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S1E5 – Brian Alexander

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Brian Alexander currently serves as the athlete mental skills coach for USA Water Polo for ODP and now the US Men's National team. You can regularly see him speak at JOs, ODP camps and read his column in Skipshot! magazine.

He had an awesome water polo career graduating from Foothill HS, then playing for the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara. From college he played professionally in Spain, Greece, and Australia. Brian played and represented Team USA at multiple junior and senior FINA world championships. While on the senior national team he trained for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic team but was ultimately one of the last athletes cut from the Olympic roster.

Brian adds a significant value to our sport helping with both the peak performance of athletes and also helping to create awareness around mental health issues in sport.

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the game on Water Polo Podcast. The game on Water Polo Pod will take a look at water polo, growth, culture and best practices from the perspective of water polo athletes, clubs, parents, referees and coaches from around the United States. My name is Shaun Strongarm and I look forward to create a conversation honouring the history of water polo, but more importantly, talking about what's happening now and of course, in the future of our sport. My co-host and friend Jenny Kerr, two thousand four Athens Olympian, is coming to us live from Princeville Kauai. Please subscribe rate. Give a five star review and share the podcast. Find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. All by searching app game on Eels. Check out our website w WW Goals. That's W W W O LS CEO. We'd like to welcome Brian Alexander, who currently serves as the athlete mental skills coach for USA Water Polo for ODP, and even has expanded now to the U.S. men's national team. You can regularly see him speak at Joe's ODP camps, and you can read his column and Skip Shot magazine. A little background on Brian, and I'll let you add into this as well. Brian Brian has had an awesome water polo career, graduating from Foothill High School, then playing for the gauchos of UC Santa Barbara. From college, he played professionally in Spain, Greece and Australia. Brian played and represented Team USA at multiple junior and Senior World Championships while on the senior national team.

He trained for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic team, but was ultimately one of the last athletes let go from that roster. Bryant adds a significant value to our sport, helping with both the peak performance of athletes and also helping to create awareness around mental health issues in our sports. Brian, thanks for joining Ginny and I today. Thank you for joining the game on podcast. Did I miss anything there in that intro? Anything you'd like to add to that? I think you did a great job. It's interesting, you know, kind of like reliving the accolades or just the journey that I've been on, I kind of tend to just skip over a lot of things about myself and focus on everybody else. So I appreciate that. Well, this one's all about you, Brian. There we go. How about that? So well, we bring Brian to the show primarily because of his background and perspective on sports psychology. And I will say that I am a sports psychology nerd myself as well, graduating with a master's degree in sports psych from the University of Oregon. And so I love this and have built a career on sports, psych and the tenets of peak performance motivation through the corporate world as well, and now in the water polo world. So. So I'm all in on this, but I would love to know your perspective on how sports psychology can benefit teams and athletes. That's a great big, broad, wide open question and feel free to kind of take that any direction you would want to go in terms of how we can help benefit our athletes.

Yeah, that's a good place to start, and I'm sure we could have a broad discussion on this given your background here. So the way that I think sports psychology can benefit teams and individual athletes is essentially just learning how to structure your mental training in a way that's aligned with research and literature, but also in an applied sense to meet people where they're at, right? And I say people, because you kind of realized as you're going through this process that you're a person first and athletes second. And sometimes it's pretty hard when your self-identity is really caught up in your sport and you're just training all the time, plus you're on the go with school and other activities. So learning different ways to. Organize your training in a way that's both mental and physical, aligned with peak performance. Right. But built into some evidence based practices that we know elite level athletes have used to be successful or, like you said, in the business space, right? High level performers in the business world have used as well. Right. What when you said, you know, focus on what you're going to do within your mental training? I actually have found that a majority of programs and most levels, right age group, high school collegiate don't even have anything set up.

And I think part of that is the limited amount of time that coaches feel like they have with their athletes. So how would you stress or emphasize the importance of making time the same way teams are now making time for nutrition and weights and goalie training, but actually they emphasize structured time for mental training? Yeah, that's really important. We want to integrate it within the program and make it as important as strength conditioning training. Right. It's the same thing, and that's where we start to talk about. Everybody having mental health similar to physical health. Right? How do you work on your physical health? You strengthen it, you work on it, you train it. And it's important now because we know it's a performance enhancer to be stronger and more mobile than your competition. Well, it's the same thing mentally, right? I think a lot of times now we're hearing about mental health when there's a need to fix it, when there's a detriment or a dysfunction. And with mental training, we focus on the the boosting of mental health going from where you are to building towards where you want to be as an individual and as a team. And so working with the coach and working through the coach, if you're working with the team is really important because you have to develop the trust that you're not going to undermine the progress, but you're going to work alongside with them and you're going to enhance things that that they're doing and make them aware of things that we could do better right and see how we could collaborate in that process.

