JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

In the Presence of a Master

Posted by on Jan 25, 2019

Ann Gribbons teaching Mette Larsen and “Stedinger’s Hit” Her eye sees things most of us can’t even imagine. But how? It didn’t even exist to me until she talked about it and then, only then, could I even begin to conceptualize it through her description. Even watching her takes more vision than available yet there is some solace in this simple fact: she is a master. How does she do it, see it, know it? The answers are woven deeply between the decades of experiencing, learning, teaching, succeeding, failing, studying, and listening. I have been lucky enough to witness a handful of masters at their craft over the years. The first was Mark Spitz in 1991 when he made a come-back attempt for the 1992 Olympics. Awestruck and dizzy the first time meeting him, all I could think about were the posters of him on my childhood bedroom wall. But watching him swim was incredible. I was coaching at UCLA and lucky enough to be on the deck for that summer of training. There was something about the way he grabbed the water. It was mesmerizing. I would watch and try to figure out just what he did with his hands to move through, on, and over the water the way he did. It was impossible to understand no matter how hard I watched or studied. For me it was mind boggling, for him it was effortless, thoughtless, obvious. It was like watching a metronome; tick, tock, woosh, swoosh. His hand sliced through the water upon entry as if it were air meeting no impedance, grabbed it like a giant canoe paddle surging his body past it, and sliced back into the air without a splash or sound. The harmony was incredible and left me humbled every time.  Mastery is a funny concept. Ask a beginner and they say “of course” and “someday,” and their belief in it is complete. Ask a master and they will hesitate, maybe even wince at the thought as they mutter it doesn’t exist. I have thought about mastery over the years and found the better one becomes at something, the more desire to learn and to improve surfaces. Perhaps that is the gift of mastery: upon arrival, it disappears. In 1993, Anders Ericsson (et al.) published an article about expert practice. For years it sat around, not really stirring a fuss. He said...

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Doubt vs. Desire

Posted by on Jan 18, 2019

            How many times each day do you doubt something? Is this number even possible to calculate? Do you always answer a question with a question? For years, I have heard, read, and attempted to find an accurate citation for the claim that the human brain thinks 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day. The USC neuroimaging laboratory claims similar numbers based on brain scan, and even Deepak Chopra agrees. IF this range is true, we think approximately a thought each second, whether we know it or not. For every tick of the clock, a thought. Wow, that’s a lot. No wonder Harvard Researchers found adults admit to spending 47% of the time thinking about things other than what they were doing (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/932.abstract ). Remember that conversation you had with so-and-so yesterday? Well, for half of it, they weren’t paying attention to you and you weren’t paying attention to them. No wonder so much gets lost in translation…             Our brains are so good at thinking we rarely notice when it happens. Actually, if you had to notice every thought, every second, you would die of exhaustion before lunch. So, we go about our day and think and think and think. How many thoughts have you had outside of this article so far? “When will she get to the point?” “I had no idea we thought so much.” “What does all this have to do with doubt and desire?” “What should I have for dinner?”             If you have ever attempted to meditate, the thought per second data point would certainly seem true. Our thoughts keep going and keep us going. The interesting thing to think about is how much impact a thought, or sequence of thoughts, has on us, especially a negative thought…or doubt. Doubt sucks. It eats away at us. It takes a lovely thought or idea or even a dream, and slowly, like a parasite, weakens it. Sometimes, it weakens it enough to force us to abandon the idea altogether. You are going along in your day and read something that triggers a memory of something that was missing and you found the answer for. Yes, that’s it! What a great idea. And off you go thinking of how to take that idea and make it happen. Then you pause, and out of habit wonder, would that really work? And that is all it takes for doubt...

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The Pressure Paradox

Posted by on Jan 9, 2019

By Jenny R. Susser, Ph.D. Just the word can change how the body feels: Pressure. Now check your pulse. David Bowie and Freddie Mercury ring in my ears and visions of 1980’s punk rock hair with Andy Warhol highlights flash across my memory, eliciting a chuckle because now that song is stuck in my head: “Pressure, pushing down on me…” It is a word originating in physics as a unit of measurement of force, now such common vernacular, we have to adjust our thinking to use it scientifically (properly). Rarely used in the positive, pressure, like the word stress, has been stolen from science in an attempt to save us from emotion. I should love this word because it is the reason I have a job. As a sport psychologist, I help people handle pressure, you know, “the exertion of a force upon a surface,” (Wikipedia). Sometimes I get lost in the idea of pressure, athlete after athlete, manager after manager, executive after executive, parent after parent, all saying the same thing in slightly different terms. Where does it come from? Why does it have such power over me? How do I get better at it? Pressure in sport is made up, a fabrication of force on the surface of the self. If only it felt that way. It feels overwhelming and there is no way around that…or to make sense of it. Thought: Make this shot or your world will fall apart. Feeling: Nausea, heart palpitations, sweaty everywhere, shaking hands and knees, wanting to die. Solution: quit, suffer, or figure out how to handle pressure. So how and where does all this pressure stuff begin? I have spent countless hours wondering how sport became the ultimate pressure cooker. “Did you win?” My nieces and nephew all played sports and I found these three words falling out of my mouth before I could stop them more times than I care to admit when my niece would call after a game. Dammit. Asking if she had fun sounds so lame, though. Fun is a by-product, not just from winning, but from playing hard and rising to the challenge of sport. “Did you rise to the challenge? Play with character? Dig deep when the game was tough? Rely on your training? Correct mistakes? Learn from failure?” What ten-year-old wants to be asked those questions? “Hey Aunt Jenny, we won!” and that...

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2019: This May Or May Not Be My/Your Year…

Posted by on Jan 1, 2019

Download Happy New Year and welcome to the day, the week, the month of “new.” New year, new gym memberships, new resolutions, new promises, and inevitably, new disappointments. New reasons to be hopeful overshadowed by the ever present yet highly ignored backdrop of conveniently forgotten failures of the past. I wake up every January 1st with a duality that makes me want to go back under the covers: hope vs. history. This is the time of year, for whatever reason, we become reflective, maybe even pensive, sometimes regretful, and amazingly hopeful. Thankfully, all of these emotions and disruptions are gone by February and we can get back to our routines and resume trudging through the rest of the year. By October, we say, “how can this year have gone so fast?” and as the next round of holidays approach, we prepare ourselves for the food, the shopping, the gifts, the family, and the new round of new promises. We forget how we did this last year, you know, set out to become the “you you’ve always wanted to be,” and we mount the charge again, and again, and again. “Rinse and repeat,” as my friend, Linda says.             But what about how powerful this time of year feels? It is a perfect storm for reflection and connecting with emotions you can’t seem to escape yet somehow don’t want to. The holiday celebrations, movies, and music stir us and make us nostalgic. Sitting by the tree at night with only the colored, flashing lights on has a magic to it that is indescribable. The feeling of good will that rushes over us for no reason, that upon noticing, we wish would last longer than a few weeks. The change in weather (even for those not in the north) encourages the body to slow down as the days are shorter and the nights opulent and long. We complain the sun sets before leaving the office but only because we have forgotten to heed nature and slow down a bit, encouraging and even allowing our bodies to recover during winter. As we continue on our daily way, there still is that part of us seeking reflection, seeking connection to family and friends, seeking relief from the perils of the year, and needing the hope January 1st always brings. It is a powerful time of year and none of us escapes unmoved.            ...

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