What Motivates Lionel Messi?

It is often said that it is harder to stay at the top than it is to get to the top. So we have to ask how Messi has been the best player in the world year after year! How does he stay motivated after achieving everything... fame, money, trophies. The answer may just be what you need to take your game to the next level and help you develop CONSISTENT fuel to be motivated. 

Check it out and let us know what you think! 

The Power and Importance of “Realistic Optimism” in Athletes by Dr. Lee Hancock

Most of us know that optimism is the hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something. It is generally accepted that being an optimistic person is good. For example, when an athlete faces a difficult moment (as they all do), the optimist will see an opportunity; whereas the pessimist will see a problem.

This optimistic attitude has propelled many an athlete into being better, winning a game or even winning a championship. So I will ask the question …is optimism (alone) ever a bad thing?


Let’s play this scenario out – you have an athlete who knows that he or she has made a number of errors in the game – and they’re an optimist. They have a “hopefulness and confidence” that it will get better as the match progresses – but it doesn’t. No problem though, as the person is an optimist and as a result, they…

  1. Believe the result can be altered with effort.
  2. Are steadfast in their belief that it will get better.

BUT – they lost the game and this person played a role in the loss – their effort, attitude and belief remained fantastic but they didn’t make the necessary changes to ensure success.

Being an optimist doesn’t inherently also mean that the person is willing to change what he or she is doing – it just means that they have a fantastic attitude – which is a massive need, but it’s not the only ingredient needed to be great.

Is too much of a good thing a bad thing?

What if someone were always an optimist at the expense of perhaps some good ole-fashioned reality? Lets look at some examples…

Optimism with money – What if someone had invested in a stock and it wasn’t doing well? A pure optimist, or what some would call an extreme optimist, might stick with it. They may choose to ignore signs that they needed to change course. And, in the end, may lose a lot of money as a result of not heeding advice.

Optimism in health – What if you are an optimist and believed that you were healthy…despite your family history and early warning signs to the contrary? There is a lot of research on the impact and importance of optimism on your health and well-being. Yes, it’s true optimism is good for many things, including lower stress levels, lower anxiety and an increase in ones overall quality of life. But this kind of optimism may lead someone to ignore some really important warning signs relative to their health that, when looked at objectively, may lead to important life-saving changes.

Optimism in life – Ask a newly married couple about their chances of divorce and you will get an almost universally optimistic answer. But, the truth is that less that 50% of marriages are successful. What are these folks supposed to say – of course they will be optimistic when it comes to this aspect of life. Is this a bad thing?

Clearly it isn’t a bad thing, but as with anything, marriage takes work. The optimist may think optimistically at the beginning of the marriage but as time goes on “optimism doesn’t pay the bills”…and perhaps they (the optimist) should also ensure that they are being realistic and working to change/improve things as they come up.


Basically “extreme” or “blind” optimists may have too much faith in the future and as a result don’t work as hard to create a safety net, or plan/implement possible adjustments should something not go well. In addition, some of these folks only look at the positive side of situations – oftentimes choosing (or conveniently ignoring) to deal with uncomfortable occurrences. Many times these people do this because they lack coping skills to deal with this reality and as a result it is easier to just look at the bright side and sweep other stuff under the rug.

This is not good for athletes. Athletes must be confident and optimistic but they must also be able (and willing) to adapt should things not be going well.

Easier said than done?

Optimism needs another ingredient

The bottom line is that optimism is better than pessimism and optimistic athletes are by FAR more successful than pessimistic athletes. In addition, pessimistic athletes are more anxious, are more likely to follow-up a bad performance with another one and are likely to have less motivation overall. But too often we look at extremes in things – as if people are eitheroptimistic or pessimistic people.   What if someone were optimistic with a dose of something else?

Optimism is critical, but it is also important to take a realistic look at what needs changing in order to have a quality performance – at that moment! Success in sport is a matter of inches, seconds, and the tiniest of details. As a result, I would argue that one needs to be able to critically look at themself while still remaining hopeful and confident towards that which they are striving.