So I think in order to build it in, it's about the buy in for sure, but also developing the relationship. I work at the collegiate level and we're constantly navigating that hours limit that we can have towards countable hours a week in season and out of season because it changes with the NCAA bylaws, where you can have eight hours of accountable, accountable, athletic related activity out of season and then 20 hours in season. So we're we're kind of working with the coaching staff and building it into a program that aligns with their work if it's water pull with their work in the pool because it needs to align in some way, shape or form, it needs to connect because mental skills need to be practiced in the context in which you compete and perform. So those are just some ways, but I always think it starts with creating the relationship and the trust and being able to form a team around the athletes and around the team itself. What is some of the framework that you use in terms of working with the teams, like if you're coming into a new team or even maybe from the perspective of a coach out there that wants to do more mental skills training doesn't have a ton of resources.

What are what might be one or two strategies that they could use to just to start thinking about? Ok, this is how we're going to use mental skills training as we go into this upcoming season type thing. Yeah, well, I like to think of a phased process working with the team, and there's a lot of ways to start intervention. There's a lot of ways to kick start the work, but I'd like to come in and not do anything at first, to be honest. I just want to get a lay of the land and observe the athletes at practice, observe the interactions and the dynamic between coach and athletes and coaches and staff, and really get an understanding if they have any documentation around what makes their culture tick and unique, whether it's like coaching philosophy or values or just traditions and look into the history a little bit of the program. If I haven't really known it that well, you know, I think it all starts there and it's like a multimodal form of assessment. We may even bring in just questionnaires to have the athletes complete and give me feedback before I do anything because I really need to get to know where they're at. Right to the best of my abilities. So how so that's usually where it starts. You look like you're going to say some Janaya, you got something there. Yes, I was going to say that. We're talking about coaches and teams like for individuals that, you know, their program might not have adopted a mental health training program as of yet.

How what it is seem like little pieces of advice you can give to a student athlete right now today to start something on their own. There are a lot of apps now, obviously before the apps, there were a lot of books. And you know, I think one thing like, do you have a daily specific morning routine even before you go into your business day? Did you when did you start something when you were an athlete? Is there something someone just right now from this show from Go Live can take away? You know, on Brian Alexander's interview, I learned to do this and it's working well for me. Yeah, I think start by learning how to use breathing for performance and maybe even before that, learn how to use sleep as a performance enhancer. And it's so powerful when you have a really solid night's sleep. Your mind is clear you're able to demonstrate better emotional regulation, right? And nutrition and hydration. I mean, it's a holistic approach to performance, but breathing. I think learning how to create that relaxation response by using maybe some diaphragmatic breathing and maybe you tie account to it like box breathing is popular where you do a four in four hold for out for hold and you do it maybe four times, right? I like to do a six breath sequence, something that I've kind of adapted to my training programs where I guide athletes through accounted breath and an inhale through the nose and an X out of the mouth while directing that air to the base of the ribs, kind of where the diaphragm lives.

And I asked them to breathe in for four. Hold it in that space and their stomach for seven. And then breathe all the way out for eight and really finish the breath and maybe create a short pause before going into the next one. So we do that six times and usually what I find, it's a good way to start the day slowly and even start a pregame routine with some clarity. It's also a great way to end the day and start to turn the mind down and be able to let go a little bit so that you can start to allow the mind to rest in the body to rest. But I find that after about two to three breaths and that six best sequence, they people usually tend to sink into the practice and their minds kind of become more present and anchored on the task at hand. So that's just a simple way to start to engage, and it takes a little under two minutes. So it's just a simple daily practice that you can attach to other things that you're about to do or that you've done already. Excellent. I'd be interested over the last two years everyone has had, there's been difficulty for everyone, right? Navigating a pandemic and shut down and re-entry and all that kind of good stuff and your experiences with talking with teams and athletes and clubs.

