Praise gone awry

It’s easy to recognize the shortcomings in the previous generation — our parents did X when they clearly should have done Y.  Hopefully, we take that information and build on it to improve the lives of the upcoming generation.  Case in point: praise.

Back in the day, the prevailing wisdom was you did not praise kids often because this praise would lead to arrogance.  This lead to a pendulum swing in the other direction, praising kids for every little thing so they end up with good self esteem.  Part of the switch in thought can be attributed to the work Carol Dweck has done on the subject of mindsets.  Forty years ago, she started exploring the idea each of us toggles, to one degree or another, between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

The fixed mindset is characterized by the belief that we are born with a certain set of skills and we are either naturally good at something or we are not.  Having to work hard to improve at something, therefore is evidence we are not naturally gifted at that activity and we will never be good at it.

The growth mindset, on the other hand, is characterized by the belief that focused, hard work helps us to improve.  We may not be good at an activity right off the bat but improvements can be make through increasing our effort and attention on that skill.

Dweck’s research has shown kids with a predominately growth oriented mindset will choose to working many minutes longer to solve a difficult problem and see challenging problems as a means to improve even when they are unsuccessful in solving them.

From a teaching, coaching, or parenting perspective, we want our kids to grow up with a growth mindset.  Her research indicates a very particular type of praise can lead to reinforcing this growth mindset: praise for hard work… in the context of working toward a very specific goal or outcome.

Recently, Dweck has written about her experience with her work being misinterpreted.  Her original dictate about praise has been shorten, as often happens, to the idea that hard work = success and may have played into the concept of “show up, work hard, we are all winners”.  When, as most adults know, you have to have things to show for your hard work to mean something.

This returns the ball right back into our court.  We need to reevaluate how we are encouraging and praising our kids.  Are we saying things like, “Nice work during dribbling drills today!” or are we targeting the learning they are achieving through their hard work, “Nice work on your dribbling drills today.  Your ball handling has improved even since our last game.”

At first glance, the extra words may not seems to add that much to the conversation.  When taken from the child’s perspective, however, you have just given them a context for their praise.  You have told them what they are doing well (hard work on the drills) and you have provided them with the outcome of their hard work (which is the focus of the drill anyway).

Kids repeat what they are praised for.  if you praise them for hard work, they are going to focus on giving intensity to the task you assign.  But you do not want them running around working up a sweat, you want them improving discreet skills, right?  Praise that outcome, when you see it.  Give them a focus for their hard work.  It may take a little practice on your part, but you will be reinforcing the idea they improve at what they focus on.  A little tweak on your part can bring us closer to the intent of Dweck’s research based finding.

For more information on Carol Dweck’s research, watch her TED Talk here!

Devices bad for our back, neck, and eyes

We did not evolve to look at screens all day.

As of 2015, 45% of Americans owned a tablet and 92% of us own a mobile phone.  Screen time is on the rise.  Estimates say 90% of Americans spend at least 2 hours each day staring at screens and many of us are spending 11+ hours interacting with one device or another.

Photo via Statista

All of this screen time is adding up to what some are calling digital eye strain.  Young people are now starting to complain of eye problems normally associated with middle age such as dry, irritated eyes and even burning or blurred vision.

Almost all devices emit blue light, one of the shorter wave lengths of light on the visible spectrum.  This light interacts with the human body in a number of interesting ways.  First, for many of us, this wavelength effects our ability to fall asleep.  So browsing our Facebook timeline, playing on our phone, or watching Netflix on our tablet in the hours leading up to bedtime may cause us to have difficulties falling asleep.  A second issue is the short wavelength of blue light lets it penetrate further into the eye tissue than other wavelengths of light, causing damage to our retinas.

All of this is bad news for most of us since we are so connected to our devices all the time.  For athletes however, there is the added impact eye strain puts on our performance.  The better your vision, the greater your ability to complete in many sports.

One piece of advice from The Vision Council is the 20-20-20 Rule:

Every 20 minutes of device use, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away.  This will reduce the amount of digital eye strain you experience.

