The year was 1976 and the film Rocky made its debut on cinema screens all over America. The movie quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Thousands of kids and young adults were instantly inspired to try drinking a few raw eggs and getting up before dawn to run to get in shape like the great Rocky Balboa. Little did we know it at the time but the fitness and workout craze in America was being born, and by 1981 a cover of TIME magazine was devoted to this movement. In a few short years the fitness industry had become a multibillion-dollar industry with no signs of slowing down.
Improved muscle mass, leaner bodies and intense physical conditioning was the first big movement in the evolution of the modern day athlete. Thus began a trend in sports to find new ways to stay ahead of the curve and gain a competitive edge. While the fitness trend lasted, by the late '80s and early '90s the new buzz was all about sports psychology. Focus, visualization, routine and mental preparation were being introduced and accepted by many at the highest levels of sports. By the late '90s as the money and allure of a professional sports career grew, many of the biggest college and professional athletes had sports psychologists in tow as part of their traveling support staff.
The decade of the 2000s brought with it incredible advances in technology. From the training equipment used to the astonishing advancements in video technology and software analytics, it allowed athletes and their coaches to study body movement down to the minutest detail. In frame-by-frame analysis, they could now see exactly where their body was either in or out of position and to the exact degree. They could compare video of themselves with any professional athlete with the simplest of ease. Computer modeled scenarios were also predicting play calling and projecting the outcomes of games. Whether in baseball, football, basketball or golf, technology was ruling the day and the left side of the brain for many athletes and teams searching for the key to success.
The trend in recent years has been on several new things. There has been a major focus on staying on a strict diet as athletes are more conscious of what they eat. There has been a big focus on applied kinesiology and biomechanics, which is the study and application of the physics of the body's movements and how to get the most out of one's physical nature. And of course there has been the use of sabermetrics, the sophisticated use of data analysis made famous recently by the book and then movie about the Oakland A's called Moneyball.
Each of these continuing evolutions of thought, awareness and understanding have certainly been impactful and have allowed many athletes and teams to stay competitive and at the top of the game in terms of their performance and results for years. But has sports gone too far to the left side of the brain?
Over the last 15 years, the money has gotten exponentially bigger for athletes and organizations. As a result there has there been an increase in the pressure to find an edge in order to stay on top. At times the desire became so intense that many athletes succumbed to the temptation of using performance-enhancing drugs to achieve superior results. An issue that still is being dealt with today.
Lost in all of this competitive pressure has been the natural creativity and intuitive part of the equation. The passion and the vital "love of the game" has been squeezed out by the pressure to win. Add to this the mass amount of information that has been fed into the minds of coaches, managers and athletes and it can have a negative effect on performance. This pressure has caused many to do what they "think" they should do or what the fear of falling behind has driven them to do rather than what they intuitively "know" they can do that produces results. This has caused many to lose their vital presence of mind or what is called mindfulness.
In many ways, sports is a microcosm of life. We have been assaulted by data and a consistent stream of information that keeps us on the left side of the brain for most of our day. The left side of the brain is where the logical and reasoning side of our processing is located. It's no wonder meditation and yoga have been talked about more in recent years as a helpful exercise for the quality of our lives. The right side, the intuitive and creative side of the brain, has been neglected for far too long. The world is looking for balance. Athletes are craving the very same thing and the relief from the pressure and disharmony that this unbalanced state of mind brings.
So the big question is, "What's next?"
The next big and powerful edge in sports is about a mindful and self-aware athlete. Self-awareness or mindfulness is very simply about being more conscious about how our thoughts, feelings, energy and actions create the conditions and probabilities for what we will create and experience next. It is about the understanding of how our beliefs regarding who we truly believe that we are, directly affect and are connected to our experiences. The result of which leads to a more mindful, connected, intuitive and empowered athlete.
The elegance of life can be found in the perfection of the process of life. The organization, team or individuals with the strongest will, belief, actions and demonstrated faith in who they are are the ones that win championships and have a shot at becoming legendary. This requires a heightened state of awareness. There are no shortcuts and there is no such thing as an overnight success. However, for those dedicated to the process and those willing to look at the truth (no small feat) and believe in something greater for themselves each day, there is a whole new realm of possibilities to be experienced. To some athletes this state comes naturally, for others it must be learned.
Years ago, the tennis legend Billie Jean King said, "I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion."
It is not just talent alone that produces success. Talent without heart or a strong enough desire to succeed will simply languish and go unfulfilled. It is also not just money that leads to wins. You can't buy a championship. If this were true the Yankees or Dodgers would win a world championship every year. The key to increasing the probabilities of success and the experience of true potential realized, relates to an expanded awareness or consciousness regarding how success materializes. The player, coach or organization looking to thrive must be willing to see things from a new perspective. More specifically it is a new awareness regarding how our energy works to shape what unfolds next for us. Your deepest thoughts and the resulting state of mind is either working for you and your dreams, or working against you. This is the new powerful state of awareness and knowledge for today's superior athlete.
I have worked with hundreds of top executives and college and professional athletes and coaches over the past 5 years. The number one factor that keeps any one of them from realizing more of their potential has to do with mindset. It is about being more connected to the way they think, act and respond to circumstance or challenges. As soon as an athlete's or coaches state of mind shifts and they become more present to the truth of the moment, the changes begin instantaneously. The real magic is in the faith to make the authentic change and trust it. Just going through the motions without committing 100 percent to the process is a spiritually dead behavior. When a powerful new authentic belief and understanding is added to action and a whole new creative energy is released that was never experienced before. This process is detailed in two books I authored on the subject, I AM: The Power of Discovering Who You Really Are and Time in a Bottle: Mastering the Experience of Life.
In many of the cases of those I have worked with the athlete or coaching staff was doing eight or nine out of the 10 most important things that lead to results. It was only the last piece regarding a new awareness or understanding that had the power to shift the energy and make the critical difference. These tiny shifts in the way they processed information or responded to circumstance translated into huge experiential differences on the field of play! That is how vitally important a new awareness regarding what is possible can be. It defines who you are and exactly how life responds back to you in terms of what happens next.
What works best in terms of performance and results is constantly changing and evolving with each new generation. Those who desire to succeed at the highest levels are always searching for a greater understanding about how this is accomplished. The Seattle Seahawks are a great example of this new mindset in professional sports. Pete Carroll has been instituting this mindfulness work with the Seahawks since 2011 with great results as this year the Seahawks will be playing in their second consecutive Super Bowl.
Presence of mind is powerful because it begins with a greater understanding of oneself and what is possible. This leads to being more intuitive about what works in the moment. As this awareness expands so do the positive results. The great Kung Fu master Bruce Lee once said, "Fear comes from uncertainty; we can eliminate the fear within us when we know ourselves better. As the great Sun Tzu said, 'When you know yourself and your opponent, you will win every time. When you know yourself but not your opponent you will win one and lose one. However, when you do not know yourself or your opponent, you will be imperiled every time.'"
The ability to evolve and change is vital to the survival of all things. This is the same whether it is in nature, in human relationships or in business and sports. Life is constantly nudging us to open to new possibility. While past methods to achieve success in sports will continue to play a significant role and be helpful to future success, it is those individuals that seek to stretch their current mindset and trust in a new understanding of the way life works at a deeper and more mindful level that will separate themselves from the rest. It is the more mindful, present, and self-aware athlete that will gain the powerful edge in today's highly competitive and driven world.