How have people been affected? Have you seen more interest or uptake in mental skills training and mental health? Obviously, it's become more of a mainstream topic, which is fantastic, right from a especially from the last summer Olympics. As we've seen athletes saying, like, I just got to take care of myself. Like what? How has the conversation changed for you in this career over the last couple of years? Well, it's definitely become more of a conversation topic, and I think people are becoming more aware of the need to work on our mental health. Right. And and but I think there's still a lot of discussion to be had about what is mental health and what are the different professionals that work within that space. Yeah, it's pretty well known by now about how to work on your body, how to strengthen different modalities within strengthening. There's a lot of different fitness programs or a lot of strength conditioning types of programs. There's also the physical therapy side, P.T. athletic training, you know, and they have a lot of say in the mental side as well. So I think those are huge advocates as well because they have a lot of face time with athletes. So we tend to see some referrals from athletic trainers or training conditioning coaches or realize, OK, this person needs to work on their confidence, they need to work on their motivation or they're dealing with there.

And maybe it's been showing up physically. You know, maybe there's a lot of tension or tightness in their body because of the stress they're bringing on themselves. And there's no apparent injury. It's just stress related, right? So I think that's part of it. But yeah, I think the business has really boomed a lot as well, and people are coming into the field a lot more now, too. So my certification is through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and I'm mentoring. It's called CNPC. The letters after my name, right? I'm mentoring a lot of young professionals coming into the field. After they've finished, they finish their graduate programs. So it's a growing field and it's exciting to be a part of it too, because people see the need and they see the value. Yeah. So with the men's national team obviously going into this past Olympics, where they saw some success and had, I feel like everyone agrees they had a pretty successful Olympics. What were some of the strategies that you had in place for the athletes on those teams and things you were working on that you can share as they prepared to play on the world's highest stage right, the world's biggest stage from Tokyo? Yeah, we we had a lot of different challenges along the way.

It was a five year quad, right. So well said. Well, well said. Very understated. We had a lot of challenges. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I use the word challenges with intention because a lot of people could see them as problems, right? I tend to see ways that we respond to challenges as more effective than responding to, Oh, we've got a problem. People tend to see challenges as something to overcome, especially athletes. Yeah. So I think one thing was to build a culture first and foremost, you know, and we had a lot of turnover on the team, especially in the first two years of that five year squad. And that's kind of normal too, especially the year after the Olympic Games is to see, OK, who's in? Who's going to commit? How is the team going to work, even who's coming up? Because that's a long period of time. So who's being, who's developing and who's almost ready to compete and play at this level? And let's see. Coach usually gives them a chance in a couple of tournaments and there's some training camps and they kind of see how it forms the team. And then as we got closer and we work through the COVID period, we had a lot of uncertainty. We had a lot of change too. So we had to be very adaptive and kind of what we call a mentally flexible, definitely with the things that we couldn't control as most people did.

So it demonstrated a level of resilience. But I think when we got to the realization that the Olympic Games were going to happen and we started to learn what it was going to take with testing, with travel requirements, with just, you know, how we were going to set up our training program where we were going to be because we didn't have a lot of opportunities in the United States in the last two years, I had to go to Europe. You know, it was just a matter of how can we be really good with dealing with uncertainty? Right, right. And how can we demonstrate a level of poise, persistence and presence? As things are trying to push us sideways, so we bend, but we don't break, right? So I've known Jesse the longest of any of the men's team members from the since the 90s, and I've seen the biggest transformation from him mentally since the time you started working with him. Not so much, necessarily his performance in the pool, but how he's actually been a better leader, stepping into that role as captain and really trying to support the athletes around him to build what we feel supported and perform at their highest levels. And honestly, as a somewhat of an outsider from this last squad, I attribute a lot of that to you. Well, thanks, Jan. I appreciate that he. You know, it's been I can't really speak too much on the work that I've done with the individuals in there, but Jesse was one of the question marks for me because we played together.

So I, you know, we did a great job of just establishing those role boundaries and redefining our relationship. You know, that was one of the biggest challenges in anything you do, right, when you have a certain connection with somebody and now you're going into a different role with them. And this is true for coaches who are players. If it's sometimes really difficult for both parties to be able to work together in that new role, especially when it's now staff athlete. So I appreciate that comment, you know, and yeah, we do a lot of we did a lot of good stuff and obviously you can't talk on specifics per individuals, but with them, are you are you working on? Are you doing imagery and relaxation type stuff? Or are you doing self-talk scripts right? Are you working on optimal arousal? What are some of the things? Not with any of your athletes. Do you feel like that are most effective to their overall peak performance, right? Yeah, that's a really good question. I can start by just sharing the education behind that. Around the basic mental skills, but then the customization of those basics is kind of, I think, where you're talking about. But what I usually focus on for basic mental skills that there's definitely a few others, depending on your sport and the person, but it's breathing self-talk, imagery or visualization and then evaluation reflective practices, whether it's journaling or things like that.