Since we are not going to give up our devices, it’s time to take a more active role in maintaining our eye health.  Because wide scale exposure to this particular wavelength is so new, we really have no idea what the long term consequences to our eye health will be.  For these reasons, we need to use some common sense and make changes where we can.  The Vision Council’s website has a number of recommendations to help us ease the strain on our eyes.  Click here to read more about digital eye strain and what you can do to combat it.

The Future of Athletic Hydration

We’ve seen the commercials.  The official history of Gatorade starts out like this:

In early summer of 1965, a University of Florida assistant coach sat down with a team of university physicians and asked them to determine why so many of his players were being affected by heat and heat related illnesses.

The researchers — Dr. Robert Cade, Dr. Dana Shires, Dr. H. James Free and Dr. Alejandro de Quesada — soon discovered two key factors that were causing the Gator players to ‘wilt’: the fluids and electrolytes the players lost through sweat were not being replaced, and the large amounts of carbohydrates the players’ bodies used for energy were not being replenished.

The researchers then took their findings into the lab, and scientifically formulated a new, precisely balanced carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage that would adequately replace the key components lost by Gator players through sweating and exercise. They called their concoction ‘Gatorade’.

That’s history.  Since the advent of Gatorade, scientist have worked and tinkered with the various formulas to improve hydration but there really has not been anything ground breaking … until now…

The future of athletic hydration is in for a huge upgrade!

In Fast Company, Gatorade explains its vision for:

  • monitoring athletes during workouts
  • real-time sweat analysis to determine electrolytes lost
  • a water bottle that guides athletes to optimal hydration

All in real-time.  Coolest. Thing. Ever!

Add to that: the future is being tested NOW!  Beta testing on a skin monitor that transmits sweat composition and sweat loss to a tablet on the sidelines that links with a bottle insert specific to each athlete means at every water break, an athlete gets real-time information on how much they need to be drinking and what, if any, electrolytes should be added to optimize their performance.

Currently, this system is being tested by a number of top high school, college, and pro teams from a variety of sports with plans to make the basic versions of these services available to the public sometime in 2016.  Exciting times! This could be just the game changer we’ve been looking for!

For more information on Gatorade’s plans, click here to read the Fast Company article!

Childbirth Injuries and the Female Athlete

Childbirth - one of the most natural things a female can do, right?  Well…maybe from a species perspective but women having experienced it may tell a different tale.  Since roughly half of the population is born having this capability, one would think the body has evolved in ways that allow the female anatomy to return to normal after having a baby but that isn’t always the case.

According to a study from the University of Michigan, 15% of women experience pelvic injuries that do not heal during childbirth.  If that isn’t bad enough, it may take 8 months or longer for women to fully recovery from having a baby.  What!!?? That is significantly longer than the 6,8,or even 12 weeks women may give themselves before they feel they should be “back to normal”.

Now that we have these figures out on the table, let’s think about what female athlete expects from herself.  How many new moms return to training asap after having their baby?  Female recreational athlete participation is at an all time high and many of those women are hitting the gym not only to slim down after pregnancy but also to harness the power of healthy stress management during a stressful transition time in their lives.

A large number of these mom athletes are training under the additional burden of nagging injuries that, unless they have a great relationship with their medical provider, may be too embarrassing or too seemingly “normal” to think to address.  Pelvic pain, bladder leakage, back pain, and loss of balance can leave female athletes frustrated, especially when their medical providers have told them they are health and ready to return to normal activity.

It seems to me this is one of those cases where knowledge is power.  If female athletes understand the magnitude of what their bodies are going through during childbirth, understand the likelihood of injuries, and have a realistic idea of the timeline for healing, they may be less likely to struggle through their injuries without asking for the help they need.

Additionally, there are a growing number of physical therapists specializing in treating Womens Health issues.  For many female athletes, help beyond the traditionally prescribe kegels are available, you just need to start asking!

Interested in learning more? Check out this press release from the University of Michigan!

