Athletic Self-Awareness

Posted on 10/31/10 33 Comments

Today’s blog comes to you from John Cullen. This is awesome information that John is sharing here — information that you can apply right now to have an immediate impact on your performance. Trust me some times it is the smallest change that can have the biggest impact. Read carefully and be certain to tell your friends about this one! It is really amazing stuff, enjoy!

“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment” -Lao-tzu

Think back to your most recent personal best performance . . .

What were you feeling right before you began; in that one or two minutes before you started? Were you nervous? Excited? Worried? Confident?

How about your body? Were you loose? Did your muscles tighten up? What were you thinking about? Your key performance cues? Your last performance? That you left the stove on?

Many athletes can’t honestly answer these questions. It doesn’t matter whether your performance was the best one ever, the worst you can recall, or somewhere in between; if you’re like most of the athletes I work with, you probably don’t remember what your mental, physical and emotional state was at the moment you started your performance.

The thing is – knowing what you were thinking about and feeling (physically and emotionally) right before you compete can have a huge impact on the quality of your performance – If you can’t recall them, it can be difficult to repeat a personal best performance. Worse than that, you might find yourself starring in your own version of “Groundhog Day” – repeating poor performances, over and over again.

What is your Ideal Performance State (IPS)?

Understanding your IPS is like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. When Goldilocks is looking for a nice comfortable place to take a nap, she tries out Papa Bear’s bed – too hard; Mama Bear’s bed – too soft; and Baby Bear’s bed – just right! Now, when you look at your mental, physical, and emotional states, instead of looking for a place to nap, you’re looking for the place that gives you your best performances.

Let’s consider your physical state. You try getting energized. Your heart is racing. Your breathing quick. You feel like jumping out of your skin. Your performance; not so good. You are too high.

Next you logically try being relaxed. You listen to calming music. Take slow deliberate breaths. You visualize calming images. Your performance; not so good. You are too relaxed.

Now you try to get your physical state somewhere in the middle. You have a slight increase in your heart rate. You are listening to some fast paced, happy music. Your performance; good. You are just right. This is your IPS.

Importance of Awareness

Everyone has their own unique IPS. One that allows them to perform their best.You need to be aware of what you’re doing to figure out what your best mental, emotional, and physical states are for peak performances. Having this awareness allows you to compare your current state to your IPS. If they match, you’re good to go. If they don’t, you need to take action to get yourself there.

Executing a Performance vs. Experiencing a Performance

The difference between performing with awareness and just performing, often makes a huge impact on your success, whether in practice or in competition. I remember as a young athlete taking the “long ride home” after a hockey game with my parents. I know that these car rides were common for my teammates too, and I know that they still happen today.

Maybe you’ve been there too? After strapping on your seatbelt, you faced the 20 to 30 minute replay of the game through your parent’s eyes. I got to hear this line a lot, “You looked like you were just going through the motions.” And my response was always the same. “But I’m doing what the coach told me to do.” I wasn’t wrong, but I missed the point my parents were trying to convey.

I was participating in practices and games focusing completely on the outcome – Did I do what the coach asked? This caused a lot of problems for me. Worrying about whether what I was doing was right, led to anxiety and lack of confidence, and in turn, many, many uninspired performances. I was going through the motions to get to the outcome.

What I wasn’t doing was experiencing the performance. This is what happens when you have athletic awareness. Your focus is no longer on the outcome. It’s firmly planted in the now. It’s about paying attention to your body and mind at the instant you are performing. When an athlete experiences their performance, they are faster to recognize things like poor movement execution or increasing levels of negative self-talk and take corrective action. When you experience your performance, you aren’t merely executing the movements you need to achieve some outcome. You are connected and in harmony with your body and experiencing the now of a passioned and flowing performance.

Developing Awareness

Have I sold you on the merits of Athletic Self-Awareness yet? Below are some strategies that you can use to help develop your own athletic awareness. And just like any skill, you can learn it and put it into practice with a little bit of guidance and some attention.

1. Use a sports journal Your sports journal is a place for you to record your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours about yourself and your training and competitions. Use it to monitor the techniques you used to reach your IPS and their effectiveness You can put anything you think might be useful down but consider addressing the following things:

What do your peak performances feel like?

What do you need from your coach/trainer?

How can you help your teammates?

How can your teammates help you?

What things distract you on the field?

What off-field distractions affect your performance?

How do you handle pressure situations?

How are you preparing for competitions?

How are you preparing for practices?

Use performance feedback Actively seek out feedback about your performances. Work with teammates, colleagues and your coach to get feedback immediately after some of your performances. Don’t just wait for the competitions. Get honest feedback a practice. Video can be a tremendous help, especially if you frequently train on your own. Make sure you video your practices too.