Building Realistic Optimism

My athletes and those who work with me for high performance consulting know there is very little bull ^$%^ with me – I will usually tell it like it is. They know that we are after something and that something is their greatness. As a result, sometimes we have to have some very up front and real conversations.

I am a massive advocate of ensuring one is being optimistic when faced with adversity. I do think it is critical to stay positive in the moment and to look at all situations as manageable. But my definition of positive is different than most – and gets at the heart of my idea of realistic optimism.

I am a realist and as a result I advocate that athletes be positive – but positive in terms of moving forward to find a solution to what may be happening. Sport is never perfect, but of course the quest for perfection is what elite athletes are frequently in pursuit of. If this is the case, then athletes should understand that there will be moments where they may make a mistake, have a bad moment, or give up a goal/point/etc… As a result, I work with my athletes on maintaining optimism under pressure but also to be ready to adapt or change in order to meet the demands of the competition.

Also – I don’t believe that building realistic optimism is just for elite athletes. I think students, young athletes and people in business need to be able to “course correct” if something goes awry – as “things” have a way of happening even though we may not want them to happen.

Take a peek at these 5 simple steps to building “Realistic Optimism” (RO):

  1. Maintain optimism. Critical to this “RO” approach is maintaining an optimistic outlook in the moment. If you told me I must choose between optimism and realism I would probably choose optimism, as ones attitude is HUGE when it comes to bouncing back for what is potentially next. In addition, in the moment, one must have a can-do attitude if one is to meet any challenge that may be coming their way in a competition.

Thankfully I don’t have to choose, but as I said, starting with this ingredient is critical to moving forward with RO.

  1. Be self-aware. In order to develop RO one must be truly aware of what is going on. Sometimes, in the interest of self-preservation, we don’t deal with the fact that we are perhaps not having a good game/moment. Bad moments happen, and that is okay. But critical to having RO and dealing in reality is the ability to be aware that you do in fact need to course correct.

Get in your own head, see what’s going on, stay calm and make a change — be self aware but also keep telling yourself you can do it!

  1. Manage and direct your self-talk. Mentioned above, and critical to this, is what you say to yourself. Everybody has a running dialogue with himself or herself. Many times in big moments this self-talk gets the better of an athlete. Critical to developing RO is ones ability to manage this self-talk and have it do what you want it to do.

A Realistic Optimist will ensure that:

  • his or her self-talk is full of things like “keep after it,” “I can do it,” “you can get there,” etc.
  • the self-talk also has to redirect ones efforts if certain things aren’t getting done.

Working to solve problems in games is critical and sometimes it has to be the persons self-talk that is driving this bus – saying things like “okay, try it this way or that way” or just a little more top spin on that ball and we are good to go.” These are specific statements that are optimistic in nature but also positive in terms of what needs changing.

  1. Accept constructive criticism – take what you like and toss the rest. Sometimes self-talk needs to be assisted by constructive criticism from others. IF you have trustworthy coaches or mentors, you will get this.

Listen to trusted people’s comments and take what you feel you need. Do not let the comments impact your confidence, hopefulness or optimism but do let them help you course correct (and positively impact your self-talk) if you need it.

  1. Make adjustments to be great. Take ideas 1-4 above and make the necessary adjustments. Being a realistic optimist means that you are dealing in reality and sometimes that means you need to make some small adjustments in order to perform well – so do it with a can-do attitude.

Learning to be a Realistic Optimist takes time.   Again, critical to this approach is an optimistic attitude. Once you have this, it just takes a little confidence to try out some other things in order to reach your end goal…and if it doesn’t work, try something else until it does work. You are an optimist, it’ll eventually work out!


I’ll end with this sensational quote about optimism and realism from William Arthur Ward — “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

Expect the wind to change but be prepared to adjust your sails as needed!

