial drop in your mental and physcial performance, the incredible life change and adaptation that it takes to become a mother has the potential to make us stretch and grow in every direction, allow us to become stronger and more patient, and give us the ultimate perspective on performance!