So then we can understand, especially at the higher levels, right? You don't want to come in. They've got some pretty good routines in place or they're figuring it out, and they probably feel pretty confident. So, you know, a lot of times it was just a matter of listening, you know, honestly, I didn't feel like with some people, I did a lot of great work. I'm pretty sure I could have if I had more time or more connection, we could have done something else. But it was a matter of just being available and listening and understanding What do you need, right? And how can I connect that to what I know is works, you know, with right, right? Just creating for people? Yeah, yeah. Sometimes that did turn into creating. We have been. And during that mic, we actually did a microsite which is pretty cool and we have a high performance model team within USA Water Polo, so our athletic trainer did some material and body work and our nutritionist did some work with the fueling piece of it. And I did some work with the mind piece. And then our strength conditioning coach did a bunch of Zoom workouts and a bunch of self-serve options. And then our coaching staff did a bunch of film review and video training and and so we give them options like kind of like a smorgasbord to say, Hey, look, what do you think you need? There you go.

Choose it. And then if they wanted more customization, we could do that as well. There's definitely a few of the athletes that I connected more with, and we had consistent dialogue and we still do even when they're over in Europe playing with their other teams. But part of that is getting to know each other more and more as they grow, because as people, we tend to change and evolve with the experience. So I think when we finally got down to it in that last trip, I think in June I realized because there's a difference also between. When we're about to compete and when you're in the hotel or you're away from that, the type of interaction. So I realized that there was 13 guys and I knew exactly how they wanted me to interact with each one, whether it was specific self-talk, cues, language that I would use, whether it was the the amount of interaction. It was their goals and specific goals, not just like overall, but like process oriented goals. What are you actually working on with your intentions today? And then it felt like we had some good synergy and connection in terms of like what it takes and you could tell. I mean, that was like four years of putting in good work. So, yeah, yeah, it takes time.

And that's super satisfying, right? I mean, as as a coach and as a someone who has some background on that, I mean, it's one of those things where you're having those ongoing conversations with athletes, in my opinion, and you get into a high pressure performance situation and it comes back to the basics like you just need to breathe, right? I mean, I've had those conversations in timeouts where you're down to the last minute, you've got to do something. You come over and say, you just need to take a breath and go and execute on what we've practiced both physically and mentally and have it happen just like, Oh, I love it when things work out, right? Great. Great moments, great moments like that. When you see all of the different mental and physical pieces come together like I can, that's really satisfying, I'm sure. Yeah. One thing I would add to that, though, is that still doesn't guarantee results. Sure, for sure. Yeah, right? And I think a lot of people, especially when they're Hey, when you come work from with our team, we have a lot of problems and they're like, Oh, this is going to save the day, right? And the reality is, is that we're going to give them more tools and we're going to help give them a listening ear that maybe is also disconnected from the coaching staff in a way. You know, we're playing that middle ground between staff and athletes.

Yeah, but still, you know, there's an opponent on the other side trying to beat you, right? And there's uncontrollable is related to a lot of things, you know, referees being one of them, right? A lot of things need to go your way for you to be successful in the outcome. But if we can feel really good about what we're doing is the process and how our focus shapes that, you know, in the areas and the targets we want to work on. Then usually we can we can come away with without regrets, even though we're going to be disappointed or excited by the results we can come away with. We did really good work. We just need to keep working on it. So when you look at a team that's being chosen like ODP, are you able to come in as a professional and use your expertise to help identify athletes in Europe of your own opinion of who's going to be successful themselves? Like the same way someone like, Oh, that person is a great swim stroke or they've got size or they've got an amazing shot. I think they're going to have a lot of potential. Can you see how people respond to certain situations? But you know what, regardless of what system they're in? I think this individual will perform consistently. That's a really good question, and I think there's more professionals starting to get involved in, especially at the professional level of scouting, using assessment to help make those informed decisions.