Breakfast: the new superfood?

If you’re following the trends, you won’t hear a thing about eating cold breakfast cereals as a means of being more healthy.  Protein bars? Sure.  Smoothies? Definitely.  Greek yogurt? A must.  But cereal from a box?  Not a word.

And yet…

Quartz brings us an interesting and informative article with a little bit of science, a little bit of history, and a number of recommendations making the case for bringing cereal back into our routine.

Point number 1:

The average American eats significantly less fiber than recommended.  The USDA recommends we consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories we take in.  That translates to roughly 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men (and more if you’re training hard and eating more).  Now consider we are averaging 16 grams per day.  But since you’re an athlete and fiber isn’t a source of energy or vitamins and minerals, why should you care?

The list of benefits fiber provides is long but when you get down to it, fiber stabilizes blood sugar, plays a significant role in weight management, and keeps us pooping like a champ.  These benefits alone vastly improve our bodies’ performance at processing and utilizing the food we eat.

So the question becomes, if fiber plays a critical role in physical function and ready to eat cereals provide an easy, convenient source of fiber, why are cereal sales down across the nation?

For starters, when we’re talking about adding cereal back into our diet for health reasons, you can just put the Cap’ n Crunch back on the shelf.  Let’s keep our eyes on the prize and start looking for cereals:

  •  made from whole grains (listed as the first ingredients)
  • containing 250 calories or less per cup
  • containing at least 3 grams of fiber per serving (but more is better)
  • with little or no added sugars and salt

For some examples. check out the graphic Quartz put together:

So, you can see, Fruity Pebbles won’t make the cut.  But Cheerios, when you take a look, meets the criteria.  And if you need that snack on the go, it can’t get much easier than pouring yourself a baggie to munch on the road.  Add a travel mug of milk and you get all the benefits without the bowl (or the cost per serving for expensive protein bars).

So perhaps, you’re wondering why you’ve gotten the feeling cereal needs to be cut back or cut out of your diet — I know I was wondering the same thing.  I believe this is one of those time we can chalk our feelings about a particular food up to creative marketers vilifying cereal when the real issue was with the sugar content of certain cereals — not cereals as a whole.

Interesting in challenging some of your preconceived notions about breakfast cereals?  Click on over to the Quartz article and give it a read.  It’s definitely food for thought.

Fooducate App for the New Year

As the season of excess comes to a close, much of American turns its thoughts to reversing some of the unhealthy habits so common during the Holidays.  Since there’s an app for everything, it’s no surprise there are many food tracking apps ready to give advice on what you should be eating to achieve your goal, whether it is performance related or just to improve your general health.  Finding apps is not a problem, now days, the problem is choosing one.

We suggest you take a look at the Fooducate.  They approach food in way designed to help you “eat a bit better”. This translates into making small tweaks in your diet to increase nutrition and decrease some of the sugars and other less useful components found in many of our processed foods.

The app has many of the expected calorie count and exercise logging functions of other health apps.  Where is really differentiates itself is in the food grading function.  You can either search for a particular brand and type of food or scan the bar code and the app will grade the food on a A to D scale.  The grading system works on an algorithm designed to use the individual ingredients in the food to determine how healthy that food is, and returns a letter grade to the user.

The website tells us:

“The algorithm rewards minimally processed, nutrient dense foods with the highest grades. This means that real foods, with intrinsic nutrients will score better than processed foods that are poor in built-in nutrients and use fortification as a means to appear healthy.”

Not only will it grade the food we are considering, it will also offer other options in the same category that score a higher grade.


Obviously, this option allows you to get a feel for whether a product you like should be a staple or a treat and whether changing brands may impact your nutrition or calorie level in any significant way.  Knowledge is power and this app makes it easy to make small changes that will add up to forward motion toward your goals!