– Dr. Lee Hancock


Have you seen this? Such a great remind that delaying gratification is the #1 indicator of success! 

In your soccer career there are going to be loads of distractions! One of our principles of Real Mental Toughness is to "sacrifice the immediate for the benefit of the future." As a team of mentors, we have come to find out that when we delay gratification, the payoff in the future is worth the sacrifice! 

Cubs World Series Hopes May Depend On a Throw to First

It is a big day! A curse could be broken after 108 years. Goats are just the start of this story. As a life long cubs fan, it has been a pleasure to see the confidence and dominance that our Cubbies have had throughout the year. It seems like they their innocence and swag propels them through high pressure situations and could end the longest drought in the MLB….last time the cubs won the World Series, the modern day zipper wasn’t even invented!

As a student of the mental side of the game, baseball fascinates me.  As a fan it terrifies me! With game seven TONIGHT, one of the Cub’s aces , Jon Lester, may be asked to come in to bring home a ship. Here is the deal…

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Well this isn’t just a one-time deal. Lester seems to have a mental block of catastrophic size and it could just cost us the game. You see the Indians are one of the best baserunning teams in the league and despite the arm of Castillo behind home plate, runners could be running wild! A dream for a base runner…. But a nightmare for Lester.

Think about it. A throw to first compared to pitching against the best hitters in the world! This is a situation where the casual fan CAN say “gosh, I can make that throw” and be correct! Should I go into details about the difficulty of each? I don’t think I need to.

 The Cub’s southpaw decided to just stop throwing the ball to first all together!  Take a look.

Who knows if he plays or if he gets in a position to throw to first. But cmon guys, the mental side of sports is vital! Coming from a guy who gets paid 155 million dollars to throw a baseball, he can throw the ball to first! I don’t know Jon, but I would guess he is pretty good a visualizing strike outs… but doesn’t spend too much time thinking about his pickoffs! PLEASE JON… spend some time visualizing success here so it doesn’t cost us a World Series!

At Pro Performance we are all about the Mental side of sports since it is absolutely critical at all levels. Jon clearly is experience performance anxiety which is causing him to struggle with the simplest of tasks. Because of past mistakes, he fears making another, and no matter how hard he tries not to think about missing the first baseman, he can’t stop thinking about it. The more he thinks about it, the more his thoughts materialize and he is likely to embody his most dominant thought and make an error making a simple throw to first base.

While this seems so basic on the surface there is a lot more to it. Our subconscious minds are extremely powerful. Through proper training and repetition Jon has developed amazing subconscious habits and neural pathways to throw a strike against a world class batter. He hasn’t however created these same habits through practice for throwing to first base. This makes him doubt himself and get out of his supercharged subconscious mind and into the conscious. Finally, it is a very tough challenge to make ourselves not think of something. Instead, we have to work hard to think about something else.

Hopefully, Lester will practice, have confidence in this simple task, think about something else (like “hit the glove” instead of “don’t blow it”), and lead the Cubbies to victory! #flytheW


Theory of Marginal Gains

I want to pose a question to our audience. What do you think would change if you committed to doing EVERYTHING 1% better?

1% is nothing when you think about it. How hard would it be to get a 1% better night sleep, eat food that is 1% healthier, or have a workout that is 1% harder. To me it does not seem to daunting. 

Watch the video below and see how the British Cycling team became OBSESSED with doing EVERYTHING 1% better and see what happens.

Can you commit to this? We are here to help and believe that with the right mentors in your life you can achieve greatness and soar to new heights. 


Jordan Burt

Brendan Bourdage: Leadership in Combat and on the Pitch

Discussing leadership is always a very personal thing for me. Having lived through situations in the military where good leadership had serious implications for my survival makes the issue resonate in a very significant way. These experiences have instilled in me a desire to be the best leader possible, and more importantly, to be good at developing and mentoring leaders with the right qualities.

