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The Mental Edge

Athletes competing at all levels experience setbacks, challenges and failures. In his blog, we invited Performance Coach, Brandon Thielk, to answer some questions about how to face these challenges head on. 
Brandon Thielk with athlete and client Lara Gruden Photo provided by Brandon Thielk

May is National Mental Health month and we wanted to highlight and bring light to the mental aspect of sport. Athletes competing at all levels experience setbacks, challenges and failures. If these challenges are not dealt with head on, athletes may experience loss of identity, confidence, and may even experience long bouts of sadness and depression. Athletes are often told to keep battling, grit it out, keep grinding, stay positive, etc. While there definitely is a place and time to do all of these things, it’s more important to deal with the issue to get in the right mental space, learn how to balance feelings and emotions and work through problems. 

I have been so lucky to meet my coach, Brandon Thielk, of Evolved Athlete. Brandon is a Performance and Life Coach. He provides professional coaching services designed to bring forth your highest potential. By teaching skills and strategies to better navigate your daily life, he helps to optimize your mindset and achieve emotional balance so that you can make steady progress with ease no matter what the goal. Clients range from athletes (college/professional), business professionals (entrepreneurs and corporate), as well as mentorship for teens and young adults.

I have had the opportunity to work with Brandon for over three months now and have noticed a shifted mindset, an increase in confidence, and I feel much more prepared to face challenges as they come. Brandon graciously accepted my invitation to do a Q&A to talk more about his work.

Lisa: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for the SurPhyto blog readers! To start off can you describe how you got into this work and how it specifically benefited you as a baseball player?

Brandon: I came to this work out of necessity. I consider myself an empathic person, so I can feel things intensely. I’ve never really been good at compartmentalizing or putting things to the side. If something is bothering me mentally/emotionally it commands my attention. As a result I’ve had to get really good at understanding what I’m feeling and processing emotions. Early on I made the connection between my well-being and what I was feeling. I started examining my thoughts and emotions when I was 15. At the time I was going through a bit of a depression from moving schools and so my mom would take me to coaches, healers, alternative medicine practitioners- really anyone who could help me feel better at the time. That experience was a very tough time in my life, but brought so many gifts because it opened me up to many different perspectives.

Baseball was always a big focus of mine and so I started to look at how these alternative practices could benefit performance. As a result, I formed a bit of an obsession with researching and trying new things to see how it would help me improve. I was okay with doing things differently and it sort of became an edge for me. Each thing I tried, I would carry forward the best aspects of it and discard what I didn’t like. I was continually refining my approach and implementing best practices into my routine. I made it my mission to turn over every stone I could to maximize my potential. This is what allowed me to continually progress long after my peers. I went from throwing mid 70s my senior year of high school to low 90s when I wrapped up my career as a pitcher. The further along I got, I really started to simplify the process to the idea of mental/emotional balance. This component has a tremendous impact on every area of life, and greatly impacts performance. The more balanced I became the better everything was on and off the field. That’s what I love about this work as it improves so many things on so many levels. Increased confidence, character development, improved resilience, increased flexibility/adaptability, reduced injuries, etc.

These things are all tied to having a clear mind, and balanced emotions. I find that this work is a wonderful supplement to what athletes are already doing. Many clients already have strength & conditioning, nutrition, and body care sorted out. The mental work adds that extra dynamic that many people are missing.

Lisa: What are some of the common things that you see holding athletes back?

Brandon: I think the biggest issue I see in athletes today is the lack of trust in themselves and a lack in understanding of the process of development. Social media has created a perfect storm of insecurities through comparison and being overloaded with information. What I commonly see is athletes having unrealistic expectations of the process and what needs to be done to get really good at what you do. Everyone is in a rush to get to this idealized version they created in their head and so they jump from one thing to the next hoping for a quick fix. It’s really finding a focus that feels right to you and sticking with it long enough for it to yield positive results. When you don’t trust yourself and need others to tell you what to do, you fall for all the tricks and that can easily take you off track, and quite often is very disheartening and debilitating in many ways.

Once we make the shift to being process oriented, results really start to accelerate. This happens because you start to be more at peace with where you are at and that is where you can tap into the greatest sources of focus and determination. You start enjoying the daily grind rather than wishing you were somewhere else in your journey. We then start to shift the focus to internal motivation and internal awareness. This starts to develop a stronger relationship with yourself and from there you can better identify how you need to adjust in every situation. This is how we begin to re-establish self trust by reconnecting you to what feels right for you rather than just blindly following someone else’s guidance or jumping on the latest trend. It’s the basic foundational principles of understanding yourself better so you can make improved decisions and be in-tune with what you need so that you can adjust as needed. There are no shortcuts, there is simply the space between you and your goal. Depending on what you do each day to stay aligned with that goal determines how quickly you close that gap.

Lisa: Can you go into a little more detail about the process you take athletes through when dealing with a setback or challenge?

Brandon: When we have a setback or challenge that is indicated by stress in our mind and body. When we struggle to grasp something or there is a lack of understanding of a situation, that is a catalyst for growth. We use that tension created by the situation as a teaching tool to become more resilient in the future and to gain new perspectives and new learning. The inability to understand the situation comes from your past and issues that haven’t been resolved so you get hung up on something because you haven’t learned how to effectively move past the situation.

In my work with athletes we examine why things are stressful, where their patterns and limiting beliefs come from and we work to shift them to a more neutral place so that they are more manageable and can be handled efficiently. This process can’t be understated. Our focus and the beliefs attached to the situation determines our experience. If you alter how you are processing information and are viewing it in a more empowered way this can have a tremendous effect on performance, confidence, ability to move past situations and grow at accelerated rates. There is tremendous amounts of energy being wasted on unproductive thought processes and emotions. Once we start to neutralize these energy leaks that allows you to redirect your resources toward what you are trying to achieve. We all have patterns of sabotage, it’s bringing awareness to those and cleaning them up so that it doesn’t destroy your ability to achieve what you are working towards.

Lisa: What’s your favorite part about your job?

Brandon: My favorite part of the job is definitely seeing the transformations. It’s such a rewarding thing to see people develop and step more fully into themselves and their dreams. There is nothing more powerful than someone who truly believes in themselves. I love to be a part of that process. Also, my clients teach me so much about myself which is very rewarding. Through teaching others and helping them with their problems it gives me a greater understanding of myself, which furthers my development. It’s pretty interesting when you start to see a younger version of yourself in another person and you get to share what wisdom you’ve gained with them. It gives this feeling of completion or things coming full circle and that is one of my great joys of doing this work.

Lisa: Thanks so much for your time and sharing your wisdom with us! If you want to learn more about Brandon and his mental coaching you can check him out on Instagram at @evolvedathlete and on his website at evolvedathlete.co

Headshot of Brandon Thielk Photo provided by Brandon Thielk

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