Sport psychologists often recommend that athletes develop their own cue word to help with in-game focus. This concept would later evolve into a cue word for life -
(video footage of me at Cape Cycling Tour "worlds largest bike race" in South Africa)
I learned this trick from an awesome sports performance coach (Mark Guadagnoli) who is a professor at UNLV. This mental tool was a huge help to me when I was a competitive cyclist. At the time, I was looking for some insight into why I was so tripped out by crashing and to hopefully learn mental tricks to help focus when racing got really sketchy and risky. I needed to push doubt and fear of crashing out of my mind. My other option was to just QUIT. My revelation from this session was that of mental trauma. I realized prior crashes and injuries had manifested into a traumatic experience for my mind. Mental scar tissue is what I call it now. What followed was disengagement, excuses, and even some nightmares. I could have quit my hobby and passion out of fear, or I could sort things out by asking for help. At the time, it was embarrassing that I was so hung up on crashing and getting hurt. In hindsight, it’s just annoying I allowed so much time to elapse while I tortured myself. I should have asked for help sooner. I have to thank my awesome wife Angie (former UNLV distance coach Track/XC) for suggesting I get some help. She told me about this awesome professor at UNLV who was working with athletes to overcome athletic performance anxieties and fears. He was sorting out athletes with strategies to trigger positive engagement at the most important moments in competition.
(Titanium plate inserted to put my clavicle back together after a crash)
The sports therapist (what I call him), Mark Guadagnoli, Ph.D. https://www.unlv.edu/people/mark-guadagnoli He was in pretty high demand, and I was not a UNLV athlete or a pro athlete. I was just a Cat 1 weekend road warrior. On a weekend morning several years ago, he graciously agreed to meet up with me and Angie while his kid was at Gymboree (tiny kid gymnastics). Right across from the gym was Pottery Barn. They had nice couches and it actually felt like a fairly therapeutic place. While customers picked through the latest in fancy living room decor, I opened up to Dr. Guadagnoli. I first admitted I was totally freaked out about crashing and not having the guts to fight through races to get to the front of the peloton (the pack of riders in a bike race). It was just a relief to tell someone my fears and insecurities without any judgment. We talked through various crashes I had been involved in and how they occurred. All of the crashes and injuries were not of my causing and out of my control. I entered the events and just happened to have been in wrong place at wrong time. However, putting yourself in the wrong place and wrong time can be a contributing factor to crashing. You need to put yourself where statistically less sketch is occurring. With plenty of experience I knew where and what needed to happen, I had just stopped engaging and in turn put myself statistically at a higher risk of being involved in a crash. I explained some cycling strategy to Professor Guadagnoli as it was not his specialty sport. I summarized the importance of staying towards the front of the pack, especially at certain crucial times in a race. It was pretty simple for him to grasp and he quickly came up with analogies for sinking a put in golf or executing another competitive maneuver without fear of failure. He began to sort out a mental strategy for me. He explained that I needed my mind to be triggered to have total clarity and focus, to have a singular purpose. He told me I needed to have a tool or cue word in my “mental toolbox”. This tool or word had to trigger confidence and engagement of my skills and bring out my best. The word had to associate with the exact task and how to execute it. The word was also not allowed to be associated with failure or crashing. He asked me what word I would use to explain how a cyclist moves through a full field of riders racing only inches apart from each other, dodging each other, avoiding road furniture (signs, pot holes, etc), and navigating turns, and big changes in pace. I sat silent for a moment and then said “SALMON”. A salmon swims up stream against epic currents, alongside fellow salmon, navigating rocks, and BEARS. I hadn’t totally worked out the analogy to perfection. I had also forgotten a salmon dies once they reach their destination. They basically expend all of their energy during this huge effort. In cycling you want to make it to the front of the peloton (pack) in a race, but have a couple or one last effort left to sprint. We called it matches and having a couple left to burn. But, for purposes of a trigger word, salmon was perfect.
In summary, this tool in my mental tool box was a game changer. Talking through my mental state during competition and visualizations outside of competition, was also a huge benefit. Therapists / mental health professionals CAN. help!
To be honest, I didn’t have some epic career after this, but I was empowered to have a breakthrough and to keep chasing my passion and enjoy my hobby again.
Mahalo to Professor Guadagnoli https://www.unlv.edu/people/mark-guadagnoli .
(me in the blue kit charging towards my #canperiod)
If athletes can benefit from a few sessions of therapy, why not the rest of us! No avoidance, just caring for our minds. No judgement, just urging friends and family to seek help when we need it. We should have no shame in getting therapy. We should be able to break through mental scar tissue, allowing our minds to heal and grow. As part of the Spirit of CAN. mission, we want to inspire discovery of our minds through therapy, and then getting back to our own #canperiod !
“If can, can; If no can, no can”, is a saying in Hawaii. Everyone has “no can” in life. It’s how you work through it that counts. As I was entering a new chapter in my own life and was also fighting through some tragedy and subsequent emotional trauma, I wrote down the following statement on a note card "CAN." This has evolved into a mission and a brand.
I hope you'll consider our mission and brand. Join us - discount code "canarmy" for 20% off your first order!
About crash footage:
Race: Cape Cycling Tour "worlds largest bike race". 35k riders participate 2012
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
Why: My cycling sponsor at the time always wanted to do it. We both went to just experience it and then safari !
Distance: 60k fast
Crash: In first 10 miles or so. Ended up with bent front wheel and no support. Just opened up brakes and let wheel drag. Was good enough:) Yes, I was in shock and lots of pain after.
My cycling experience: Category 1 racer for several years. I was basically a weekend warrior, or what I called a tourist in pro fields, racing all over the U.S.
Equipment for Cape race: A borrowed African steel road bike, with triple chain ring. Great for crashing, but heavy and horrible fit. Yep, roadie snobs wanted nothing to do with me.
Result: Finished, and got lots of pictures and met amazing people. I was also gifted with a back injury for life from crashing:(
Recommendation: Go to South Africa, do the ride/race, and then see amazing wildlife before all pau
Here's me trying to get rollin again... I was in a lot of pain!