As a company-level Executive Officer, battalion-level staff officer, and two-star headquarters operations officer in combat zones, my primary goal was always to bring everyone home alive. While I recognize that the stakes are different in the civilian and sport world, the fundamentals of leadership do not change.

Below I have listed a few thoughts that help illustrate the qualities that I think are most important for effective and inspirational leaders. Again, while I recognize that most leadership scenarios are not life and death, the principles do not change. Good leaders are good leaders, regardless of the stakes. A man or woman who inspires loyalty and commitment on the soccer field would be the same kind of leader in combat.

First of all, good leaders are supportive, and realize that guiding subordinates through challenges means empathy, and the fostering of an environment that is NOT “zero-defect”. This is an area in which the military really struggles (though not as much as when I was commissioned in 2000), by not accepting any kind of failure, major or minor. Many leaders create a culture where fear of reprisal is the strongest motivation, and any criticism of leadership is anathema. You will get more from those you lead by showing them that mistakes are OK, as long as you are honest about the reasons for those mistakes, and learn from them.

Secondly, we often we see leaders as the “lone-wolf genius”, apart from the rank and file of their company or organization. The aloofness and detachment that this implies is detrimental to those that would be great leaders.  As John Maeda says, “True creative leaders recognize that they live and die by their team”.

Feeling like part of the team was crucial for me. Nothing motivated me more as a junior Captain in the Army than being in a meeting with a room full of high-ranking officers, and having my boss give me credit for good work. It takes nothing away from you as a leader, and may gain you a tremendous amount.

Along those lines, one of the most interesting and relevant discussions of leadership I’ve ever read is linked here, written by the late David Foster Wallace. The part that makes the most sense to me is when he says that “a real leader isn’t just somebody who has ideas you agree with, nor is it just somebody you happen to believe is a good guy [or girl]…a real leader can somehow get us to do certain things that deep down we think are good and want to be able to do but usually can’t get ourselves to do on our own”.

Abraham Lincoln is a great example, and his Team of Rivals. Lincoln understood that as a leader, you never want to be the smartest person in the room, or the one with all the ideas. If you are the smartest person in the room, you need to find a new room. 

This was especially evident to me in the Army when I worked in combined task forces, and spent time in meetings with general officers and other high-ranking officials from all branches. In those meetings, you could quickly assess which officers were more concerned with propping up their own ego than accomplishing the mission. The one who inspired me were constantly asking their subordinates for their opinion, and not afraid to admit that they didn’t know something. Those were the men and women I felt I could trust with my life.

This concept of trusting your team, and not being threatened by those around you, is very interesting when we bring the discussion back to athletics, and professional athletes in particular. Here we find another concept from John Maeda - when you are a young player (or in any profession), you force things into being. You “make” them – I like to think about young LeBron James, Robert Griffin III, and young Wayne Rooney.

When you are young, you make an impact with your physicality, your will, your hunger, and your desire. When you become a leader, it is your role to inspire others into the “making” role, while you are often the coordinator, the inspirer, the motivator, and the mentor.  James and Rooney have evolved into leaders who don’t necessarily have the best stats, but are still winning championships. It remains to be seen if RG III will develop the same way.

What it boils down to is that as a leader, instead of making things/plays, you are making relationships, and a team culture. This is especially true as a coach, where I’ve discovered that because I can’t kick every ball, I have to find other ways to influence my players to be the best versions of themselves possible.

My second thought is about how great leaders inspire. A great team around you is a good start, but your actions are a vital part of the equation. In my experience, one of the most powerful things you can do is show that nothing is beneath you as the leader. Never ask your followers to do something you would not do, or have not done in the past. Understand that you will have to demonstrate this, maybe many times. Be willing to work side-by-side with those you lead, when it will not compromise the mission. Demonstrating your personal “buy-in” will speak volumes to those you lead, and requires nothing but your willingness to put aside your ego.