The app has many more functions to increase your knowledge and user experience.  For example, you can add in your own recipes and see how they stack up against some of the store bought options to determine whether the extra effort in the kitchen is really worth it (we bet it is!).  But most of all, this app will help you move past all the marketing and health halo hype designed to mislead consumers.  In our opinion, it’s packed full of useful information that’s easily accessible whether you are well versed in nutrition or you’re just starting to learn the basics.  Isn’t that just what we need as we start fresh this year?  Study after study shows us small changes add up and are easier to maintain over the long haul than large changes.  This app will help you maximize those findings!

Interested in checking it out?  Click here to head to the Fooducate app website!



Frustrated by your attempts to cook at home? There’s something you should know

With New Year’s Resolution time right around the corner, you’re thoughts may be turning to changes you’d like to make in 2016.  Although we know most of us will not follow through on these changes, hope springs eternal at the thought of the clean slate that comes with January 1.

One of things we preach here at Borgess Athletic Performance is home cooking.  Since cooking at home lets you control portion size, salt and sugar intake, and increase the amount of whole foods you eat, on the surface, there aren’t too many downsides.

In practice, however, cooking at home can be an exercise in frustration for many of us.  If we give it some thought, the frustration all makes sense.  A recent article in The Atlantic, “The Myth of ‘Easy’ Cooking” sheds some light on why we find it so difficult to cook at home.

First off: it’s not you.  Unless you’re a professional chef, it’s likely you’re spending your days doing what you’re good at but that’s not cooking.  You’re not trained to mince, dice, chop, and de-seed like a pro.  You’re not taught how to have 3 burners going all at once and the finer point of bringing the meal components together so everything arrives at the table, looking picture perfect AND at the perfect temperature. This isn’t your specialty and yet there is a whole cookbook, magazine, and TV industry set up to support the idea that everyone can make gourmet meals in just a few minutes, at home.  It’s a myth!

Even setting aside the expectations of gourmet, most of us did not grow up in the kitchens chopping, dicing, and sautéing at our moms’ side because they were the generation for the first time in large numbers.  They were looking for “easy” meals, too.  What they got were cookbooks written by home cooks who didn’t have a staff to shop for them.  They also did not have to live up to the Foodie Ideal – specialty ingredients, bought locally and ideally organic.  In the face of these expectations, who among us can compete?  Not me — that’s for sure!

I find all this worth noting because it just might be your unconscious expectations of yourself sabotaging your efforts at home cooking.  Once you start to understand some of the psychology behind your frustration, you can choose to take steps to take some of the pressure off.  Hopefully, this will help you enjoy the exploration of your kitchen a little more.

The Atlantic article is worth the read if only to help you get to the bottom of your unconscious attitudes surrounding cooking.  Like me, you may realize you’ve set Olympic-sized goals for yourself in the kitchen while not giving any thought to the fact that you’ve put almost zero effort into the training and preparation for the event.

Maybe it’s time to redefine our cook-at-home expectations.  Start setting the bar a little lower and expect not every meal will be a win. Just like any other part of your training, expect a learning curve in the kitchen.  Failure doesn’t mean you quit, it means you have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and work to master a new skill.  Becoming adept at cooking is a skill that will improve your performance.  It allows you to have greater control over your nutrition and the way you fuel your body.  But like any other athletic performance skill, you have to put in the work to develop it.

What problem are you trying to solve?

This question just rocked my world. When you give it some thought, every action we take is to solve some problem. Heading to the fridge? You’re problem solving for hunger or boredom or maybe your trying to get a jump on the perennial problem of what’s for dinner. Clearly, a trip to the fridge is the correct solution to the hunger or dinner problem and maybe not your best option for the boredom problem. The only way to know, however, is to take an objective look at your actions and if they are aligned with your problems.

I see examples of this all the time at my gym. People cobble together the craziest routines for themselves. Each addition is put in place to solve some problem. Skinny arms? Add come biceps curls. Got a wedding coming up? Calf raises to look good in heels and lots of cardio. Beach season? 1000’s of crunches.

“Sure,” you say, “but I’m an athlete. I’m not like that.”