Use psychological questionnaires Using these tools immediately before and after an event can help identify your IPS. By rigorously assessing your mental, emotional, and physical states and then correlating them with your performance ratings you can pin down what you need to be your best.

Monitor physiological signs Some insight into your readiness for competition can be gained from monitoring some physiological signs such as heart rate and breathing rate. When your in your IPS, these measures should be within a certain range. If you check and they aren’t there, you know that you have to take action.

Use imagery and visualization You can use visualization skills to “replay” your peak performances and focus on your mental, emotional, and physical states. You can also recreate some not so great moments and experience how it felt so that next time you’ll recognize the feelings and take action.

Now that you’ve got some tools to get you started, it’s time to experience your sport in a whole new way. If you have any questions, drop by the Cognitive Edge website and send us a note. We provide one-on-one consultation services and seminars on the improving your mental game, and soon we’ll be adding some cool new programs to help you reach your goals.


John Cullen Cognitive Edge – Unlock Your Mental Game

John has got a lot of great tools to share and I today am soooo grateful that he is so generously sharing his knowledge with all of us.


  1. Merka says:
    Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 8:38pm

    I got your e-mail re Being a good student but did not get the actual instalment. Where do I go?


  2. weaver says:
    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 9:20pm

    Susan: Would you clarify for me — is your next e-course (forthcoming after the Recallers e-course), regarding mental preparation — the one you just emailed about where you and John Cullen combine your skills? Are you planning on an e-course in December (on fundamentals)?

    I’m pretty sure that my budget will not allow me to take to e-courses, within a two-month span.

    Thank you.


    • Susan says:
      Friday, November 5, 2010 at 9:38pm

      @Weaver this course with John was not the one I spoke about on our calls. I am still working on the content for our next course but I can tell you it won’t be out anytime in early December. I would say a bird in hand is in order here. John has a lot of valuable information to share and the glowing reviews that we are already receiving tells me others are seeing everything I saw in the program.


  3. Laurie Graichen says:
    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 9:06pm

    I am seriously considering purchasing John’s course but want to know if it’s a “limited time thing” or if the E-book and video and such are able to be downloaded to my computer be referred to “forever”. Don’t want to spend the money on something that I won’t be able to access after a certain period of time.


    • Susan says:
      Friday, November 5, 2010 at 9:35pm

      @Laurie. No you get to download the video and the ebook and it is yours to keep forever. The webinar/coaching calls are not a downloadable thing but John will make sure he has access to them so no one “has” to be at a certain spot at a certain time.


      • Laurie Graichen says:
        Friday, November 5, 2010 at 9:43pm

        Excellent! After I download the video can I then burn it to a DVD (to watch from the comfort of my recliner) or move to another hard drive (am planning to upgrade my desktop from Windows XP to Windows 7 over the holidays and think it involves a new hard drive and re-loading everything).

  4. Carol Schiefer says:
    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 6:57pm

    Lately, I’ve felt like I haven’t been much of a teammate for my dog. I’ve experienced a lot of “almost” perfect runs. I was stepping to the line wondering what would go wrong this time. Last night, I signed up for John’s program. I read his E book, and worked on my pre-trial routine for today’s trial. I was careful to follow my plan to the letter. I’m amazed to report that we got a double q. (It had been 5 months since our last.) Thanks, Susan, for sharing John’s program with the agility community!


    • Susan says:
      Friday, November 5, 2010 at 8:37pm

      Carol, THAT IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT! Awesome report. I know you are an amazing handler and dog trainer . . . I have seen you in action many times. There is just no reason you shouldn’t experience those feelings on a more frequent basis. I know you are going to L-O-V-E this course!


      • Carol Schiefer says:
        Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 9:27pm

        You are so right! I am loving this course. Can you say back to back double q’s? Trace and I got another one today!

  5. Bonnie says:
    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 5:18pm

    I have a young dog and she is very fast, before I start the weekend trial I think of my goals for the weekend. I find this very relaxing and helps me get in a zone. For example last weekend we where working on our directional Q’s. When I went into the gamble ring I had already thought of a path that could work our directional Q’s. I don’t care if I qualify, I feel great success when I reach the goals I set out for my dog, I have been know to celebrate an awesome end contact behaviour and tell the judge my dog rocks even if she did not have a clean run. Sometimes when I come out of the ring my friends feel for me because my dog may have dropped a bar or made a small error but I always ask them” did you see all the great stuff she did!”


