Interview With Sport Psychologist Dr. John Gassaway – Getting Into Mental Training
The full Skype Interview (1 hour, 20 minutes) with Dr. John Gassaway on Getting Into Mental Training (above) – an mp3 version is available at the bottom of the post in 4 parts. We’re talking online from across the globe – me in Pattaya, Thailand, John in Phoenix AZ, USA – so there is a bit of a delay sometimes when the connection gets a bit funky.
I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of mental training, but it’s taken me a long time to even get used to the jargon. Phrases like “self-talk” turn me off immediately and even a lot of the phrases that get spouted with frequency and have become affirmations, like “avoid outcome based goals,” seem to make sense on their own but often just don’t to me. It’s a sport where you’re trying to win, how can you not think about the outcome? I always known I should be visualizing, but when I tried I knew – man, I just knew – I wasn’t doing it right and definitely wasn’t getting anything out of it other than frustration.
As it were, my brother is a professional Sport Psychologist and personal trainer. Along the way he’d give me insight on particular techniques to work on my mental skill, walking me through games that help you recognize where your focus is, how to visualize a fight (sight, smell, sound, allowing it to be fantasy-enough that you do everything you want to do), etc. But I still struggled. I didn’t get it and I knew that my mental game was hurting me, but being bad at mental training made me feel bad about myself – talk about counter-productive. So, my most recent dedication and successes with mental training has come about from the steady realization that its absence from my training costs me a lot, but also my difficulty in getting started in it. Someone can tell you to practice blocks and you can do it every now and again, but when you have a fight that illustrates that blocking is clearly a skill you’re lacking, you’ll finally dedicate yourself to practicing those blocks. Nothing is a better teacher than pain, whether emotional or physical.
I bombed hard in my 82nd fight (vs. Cherry Sityodtong). This for me was a terrible low. I had publicly disappointed both of my trainers at my two gyms that night, losing to an opponent whose weakness is my supposed strength (clinch). And I was facing the huge stress of fighting the biggest fight of my life 4 days later, the Queen’s Cup fight at Sanam Luong field against Japanese Champion Saya Ito, who was a very similar type of fighter. Nothing seemed to work in the Cherry fight. How could I have success in only 4 days? The negative thoughts were really flowing. But facing the impossible task of remaking myself I just went for it. I sought out an MP3 program by Dr. Alan Goldberg – 14 steps to Mental Toughness – that I downloaded off his website, Competitive Edge. There are a few reasons I went this route:
1) I decided to delve into mental training in a very serious way on a very short schedule – I knew I didn’t have time to physically train anything new between my two fights with only four days between them, but I knew I could train myself mentally with nearly all the hours of four days, which is a lot;
2) I needed a very basic program, as if I were starting from scratch because even though I have received great tips from my brother, I wasn’t implementing them properly;
3) my brother has always been very generous with me and I trust him supremely, but the amount of time he could commit to me for free in his incredibly busy schedule and across the globe in opposite time zones wasn’t the right avenue – I had to cram and work steadily and very hard in a short amount of time.
4) my back was up against the wall. It was time for a change. You do what needs to be done.
In great part due to the mental training I had done I performed wonderfully, perhaps my best fight to date, winning the prestigious Queen’s Cup vs Saya Ito. Interestingly enough, my technical performance between the two wasn’t all that different – I attempted to use many of the same techniques in both (my skill-set). But my mental approach to each fight couldn’t have been more different.
What I accomplished in that short turn-around was far beyond my expectations to say the least – it felt miraculous – but it came about because I just began to actually work on the mental skills I already had somewhat haphazardly acquired over the last year. These were unpracticed skills I had theoretically learned from online sources and some help from my brother. I had learned them, but never worked them to any degree, partly because I just didn’t know how, and when I tried to I often met frustration. Mental training is not a “quick fix”, but it can fix things quick too, if you are ready. The audio tapes were exactly what I needed at this point because they actually walk you through the process of real mental work, the work that needs to be done every single day, like every day I’m in the gym. An important factor in this is that the tapes are not magic. The work is magic. But you need to be open to it, committed to it, and these same tapes may have done little for me 6 months ago. In my case it took the disguised blessing of a bad, embarrassing loss, and the pressure of fighting the biggest fight of my life in 4 days later, to open me to the process.
Be very clear. while you may see changes pretty quickly, the real work takes time. My case was perhaps quite unusual. I already had in myself the mountains and valleys of a possible great performance, or a very poor one, but I had had over 80+ fights and thousands of hours of training producing both possibilities. That 4 days got me to switch off the negative and flip on the positive, and the positive was extraordinary, but the real work though began after my victory when I started focusing on how deeply engrained the negative valleys had become in my daily physical training and common thoughts. Now that I have continued on with mental training, using the Goldberg aids, I can see huge strides in my training which are now showing themselves in the ring. I do endorse the Goldberg audio sessions, they have helped me, but the very same kind of help may be had from other quarters. They are expensive, and I wouldn’t have probably made the purchase if I didn’t have the pressure for a big change and fast. I can’t say though that they would do the same for you as they have for me. I just have found them personally helpful. Maybe just like physical technique training, it clicks for you at the right time. It may not click for you now, but 4 months down the line it may be exactly what you need.
So I wanted to sit down with my brother and talk about how one gets into mental training. Not the particular methods, which can be found online in PDF forms, in books, on YouTube, in podcasts. But more the importance of mental training, how you get into it and keep with it, how to understand it and know whether or not you’re succeeding in it. John and I have talked about mental training many times over the years but never to this level and I think he was happy with my new appreciation and understanding of its depth; and I was very happy to hear his expert opinions and advice from his own experiences to offer to folks who are like me and just want to get into the water, rather than already trying to time their laps!
In the interview a few sources are mentioned and below are the citations for them.
The first is just a good read by an author I always enjoy: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.
Dr. Gassaway also recommends Mind Gym: An Athlete’s a Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack & David Casstevens
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, PhD
You can contact Dr. John Gassaway:
John Byron Gassaway, Psy.D.
+1 (602) 989-0982
The MP3 Version of the Interview in 20 Minute Parts
right click and save as on any of the audio players to download the mp3 to your hard drive