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Resource Recommendation: The Performance Journal - For Athletes

As former athletes and now coaches, Jameson Kronser and Sawyer Smith at IDEAL Performance saw an opportunity to develop a journal to assist their athletes while working on mental performance. Kronser shares the story behind the creation of the journal and the role it can play in mental performance training.


What is The Performance Journal?


'The Performance Journal - for athletes', is a tool we developed to help athletes navigate their own mental performances within their sport. The journal does this by providing athletes guided prompts to read, reflect on, and then journal their thoughts. These prompts are tied directly to the athletes' sports activities. For example, on a day where the athlete does an individual workout, maybe in the weight room or out for a run, the journal has a chart for them to log the workout details, and then a single page of 2 or 3 guiding prompts to help the athlete reflect on their performance that they had just completed. There are also pages for when an athlete has technical trainings with a coach, such as a practice or skills session. Last, we do a section for competitions each week. Our intent is for the athlete to take the time to journal on their activity immediately after they finish, while cooling down or stretching. This is very important as it allows the experience to be fresh in the mind, but also prevents the journal from having to be 'one more task' for the athlete to do in their busy day. It is just part of that session for them.


These guiding prompts tied to athletic activities are the day to day executable for the athlete. The bigger picture is that they are following a 12-week protocol that helps them learn about their mind and their own habits and tendencies as an athlete. We start with a few weeks of the basics, where an athlete can focus on controlling some simple things, such as their nutrition and sleep. These three weeks really help the athlete to pay attention to their actions, but especially the voice in their head that is always negotiating. After that phase, we begin to educate on and introduce skills, concepts, and techniques for mental performance improvements. This takes another 6 weeks of work, and by the time the athlete reaches week 10, they have learned a lot and are already approaching performances much differently. We close out the 12 weeks with forward looking topics where the athlete uses what they have learned so far to apply it for continued success. Throughout the 12 weeks, we are constantly circling back and reaffirming past topics. Once the athlete is completed with the journal, we recommend taking a few weeks to see how you respond, and then to begin again, with a new journal. Sure, the journal is the same, but you are in a new place with a new mind, so you will learn all new things on the second go around, and the third, and the fourth... 

  

What inspired the creation of the journal?


Sawyer, my coauthor on the journal, began working with our athletes at IDEAL Performance as a mental coach. However, with time being a limiting factor, he expressed an interest in asking the athletes to journal in the weeks between coaching sessions. As we discussed how this would look, we kept coming back to the major challenge most people face when journaling: "What do I write about?". I had used prompting journals in the past for other aspects of my life, so I proposed we do the same, create a journal for athletes with guiding prompts. As we talked further, it became clear that there would be two users of this journal. First, the athletes who work with us for performance coaching would be using it between sessions and it would be used as a reference tool when we do have coaching sessions with them. Second, athletes who are not working with us as performance coaches. We wanted to be sure to develop the journal in a way that it could be used by itself, with no coach, just the athlete and their thoughts. This is why there is so much written content, we needed to provide the athletes with information, coaching, and guidance throughout the journal as if they were working with us on a weekly basis.    


What did the creation process of the journal look like? Who did you consult with and how did you collaborate to create the final journal?


I absolutely LOVED the creation process. My full-time job is an engineer in product development. We focus on creating products that solve problems for meeting the users requirements. So that is the approach we took. Two user types, the solo athlete and the athlete being guided by a coach. Their requirement is to perform better in all that they do, especially their sport, so we set out to solve the problem of how to help them do just that. 


We had to start by settling on a format that would work for any athlete in any sport. This was not easy, without making the journal 1,000 pages long. We settled on providing specific post session prompts for three types of athletic activities: Individual workouts, Technical training sessions, and Competitions. We felt, on average, athletes do individual workouts a few times a week as well as technical sessions a few times a week. They also almost always compete once a week. This is why the journal offers 3 individual, 3 technical, and 1 competition a week. Our expectation is that an athlete will use their best judgement to 'flex' how they use those to get the most out of them and their schedule. When needed, a separate notebook can be used to do extra, if they had more than 1 competition a week, for example. 


I will admit that I do still struggle with this final format. I feel it causes too much friction and problem solving for an athlete that needs to just follow a program. This has the risk of them stopping the journaling practice. We plan to go digital in the near future, which would allow athletes to select what type of session they completed to get specific prompts. This will help, but now you lose the very real benefit of hand writing on a physical object. 