  6. Angela M says:
    Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 3:53am

    I’ve got to say, I am nervous in a situation when i don’t really have my system worked out…the gamble comes to mind…dog staring at me, my voice raising pitch. Mixing old habits with new lessons…the brain goes into overdrive…melt down. buzzer!!! times up, thanks for trying. When I know what I am doing and we’ve trained it all, I have way more confidence and I’m “in the zone”…go figure ?


  7. Monica says:
    Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 8:49pm

    I got your e-mail that you sent out the first “Being a Good Student” installment but I did not get the actual installment.
    Thank you.



  8. Dianne says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 3:43pm

    I am not competing in Agility yet, still in the basic world but getting in the right mind really helps in the training. I have competed with my dogs in Skijoring in the past. Finding the right mental state was hard. I really blew my opportunity competing in the World Championships. I was too stressed and my dog knew it. Also I was too distracted, my in-laws came to visit that week which in it’s self was a big stress. It was the worse run I had ever done and I was cut in the first round. I was able to find that sweet spot at practice but it took years to settle down at races.

    I am currently playing hockey and I took the new information from John to my game on Sunday. I skated the best game ever.

    I have also take a new command of my dog training.


  9. Heather L says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 12:54pm

    Love this post. What timing. In all the competitions I’ve done I’d only had 1 GREAT FEELING run. Unfortunately I was never able to repeat that feeling until this last weekend. I finally just settled, “listened” to my dog, got on board as a team member with her and WOW! 16 Rally Runs, 10 High in Class, 7 perfect 100 scores. Will I now be able to repeat – YOU BET! I’ve got the feeling now embedded into my being. Yes,I was executing instead of experiencing and now totally understand what my Ideal Performance State is and can now carry that forward. Why? because I honestly hadn’t been paying attention before. I can now give more to my performance which in turn will give to my dogs performance. Thanks for explaining the process I’ve just learned to experience.


  10. Bonnie says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 12:03pm

    I have been reading and thinking over what John has suggested as ways to prepare for competition and the tools he has suggested to use for monitoring your performance. My video camera has become one of my best tools when monitoring my performance. I also try very hard to remove my ego and listen to my friends and instructors. I find the more I listen to these people the more information they give me because they know I am listening and not getting defensive about my performance.


  11. Deb Bogart says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:55am

    I don’t really know what state I’m in when I perform my best, but I do know that most of my best performances are when I don’t care about the outcome and only care about the peformance. I just want to do the best I can and be the best teammate I can for my dog, and when I don’t care about the outcome, I normally have some of my best outcomes. Per MRB in Oz I guess this would be my relaxed state.

    Another time I do my best is when I am challenged. For instance, when someone asks “Do you really think you can get to that front cross?” My response is “Absolutely.” I think my entire awareness is heightened, therefore, not only getting the the front cross, but also making me more focused on the entire run. Doing my best after being challenged has always been there for me, even when competing in swimming and track in HS or playing basketball in HS and College.


  12. Patricia Marland says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:27am

    That point about video — when I was new to training I used to find that my dog “shut down” during training runs. Well, ONE VIDEO did the trick! I made an error following the numbers, and there I was — stopped dead, stomping my foot like a four-year-old with my hands on my hips! Poor dog had no idea what was going on but seemed pretty sure it was HER FAULT! I, of course, had NO IDEA that had happened until I saw the video. That one video made a WORLD of difference for me and my very soft dog.

    Viva la video!!!!


  13. Debra says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:09am

    Thank you for the post, Susan. I’m just beginning this world of dog agility and have a long ways to go.


  14. Pat says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 10:49am

    Thanks for this post. After coaching competitive fastball for 15 years, you would think I would take all the tools I used with the girls and use them on myself! Not only is IPS a great tool in that arsenal, but also pre-performance visualition, recognizing my own “high positive” state, and utilizing the methods I have coached to others on myself.

    Thanks for the kick in the behind!!


  15. Jennifer K says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 10:48am

    This reminds me a lot of the diagram and explanation you used for getting the dog to the “optimum state of arousal for peak performance” or “squirrel speed” at the August AiDT and Critical Elements camps (and I’m sure lots of other camps).

    Thank you for sharing this!

    ~Jen and DaVinci


  16. Dog MaMa says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 10:25am

    I don’t understand MRB in OZ’s comment: “the feral team has cheated and actually hit or hurt me”. What kind of dog sport is that? I guess you are not talking about dog agility, or at least not the kind I know about.


  17. Abigail says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 10:21am

    Great stuff from John Cullen – I have made some notes specific to me and put them in on my “trial clipboard” so I will have it handy when I set my goals for the day!

    ALSO, Susan, thanks for the “good student” stuff – we all need to be reminded, … and rejuvenated!
    /Abi B.


