JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

Busy doing nothing

Posted by on Mar 29, 2019

People-watching is a favorite pastime and yesterday provided the perfect opportunity. I arrived an hour early for my flight and so the airport provided the perfect place and time to sit and just watch. In a bold move, I closed my computer and put my phone in my backpack and just sat and observed. Maybe the fatigue from the work and travel aided my ability to sit still, but nevertheless, I resisted the urge to iSomething and simply sat. The shapes and sizes of the varying bodies is always a fascination and creates a strange appreciation for the human form. A friend in college would sit in the middle of the quad and hilariously and innocently “issue mental fashion citations.” We always laughed so hard when she would share her list of offenses with us at dinner. Now, this was in the late 1980’s, so if you had time to sit around, there was no technology to distract or use to occupy the mind. You either read or chatted or just sat. There is no more of that, just sitting, just being, just hanging out and not having something in your hands or ears to fill your brain. I miss that. One thing that was fairly common watching hundreds of people move through the airport was the visible busy-ness of the brain. Eyes darting everywhere but seeing very little as the sheer volume of information appeared overwhelming. Those clearly in a hurry were scouting their routes, looking for the places to dart between the lolly-gaggers and strollers, at the same time trying not to sweat too profusely as they dragged their luggage along awkwardly. Managing travel has a high degree of difficulty. I remember when I started traveling regularly for work, I didn’t know “the drill” and so wasted more time and energy than I can bare to admit. But after a while, I got better at it, and eventually became good at it. I sat in airports for unreasonable amounts of time but luckily, always ended up home safely. Keeping that end-game in mind helped with the unavoidable frustrations. Now, airports are easy, familiar, comfortable, but I can’t help but notice the struggle of others, and wonder is it because of the airport or not? The opportunity to observe is less and less and so data collection and the subsequent assumptions are fewer and further between. But watching...

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Rushing Back

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019

It makes me cry if I let myself think too much about it. It rushes back, like a flood. You would think the warning would be enough but it’s not. It starts small by just covering the feet before immediately overwhelming you and before you know it, you are submerged. The mental ping-pong is constant: stay in the present, be rushed to the past, deep breath to calm down and brace for the impact of repeat. Sort all the feelings as fast as possible without letting your face show all the countless moments of pain. But it is painful, so much of it is painful. The rush of regret is what I wish was controllable. My mind screams at me, “Do your job,” but the past wins almost every tiny battle for control of the psyche. As a swimmer, I was a headcase. How she ever coached me for all those years and still seems to love me is a wonder. The energy I must have consumed from her… But generosity is her cape and her kryptonite. It was the beginning of her career as well as mine and we needed each other back then. I was late to the game and so balanced the blessing of hunger unencumbered by burnout with the curse of a distinct lack of experience. “You needed more years to be really great,” she would tell me some time later after the clock had long since expired. How I got here is because of her. How I got anywhere is because of her. She was the third person ever to believe in me. My mom was number one, and I mean number one, always and forever. Larry was number two and he believed in the possibility after he couldn’t believe how I survived the early days. And then Larry convinced her to be number three. No one showed up for lunch the first day of my recruit trip and she was mortified. I remember standing on Bruin Walk when it was just a walk, with her constantly turning head, scanning the faces, praying a recognizable one would appear and save her the embarrassment. With a shrug of the shoulders and a dismissal of the insult enough so that I didn’t notice it, off we went to have lunch anyway. The weekend was a bad call because there was a big volleyball tournament, a.k.a. huge...

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Excuse me…for these are my excuses

Posted by on Mar 15, 2019

Just jump “Excuse me” is such common phrase that when was the last time anyone stopped to think about what it really means when we say it? These days, it is not too different from, “No offense, but…” or any of those other mindless sayings that don’t mean what they mean. We simply churn them out as language fillers or sound bites meant to divert attention from one topic or person to another. The weird thing is, these sayings mean nothing now. When someone says, “Excuse me,” they rarely mean it in a respectful, is it okay for me to contribute now way; it has become a way of declaring it is my turn to talk. Originally, it was meant as a polite way to either get someone’s attention or ask to be invited to interject during a conversation. Perhaps blame Steve Martin (circa 1977) and his incredible catchphrase outlandishly exclaimed, “Well, excuuuuuse me!” Common vernacular aside, my wonder is more about the “excuse” part than the polite part. It wouldn’t be the English language if we didn’t have multiple ways to define or spell a word and so the other way we think about “excuse me” is sans the request; simply as an excuse. Giving excuses has also become rather common, enough so that it has become part and parcel of many communications when failure, or even the threat of failure, is a result. Everyone’s got one, or two, or a thousand, and they all stink. We all know that person that is full of excuses, has one for everything, and always side-steps accountability because of the deeply entrenched habit of always blaming an excuse. And it is habit. And it sucks. Recently, I saw the power of excuses on a different and deeper level than ever before. I was working with a high-level sport team at a conference championship event. An event I had been at before, not only as a sport psychologist, but as a coach, and originally as an athlete. This magic combination of perspectives is probably what gave me access to this latest and deepest layer, and for that I am grateful. Working with a sport you once played has the advantage of a type of cellular knowledge and understanding you just can’t access in a sport you didn’t compete. I have worked with just about every kind of sport and while sport is...