Throughout my military career, I made a point of sharing the hardships of those I led, and begin sure that I was visibly “leading from the front”. I continuously reminded myself that if I lost the respect of my soldiers, if I did not value their work and sacrifice, and did not care for them as people, I would not be able to galvanize them when our lives were on the line. As a leader, you are not going to get it right every time, but you MUST keep trying to be perfect in this respect.

My mindset during our combat tours was to do everything in my power to bring everyone in my charge home alive. If that meant sacrificing my own safety, then that was my job.

I will finish with a mention of a leadership quality that is more about what you don’t do as a leader. It is often difficult to be a leader who understands where the line is drawn between friendship and authority. This becomes especially important when a young player assumes the captaincy, a player becomes an assistant coach, or an assistant coach with close ties to the players becomes a head coach. If you are to lead effectively in these scenarios, you must recognize that the good of the group comes first, and that leadership often requires making decisions that will strain personal relationships as you endeavor to make everyone better.

In the military, I found the divide even more challenging, as the responsibilities of leadership often mean making decisions that will put others in danger. When I first entered active duty in the Army, I was a 20-year-old platoon leader, and younger than MOST of my platoon. I had less experience than ALL of my platoon, which included non-commissioned officers who had been in the Army for 15-20 years. Learning to give orders to men with significantly more experience than I had was one of the most important lessons I ever learned. The art of being in charge, while still respecting and valuing the experience and wisdom of your subordinates is invaluable.

I hope some of these thoughts, if not perfectly applicable to you situation, will at least provide you with some jumping-off points to think about your leadership qualities, and the qualities of those by whom you have been (or continue to be) inspired.


Seattle Sounders: In a Pit of Frustration

With the recent news of Seattle Sounder’s coach Sigi Schmid being fired, everyone is asking what is going on with the Sounders! To say the least, this hasn’t been their best season and they have little hope of turning things around to make the playoffs. With that being said, I was watching the highlights of their game against Kansas City (the game prior to Sigi getting fired) and it was somewhat comical.

As a pro myself, I understand the frustration that everyone on the field is going through. The pressure is mounting as they continue to not get results from the coaches, fans, and themselves! Their jobs are at stake as there is a higher probability of more turnover after a losing season. All of this is hard to handle and surfaces on the field as frustration.

You see this in all levels of sports but it is probably magnified here on the global stage.  If you are an athlete, you know the feeling of overwhelming frustration… it is brutal and a hard pit to get out of. As I watch the highlights (see below) here is what I noticed.

  • The body language of the sounders team is pitiful.  Even in the beginning of the game, you can see and feel the frustration of the players. Science says body language is contagious, like yawning.  Well, the whole team has caught the bug and is letting their emotions control the way they play. Fortunately we know that we can control body language. Even if you are frustrated, sticking out your chest, being attentive, and ready for battle can mitigate the emotion and lead to a better individual and team performance.
  • Work ethic is another controllable. Watch the highlights and you will see the intensity is so low! Going into every game, you really have very little you can control. Focusing on things you can’t control (getting results, other players performances, or potential contract issues at the end of the season) raises the level of stress and distraction! BUT when you focus on things you can control like work ethic, preparation, visualization, and having a great attitude…results usually take care of themselves
  • Reactions – when you watch the highlights, this is what you don’t want to do! A common coping mechanism when things are not going well is to deflect blame onto other people. Even in soccer, where mistakes happen all the time, you see players throwing up their arms in complete disgust. In turn, KC runs full steam ahead with numbers going to goal while the sounders are on a Sunday jog cursing their teammates mistake.

 As I write this, I know I often let my emotions win, especially when things are not going well. I am not ridiculing the Sounders for their response, as it is very natural. However, I do believe we can learn a lot from it. Body language, work ethic, and how we react to mistakes are all things we can control. Not letting our emotions get the best of us will ultimately get you out of ruts faster and allow you to perform your best. So next time you feel the frustration and stress mounting, cognitively acknowledge the emotion and move on to what you can control.