I’m from Amityville, Long Island, New York. I wrestled from 3rd grade to graduation from high school. Wrestling was hugely important to me and our community. When I was in the 8th grade, our coach, Joe Valla, suggested that I go to the Suffolk County Championships and watch Don Keller wrestle. Keller was seeded first in the 170-pound weight class. The same weight class that I was projected to wrestle and did for two years as a Junior and Senior.
As I walked into the gym filled with wrestlers from the county, I spotted Keller. He was dressed in street clothes. As I looked closer, I saw a cast on his wrist. Word had it that he trapped muskrats on the side. That morning he had caught someone stealing his traps and, in the fight that ensued, he broke his wrist.
In that moment, I experienced a lesson that has lasted a lifetime. Through out my athletic endeavors, preparation has been really important. I have always made sure that I got the right amount of sleep, nutrition, hydration, warm up, etc. Metaphorically, I feel like I am walking on eggshells, being very careful not to let anything get in the way of me performing at my best. I regret that I never had a chance to acknowledge and recognize Don Keller for this important lesson.
“Flip the Switch” is born
The year is 2000. I’m working with Yoshi Honda the head coach of Iolani Wrestling. I was the performance coach for the boys’ and girls’ program. On this particular day the boys’ varsity team is at Kamehameha School for a Three Match Tournament.
Given my penchant for preparation, I set up a room with water for rehydration, mats for rest and visualization. After the first match, I hustle everybody in the room and before I can get the team settled down there is a knock at the door. The voice announces that the team is to return to mats and warm up. “What is this!” I say to Yoshi, “these kids need time to recover.” Yoshi looks at the room I have set up. “Nah,” he says, “We don’t need all this, they just need to flip the switch, decide to be intense, and go out and do it.”
I was majorly disappointed. But as I thought about it, I realized that for Yoshi “Flipping the Switch” was a simple matter of making the right decision. In his wrestling career and in his life, if he needs to be intense and take control of the situation, he simply, does it. He has the confidence and discipline to “Flip the Switch” in any situation. To be intense is a natural extension of his performance profile. He is the controller.
For me, on the other hand, I’m the supporter. I need to feel right, a function of doing every needed to perform at my best.
With this article I’m going to explain four basic profiles: Controller (Yoshi), Supporter (me), Free Spirit, and Player in terms of their ability to “Flip the Switch!”
Intensity is a choice – you must learn how to “flip the switch” and perform with strength, quickness and power. The “switch” is direct access to the energy needed to push your limits. The choice to be intense is a function of your eagerness to step-out, take a risk and be more competitive -- to express all of the positive energy and passion you have for your game.
The choice to turn on the intensity is a learned behavior. The challenge is to find the “switch” and to learn how to turn it on and off. The “switch” originates either with a decision, a feeling, a vision or your own natural instincts. The origin of the switch is consistent with your performance profile: that is the individual characteristics that determine your source of motivation, your style of learning, the way you practice, your ability to manage your emotions and respond to pressure and produce the results you want.
The material presented here is adapted from the book "Please Understand Me II" by David Keirsey. It is also a product of my studies in the area of performance psychology and my experience of working with my clients to improve their individual or group performances. The opinions expressed here are presented as “food for thought”, not hard and fast rules. As you read this material, the question is not whether you can be intense, but rather can you use the intensity wisely.
There are four basic profiles: Controller, Supporter, Free Spirit and Player. The Controller and Supporter are motivated to get better; they require a practice plan that is structured, one that allows them to measure their progress. The Free Spirit and Player are motivated to have fun; they require a practice plan that is spontaneous, one that allows them to feel energized.
Controller: Analytical, linear-minded
Make the Decision: As a member of this group, you are mentally tough, and intensity is a function of your confidence and discipline. The choice to be intense is linear. You analyze the situation, flip the switch, and work hard to achieve the desired results. The issue for you is control -- you want to be in charge of the process. But be cautious: Through this process, it’s possible to be very hard on yourself. When things don’t go as planned, the intensity turns into stress. At times like this, you likely work harder, even when you are sick or injured.
Coaching Tip: Be careful to examine the results of your efforts and recognize when you are “stuck” and pull back, re-evaluate, and turn the switch off. Be sure to take regular breaks, lighten up and enjoy the process -- moment to moment. Avoid living in the future and only focusing on producing results.
Supporter: Sensitive, practical
Feel the Intensity: As a member of this group, you like to be intense and work hard. The choice to be intense is linked to a feeling. When the situation “feels right”; you can easily flip the switch and be intense. The issue for you is harmony; you want to feel good about what you are doing and know that you have done it right. Caution: If you get distracted by whether you’ve “done it right” and lose your focus, your efforts may become very mechanical.
Coaching Tip: Examine the feedback and the “feeling” from your efforts. You need to follow a strategy without bearing down on yourself with ruthless analysis. The challenge for you is to turn the switch on and off, and relax, especially your shoulders, arms, and hands. Visualizing your skills in critical situations can help you to be intense without creating anxiety.
Free Spirit: Creative, emotional, vivid imagination
Begin with Vision: As a member of this group, you are intense in your ability to express your emotions. The choice to be intense is actualized when you are inspired. When you have a clear vision of what you want to create, you can flip the switch and keep it on for long periods of time. However, the situation must be interesting and entertaining for you to maintain this state. The issue for you is being engaged -- you must feel a strong desire to produce a specific result. Caution: Your emotions can easily take over and produce extreme highs and extreme lows.
Coaching Tip: Learn to reframe negative emotions and get over upsets. You need to master the fundamentals so that you can be creative and have fun in difficult situations. Develop a clear strategy for each practice/session/game and follow it. Recognize when you begin to get tight and build confidence in your ability to relax and have fun. Be sure to laugh, enjoy yourself, and feel the fun. If you visualize these elements as part of what you want to accomplish, you can maintain intensity without creating anxiety or stress.
Intense by Nature: As a member of this group, you have the ability to be intense by nature. You thrive in intense situations. You embrace the spotlight, and you are eager to take risks. You love the excitement of competition. In the heat of the moment, your mind is free to improvise and be creative. When you are on, you can completely control the tempo. Unfortunately, you get bored at times. When things go bad, you tend to focus on "solving the problem" and you get angry and tight. Caution: Rules and operating procedures are not appealing to you. The thrill for you is in the doing.
Coaching Tip: Work on the process of staying present, letting upsets go and staying loose. Learn to be patient and take your time. The challenge for you is to manage your intensity and not get anxious about winning and losing.
Keep It Simple
Turning on the intensity is a choice, and the process of learning to “flip the switch” is an inner journey. The journey involves confronting your “issues” which are the conflicts between the way you think and feel about pushing your limits and expressing your intensity. The success you experience in this regard will impact every area of your life. In this way, the work to increase your intensity will give you back a new sense of yourself. You will have more clarity for what you want to achieve and more confidence in your ability to perform at this level.
“Turn it on…that is what athletics is all about, the ability to not only turn on the ‘switch’ but to turn up the intensity. This article nails the concept of flipping that ‘switch’ on. Any athlete who wants to be competitive, wants to be successful, that has the desire to be the best they can be, needs to learn and live by this concept.”
R. Yoshi Honda, Head Wrestling Coach at Iolani School (2001-2008)
Yoshi Honda is now the Head Wrestling Coach at Punahou School. He is a dear friend and a fantastic coach.