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Extraordinarily Ordinary

Posted by on Mar 8, 2019

Win or win We are obsessed with being number one. Nothing else matters it seems. Win or die. Losers suck. No one remembers second place. Champions are given immediate celebrity status, no matter how they won or what sort of character they might be missing, after all, who cares about that soft stuff. We have forgotten there is only one winner in a field of many players, so then do the other players simply not matter? Millionaire players complain about not being billionaires to the fans who can’t afford their daily lives yet, sacrifice the health food isle at the grocery store for the official jersey. We have certainly put the prize ahead of the process and there are incredible and devastating consequences that perhaps we are “failing” to see. My brilliant older sister, Julie, talks fiercely about what she calls, “The Tee-Ball Mentality.” Her voice gets quick and sharp as she describes the insanity of this violation of true sport. Not that she is a baseball or softball fan, but she is a fan of learning and the learning process because she has been a teacher for decades. She has borne witness the degradation of the adolescent work ethic and the hyper-focus on winning at every cost, especially to that of the child. Lie or cheat, it doesn’t matter, as long as he or she gets into XYZ super college. This could very possibly be traced to the 1970’s invention of Tee-Ball, the non-game game where everyone plays, everyone wins, and everyone gets a trophy; absolutely ridiculous. There is no learning, no growing, no striving because there is no need. Parents hover and micro-manage, children cry, coaches don’t coach, and pizza profits. In actuality, it does teach something, it teaches that failure is avoidable and that all you have to do is show up to get a trophy. It teaches kids that effort is optional and winning is a guarantee. Parents model behavior that reinforces the importance of the win or the trophy, not the invaluable lessons of losing and figuring out how to get better. However, the long-term cost of these lessons is killing our culture and future. Yet, none of this has been intentional. Parents are following suit and doing the very best they can to do the best for their children. This mentality has been like a frog in the slow boiling pot, it happened...

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Striving to understand…me

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019

Striving to understand human nature as a psychologist is like torture. You would think it would be the opposite, that constantly observing and surmising would be full of pleasure, but no. Torture, pure torture. Then there is trying to figure out why it is torture. Because even I would think that sitting around and using all of my education, both formal and informal, would bear fruit with sweetness and succulence, but no. Sour, bitter sour. So, to what human nature are we talking about here? The long and short of it is really what we do to each other and how we treat one another, and this observation is triggered daily for me each time I muster the strength to look at the news. During this difficult time in our world, what sticks out is the negative and so I work to deal with the impact it delivers. The positive is under there somewhere, just a little covered currently. A heavy sigh is followed by a shaking head, confused eyebrows, all accented by some gesture involving the hands and the cupping, catching, trying to contain the mind and all the painful misunderstandings rolling around in it. Human beings are animals. Literally, we are animals. Sure, we are the most advanced animal, well, not sure all the other animals would vote yes on that if we gave them a vote but supposedly, we are. We certainly have the most advanced brain as measured by language and the frontal lobe, giver of all things creative, inventive, and abstract. Part of the deal with being an animal is the whole survival thing. I say this repeatedly and will until I can’t any longer: we are designed to survive. Mammals, as a rule, are herd animals. We need a herd, which humans call a tribe, to survive. We hunt in packs, like other predators such as wolves or big cats. Think children on a playground surrounding and teasing one poor soul. Each member of the tribe fills a different role in the tribe. Some are good at climbing, some are good at designing, some are faster, some are stronger, some see distances, some see numbers, some see art, some tell great stories… If we are designed to survive together, why are we so easily torn apart? This is the sort of question that keeps me up at night: Why we fail repeatedly, regularly,...

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