When’s the last time you examined your workout? When’s the last time you took the time to ask:

“What problem am I trying to solve?”

“I want to be a better… basketball player/runner/football player/tennis player/bowler/equestian…..”

Easy, right? Except…

That want is not a problem. That “answer” does not answer your question.

I am weak.
I am slow.
My back/knee/shoulder hurts.
I can’t go the distance.
I can’t do the time.
I can’t maintain my form.
I can’t maintain focus.

These are problems. BIG problems, especially for athletes.

So back to the original thought: Every action you take is to solve a problem.

When you examine the components of your workout, do you know what problem each component is there to solve? If you cannot unravel the connection, it may be time to start over.

What is you the problem you are trying to solve?
What solutions are the best fit to solve that problem?

You get the results from the work you put in. If your work is overhyped, ill-planned, disorganized, or cobbled together, those are the results you are going to get.

On the other hand, if your plan is scientifically-based, individualized to you, and organized to address the root problem/s, those are the results you will get.

I know your time is valuable but you won’t get to your destination just because you are putting in a lot of effort – you need to be going in the right direction, too.

Building Better Teammates

How much energy do you put into making your team stronger?

Whether you are the parent of a youth athlete, a coach, or an athlete of any age, if you’re playing on a team, you know the team performs more effectively if it is comprised of individuals committed to the team over themselves.

No one person wins a team competition — the team wins… or they don’t.

We know this and yet, we celebrate the superstars of our favorite teams and work to be like them – often not giving much thought to the players surrounding the stars who do their job with as much precision allowing the star to shine.

As a coach, a teammate, or a parent, should we be making more of a concerted effort to support good team behavior in practice and during games?  Are we cheering for those doing the difficult but not showy work?  Are we giving the MVP accolades to the kid making the smart passes or the one who always makes the shot?

The most effective teams win championships but youth athletes do not have enough experience to figure out what makes a good teammate — they need to be shown.  They need to understand how their behaviors either make the team better or make it worse.  And we need to design and support the times when we see great teammate skills being exhibited.

In our 140 character world, it’s hard to work in praise for good sportsmanship and individuals who consistently demonstrate their commitment to the team over personal glory.  However, isn’t that the kind of people we want our athletes to become?  As with any other athlete skill we need to develop, we need to devote practice time and training to the ins and outs of what it takes to build successful teammates.  So the question becomes, how much time and thought, and how many words are we devoting to the skill of teamwork?  Are we leading our kids in the direction we want them to go or are we just hoping they pick it up along the way?

The Upside of Losing

As a person who has, at times, lost the game, done poorly on a test, got passed over for a promotion…and the list goes on, I understand losing…sometimes, all too well.  As hard as losing is for me, though, I have to say  it’s much harder to watch my kids go through the same experiences — especially if I have the knowledge or means to save them from the experience.  For those of you feeling the same way, here’s a thought on saving our kids from the experience of losing — if we try to fix it, we just may be denying them a very valuable opportunity…

From Lori Chandler at BigThink….

“If you never fall off a bike, you’ll never have to get back on. Part of the lesson we learn when gaining new skills is that we have to be terrible before we’re any good. Anyone who has tried to learn an instrument can tell you that. Playing the wrong notes teaches you patience and acceptance as well as how to play the right notes. So it is with school — putting forth the effort and getting the answer wrong requires you to get back on the bike, or pick up the guitar, and try again. What you’re learning isn’t just the new skill or concept; you’re learning resilience, and that a little bit of failure won’t kill you.

The researchers over at the University of Pennsylvania call this “grit.” It’s a way of measuring how likely one is to reach long-term goals, and how quickly we recover from setbacks. If we teach kids that being wrong is in itself wrong, and we will give them the answer anyway, we’re taking away their chance to develop a trait that often predicts lifelong success.

Making mistakes is smart. Being wrong is right. That’s how we grow, how we learn, and it determines how we will handle bigger life issues outside of school and later in life.”

Hmmmm….definitely something to think about next time we feel the urge to swoop in and fix it….