Easyish Listening: Gearing Up With Preseason Podcasts

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It’s almost here—the season opener in Soelden. Woot! To get psyched, I’m updating last year’s reading list, with a peeled baby carrots version of sports-related advice. You can tune into one of these on your next road trip, or commute, or walk, or while cooking dinner. No reading required, other than these explanatory notes. In truth, I meant to put this together months ago, but hopefully it’s more useful this time of year, in the calm before the winter storms. 

These are in no particular order, though the first two packed the biggest punch for me.

A NEW LOOK AT TRUE TOUGHNESS

First up is any podcast with performance expert Steve Magness, about his book. Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness. Magness, an esteemed running coach, was the whistle-blower on Alberto Salazar’s abusive Nike Oregon Project, and since then dove deep into research that debunks the merits of old style, fear-based coaching.

I first heard Magness on this Rich Roll Podcast, which is engaging and fascinating. That said, Rich Roll podcasts are themselves marathons. The second hour is where you’ll find the nuts and bolts of the book. For a shorter listen, you can hear Magness on this Way of Champions podcast, though it’s not as thorough. This Way of Champions blog post offers solid Magness wisdom on confidence. His extensive research on motivation draws on mindfulness, military case studies, sports psychology, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy to present the components of building true toughness that goes the distance. 

The CliffsNotes of Magness’s Four Core Pillars to cultivate resilience:

  • Pillar 1- Ditch the Façade, Embrace Reality
  • Pillar 2- Listen to Your Body
  • Pillar 3- Respond, Instead of React
  • Pillar 4- Transcend Discomfort

Takeaway Quotes

“Real toughness is experiencing discomfort or distress, leaning in, paying attention, and creating space to take thoughtful action. It’s maintaining a clear head to be able to make the appropriate decision.”

“The old model of toughness, in essence, throws people into the deep end of the pool but forgets that we need to first teach people how to swim.”

SURVIVING THE PRESSURE COOKER

In cooking I am a fan of methods more than exact recipes. So, too, in life advice. The downside of seeking out a lot of expert advice is that I find myself going vine-to-vine from one technique to the next when picking the best approach/advice for each person (or myself), in each situation. As the competition season gets rolling, this advice often involves dealing with pressure. 

On this topic, my absolute favorite listen (and relisten) is this Way of Champions podcast with performance psychologist Jonah Oliver. Oliver combines neuroscience and psychology to, in his words, “help people focus on the right thing at the right time, to get out of your own way and allow the motor patterns you know to take over.”

He poses that prescribed techniques aimed at suppressing, replacing or distracting ourselves from stress—things like meditation, breathing, affirmations, etc— offer short term relief at best. Rather than trying to trick ourselves out of feeling high pressure, Oliver suggests we will be better served by improving our capacity to deal with pressure. He brilliantly outlines the mechanics of overthinking (the mind trying to reduce uncertainty in stressfull situations), and describes “Metacognitive Panic”— basically, freaking out about being nervous. Instead of seeing worry and anxiety as signs of a problem that needs fixing, Oliver advises we accept them as the “terms and conditions” that accompany lofty goals. 

It’s worth the listen just to hear how he used the ceremonial “Ticket to Beijing” to drive home his point with Olympic athletes. I also loved his take on why impassioned game-day speeches meant to boost performance typically do the opposite. 

The CliffsNotes on Jonah Oliver’s three pillars of peak performance:  

  1. It’s not about positive thinking. It’s about positive action. Confidence is a feeling but competence is a behavior. Competence—achieved by doing something over and over and getting it right—is the basis for confidence. 
  2. It’s not about reducing pressure, but about building the capacity to embrace more. 
  3. It’s not about motivation but about connecting to what matters. It is not how hard the goals are, but how important they are to you. Without the connection to its importance, you focus on the pain.

Takeaways Quotes:

“The best things parents or coaches can do is normalize the human experience. It frees up your frontal cortex from wasting the energy trying to control your psychological state.”

“Competition is an ordinary performance on a special day.”

CHILLIN’ TO WIN

Next, it’s back to Rich Roll and this interview with Malcolm Gladwell. After popularizing the 10,000 hour rule as a path to excellence in his 2008 book Outliers, Gladwell has since spent much time putting the genie back in the bottle. In articles like this one, he explains how the 10,000 hour rule was misinterpreted, especially in its application to sport. With Roll, Gladwell talks about his own podcast series, Legacy of Speed, which retells the story of the wildly successful San Jose State track program from the 1960’s. I perked right up hearing how Coach Bud Little’s revolutionary approach of relaxing to find more speed produced the fastest sprinters of the era, including Tommie Smith, Lee Evans and John Carlos. Bonus listening is Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast which reexamines things and events we may have gotten wrong the first time.

LESS IS MORE

This last podcast “Do Less” on Hidden Brain is a little more off the board, but inspiration comes from many places. Our tendency, when we think of improving things, is to add. More ideas, more features, more training, etc. Rarely do we think of improving by taking things away. And yet, some of the greatest innovations have done just that. Some of the examples include: removing the middle of concrete blocks to make them lighter, cheaper and more insulating; taking away pedals on the Strider bike to obviate the need for training wheels; decluttering guru Marie Kondo’s concept of less stuff bringing more joy. 

The discussion takes this “less is more” concept into everything from recipes to study methods to architecture. It brought to mind the much-discussed topic (including here on this site and in a seemingly perpetual series in Ski Racing) about ski training. Rather than setting 150 days of training (or any number) as the Holy Grail, and lamenting if we fall short of that, how about looking at what we can gain through training less? All those coveted days on snow carry opportunity costs. What are the possibilities to build up your body, mind and spirit that you free up by not spending those days on snow?

ANOTHER VOTE FOR THE LONG ROAD

Finally, this post about Roger Federer is not a listen, but a quick read from David Epstein’s Range Widely newsletter. I highly recommend Epstein’s newsletter and his book Range (on the reading list). Here he looks at what we should take away from Federer’s career; specifically, that Federer was not a phenom like the athletes whose exceptional paths we try to recreate in our sports models. Rather, he took a more typical path in sport. If anything, Federer’s parents were more “pully” than pushy, urging him to sample many sports and take tennis less seriously. Looking at Federer’s development, as a person and an athlete, it’s hard to argue with that approach.

I hope you find something inspiring or entertaining in here, or wherever your listening takes you.