Once we settled on the format, we needed to finalize the content. Sawyer has a general framework he likes to cover with athletes in their first few months of working together. We broke this down into a 12 week framework that builds upon itself as you work through the weeks. We have 4 phases that are each 3 weeks long. Each of the 12 weeks has its own topic that relates to the phase you are in. Each phase and each week start by giving the athlete an overview of the phase or week's topic, as if they were discussing it with us as their coach. Then throughout the week, the guiding prompts solicit the athlete to reflect on their mental performance that day as it relates to that week's topic. At the end of each phase, there is a short recap section with a few prompts. We are very proud of how this turned out. I have completed the journal myself as part of the process and even though I am a co-author of it, I was still finishing workouts and having ah-ha moments as I journaled. This thing works!  


The content deserves some attention here. Sawyer and I were both Big 10 college athletes at Wisconsin (different years). Since graduating we have a combined 15+ years of college coaching experience at various levels along with coaching our respective sports privately. The tools and techniques in this journal are not novel ideas that we came up with. They are things we have learned from other coaches, sports psychologists, a massive amount of books, our experience as coaches and athletes, as well as a strong foundation in Sawyer's higher education as a licensed professional counselor in Wisconsin. With all of that said, we have several people that we sent early drafts to for review, feedback, and edits. They are called out in the acknowledgement section of the journal and cover a good variety of experiences and perspectives. This group of people really helped to round out the content and vet our approach. Last, we are constantly improving, each round of journals that gets printed usually has updated content. Sometimes these are big updates, other times they're more subtle.


Is The Performance Journal better for athletes individually, or are there ways coaches can incorporate the journal into their teams? 


This journal is great for both situations! We have teams that are using it in both ways in fact. Some coaches really like that they can refer to the journal as a guide for leading team discussions on the topics, other coaches love that they can provide these to their athletes and do not need to do any sort of leading. We even have teams that are breaking up into small groups who then help each other work through the journal and bounce ideas off one another. All of that being said, we have had just as many journals go out to singular athletes who found it on their own.  


The journal takes about 12 weeks to complete, most seasons are in that range as well. Having a journal for each portion of your competition and off season is a great way for an athlete to continue progress. Repeating the journal is very important. Who you are when you finish the 12 weeks is very different from who you were when you started. Additionally, your environment is now different. It is like reading a book a few times, each time a different part of that book jumps out at you and sticks with you because you are at a different place in your life. In our experience, it is the same with the journal. 


(If also applicable to coaches), How would you recommend coaches incorporate the journal into their teams? What implementation methods (if any) have you seen be successful in the past?


We highly recommend coaches incorporate the journal into their teams. I described a few ways coaches have incorporated them to their teams before: small groups, coach led, or player led. Each of these works, what is most important in our mind is that the athletes feel completely safe journaling honestly. Coaches should never ask to read or monitor athletes' journals. They can use the prompts in their own journal to encourage and lead discussion with individuals or groups of athletes, but not use an athlete's journal.  


As coaches, we understand that players hear our voices a lot. We talk to them about the sport, about their nutrition, about their school or work. We are always pushing them and coaching them. It becomes too much of the same voice. Our journal is the tool that will help the athlete self guide and grow, without the coach's voice. If, through the process, they need some guidance and coaching, they will seek it out and give that permission.     


What do you hope the journal accomplishes? What impact would you like it to have for athletes or teams who utilize it?


I have many dreams for the journal, but the few I am most passionate about are these. We believe this tool will help athletes in all that they do, not just their sport. For the athletes who do the work, take the time, and commit to continuous internal improvement, we know that they will not just see benefits on their athletic stage, but also in school, life, family, relationships, work, and anywhere else they are asked to perform to an expectation. Our hope is that these improvements help these athletes to better navigate life's challenges and adversities in a more healthy and productive way, ultimately helping to improve their overall mental wellbeing.  


We also hope that coaches, athletic directors, franchises, conferences, leagues, the NCAA and all other sports organizations take notice of their athletes' needs today. Our journals each cost less than a new warm up top, and probably less than almost any piece of clothing athletes are wearing. However, our journals will improve their performance far more and for far longer than that apparel. Why there would be any hesitation in an athlete, parent, coach, or back office putting these journals into their hands is beyond us. A focus on mental performance can and will improve the athlete, the team, the outcomes of competition, and so much more. The positive momentum is priceless and the ROI is clear.  We hope that this priority can be corrected for the sake of all athletes.    


For those interested in learning more about The Performance Journal, where can they find more information?


We have information about 'The Performance Journal - for athletes' on our website at www.teamidealperformance.com/the-journal. Interested individuals can order right from there. If there is interest in a bulk order, there is a contact form online. We do discount for bulk purchases and we do offer customization to varying degrees, should someone want the journal branded for their team, school, franchise, etc.

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