  18. Mary Lynn says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 9:49am

    Never really thought much about this detail and what I do before I practice or show. Certainly the comment gives you lots to think about. Will definately assist when I did not do well to be able to assess what did I do. Great comment.


  19. PamC says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 9:06am

    Terrific post!
    My border collie and I had the most successful private lesson yesterday with our trainer who we haven’t seen for 3 months while at our summer place. We’ve been training and experimenting all the while—the bc learning focus and me learning to communicate better and give him the information he needs.
    I couldn’t wait to show our trainer what we’ve accomplished. Without consciously realizing it, my IFP was perfect: 100% confident that I knew what I was doing and 100% confident that my dog was capable of being my teammate. I left menta room for “messing up” but knew what I could react to mistakes and correct them. Needless to say, the lesson was terrific and the trainer improvised some very tricky courses for us with reverse flows and discrimination tests.
    This blog post couldn’t have come at a better time. Now I understand intellectually what happened at class and why. It’s so important because I don’t want to fall back on crossing my fingers for good luck. I felt what it was like to be “in charge” and how it affected my performance. Focusing on “I know what I know” (believing in one’s self) and having an arsenal of tools/methods/techniques to direct my dog is what is going to get me to IFP. And the backbone of this is due diligence: practice drills and addressing any weak spots.


  20. Bonnie says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 8:49am

    I love reading about the athletic strategies. I have competed in many different sports and in tense moments I can tell if I prepared well enough in my practices. I alway find that if I have good practice sessions before the main event I get a feeling of control and confidence.


  21. MRB in Oz says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 8:41am

    I find I do best in one of two states.

    Being alert but relaxed and completely ok about winning or losing or performing well. Ie blase about the game outcome. I’m a little bit better at this if I think the opposition play fair not feral.

    The other state is when I’m angry. Eg the feral team has cheated and actually hit or hurt me and I’m mad as hell and out for revenge. I play harder, meaner and faster, and I can fire up my whole team with a run in this state.

    Worst state for me is “try to hard, want it too much, and feeling inadequate – not up to the standard of this competition” And then I go and play like crap, until I can get myself into the “I don’t care anymore, or angry”.

    trouble is – how do you get yourself to the right place. I’ve tried relaxation exercises when I’m Over the Top and I can’t feel any difference. How do you fire up when you’re under? I know how to do this with my dog but I’m not so excited about cats.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 9:04am

      @MRB in OZ Awesome feedback! Great grasp of what spurs you, now to be able to masters all states!


  22. ladysown says:
    Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 8:19am

    i didn’t get your article on being a good student.


  23. Jenny Yasi says:
    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 8:15am

    At first, this made me think of my musical performance life, because that was the first place I felt performance anxiety could be an issue. And then of course I think of dog performance, where I typically do fine in performance but I get anxious and flustered in front of my teachers. But recently, my “performances” involve getting this new property functioning, and working with the drywall guy and the fencing guys, and I see I can use these ideas for everyday life to conquer my own “reactivity” and find my energetic balance and confidence in any situation. Thanks for putting this topic on the table! You’re the best sort of teacher Susan! Thank you for bringing on YOUR teachers!!


  24. Jane n Bobs says:
    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 6:42am

    Bobs and I have been ‘doing’ agility for the past two years now, training and practising, practising and training never really getting anywhere…the recall course was a major turning point for us, our relationship developed into something quite wonderful and we are now beginning to move ‘as a team’ out there on the field, not quite poetry in motion but definitely on the way,we are both having so much more fun.

    Now having read the last couple of blogs from Susan and John I am so excited to
    know there is so much more I can do and take control of and so much mental baggage that can be binned….have I had my head under a bushel, I guess so.

    Many thanks to both Susan and John for being the wonderful giving people that you are.


  25. Shupe says:
    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 2:36am

    Sounds great that you have moved your new home out here to this new address, Like it and your posts. Was surprised you have decided to move from word press out here but hey .com on your own , suits anyone well i would guess. Enjoy all your verbs on dog related issues, thought i finally say something because of your move. Your information to dog training issues are vital to anyone. TY


  26. Imbi says:
    Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 11:55pm

    Awesome – a real strategy to develop your “in the zone” runs consistently and with awareness. Bottom line, if you have prepared your dog, and you have prepared yourself, the start line is where you remind yourself to trust your dog, then trust your IPS, and enjoy the run. How fun! Thanks to you both for sharing this!


    • Ann Jussero says:
      Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 3:51pm

      I got your e-mail that you sent out the first “Being a Good Student” installment but I did not get the actual installment.
      Thank you.


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