One thing that I would say on the professional level is I care about a wonderful high school team, an age group team, ODP team personal experience. You know what to use? If so, yeah. So one thing that I will say is observation and giving feedback to the staff is is part of that tool. And what I look for is the space between plays and as well as water pool athletes. We know it's a fast moving multivariable, dynamic sport. If you can see from somebody that, OK, they obviously they screwed up on a pass, they made a bad pass or they missed an assignment. They didn't have a good switch on a defensive play or they just missed a shot clock, right? How quickly can they recover? Because you'll see it in their body language, right? But then if you have discussions with them, how clear are they on what they're working on, right? And it may not fully be aligned with the coach. I think that's probably OK, right? Because I think the best athletes feel empowered and they feel like they own their process. They own what they're doing, but they're open to receive feedback, which is another piece of that, right? So like all those dynamics would go into their potential because we know that it takes a lot of hours to become expert in anything. And obviously. The physical, bigger, faster, stronger pieces, those play a role as well.

The dynamic of their body mechanics, maybe is also a role. How quickly can their body recover? How well, what's their endurance like, you know, and there's different components to the sport science behind all that. So I think from the mental perspective, though, it's about next play speed. It's about coach ability. It's also about balance outside the pool, too, you know, and not everybody is has the great support system that helps them kind of move forward. And you kind of hear a lot about that as well. You know, they just need that. And that's a challenge, right? That's a real challenge in terms of family dynamics or friendships or just other interests as well. That balance is important for in the pool. So we're kind of in the middle of or at the start of ODP season, kids are coming out and doing trainings kind of move away from your role as the national team mental skills coach to the ODP mental skills coach. What are what are some of the habits that you would recommend for those athletes that are wanting to get into that ODB pipeline? How would you how would you talk to those athletes? I like what you said in terms of your role of not the coach, but on staff and kind of a safe ear. What would be a traditional conversation you would have with those ODP athletes of like? Here are some of the things that you need to start working on to be able to take your game to the next level from a mental skill standpoint.

Yeah. If I would start, OK, so I would start with basics, I would start with motivation, and I think motivation is the foundation to anything else that we do. Right motivation helps us choose when to get out of bed in the morning, right? So we would start to look at motivation as a skill. And it's both situations specific, but it's also broad enough to sort of help you align your identity with everything you choose to do and then kind of help them maybe even develop or understand. Maybe, maybe they already have it developed, but understand what their y is, because that will help them understand what goals to set from that foundation and from the why. Then we also talk about core values and what you think makes you your best and maybe create like this little tool called a performance profile and align those those values with self rating measures. So we say, OK, so if you think this is a simple one, if you think hard work is important. How much effort are you putting into the things that matter and how much effort you put into things that don't matter as much but are so important, right? So it's little things like that to set it up and then drilling into now, how do we train our attention? Because, you know, I think attention is one of the core competencies to any good athlete, and you train your attention based on the demands of your sport.

So that's what we talk about. Can you control the controllable? Can you understand what the uncontrollable czar, what's competing for your attention? What's a distraction? Because usually wherever your attention goes, we stay. Your energy follows, right? So if you're putting effort and energy into things, it's usually can connected to your focus. And are you able to shift your attention based on the task at hand? The research behind that is there's a different attentional styles and there's different tendencies towards individuals that have a dominant tension style. But the demands of their sport kind of require something else, so the demands of the situation in their sport requires something else. So can you shift between thinking to doing to sensory, like seeing, hearing, feeling right and trusting that and then back to thinking making decisions that are clear, right? And maybe part of that then stems in the confidence, too? So I think that's where kind of it starts and then we get really customized, like we were saying before with like self-talk cues that direct our focus, mantras that help boost our motivation when you face adversity and failure and mistakes and difficulties with other people, whether it be coaches or teammates or parents, even so stuff like that. I think one of those that it's most important to me that I've seen is those self-talk cues, right? I think athletes are incredibly hard on themselves, generally more than they need to be.

How would you what's the best way for an athlete to recognize that? And kind of just just, I guess, talk about self-talk, right? How can you create those positive habits in terms of the conversations you're having with yourself and that ability to reset right after maybe you've missed an assignment, something's gone poorly and that in between plays, I like that concept. Those two? Yeah. Sometimes when I'm introducing self talk, I ask them, how much are you thinking when you're playing well and they usually say, not a whole lot, right? They don't think they're thinking at all. That's. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. They are thinking they're just not consciously aware that they're thinking. It's like you said it's flowing, right? It's connected to their movements. So we might help them realize what is it sound like? This is an analogy by Dr Ken Reeves in his book Heads Up Baseball that I learned. But you call it the inner signal light. And so we need to understand when it's all green lights. Green means go right when we're all systems go. What does it sound like? What does it feel like and what are you doing? Because that's probably the destination to help you play your best water polo. But the critical space is now when you're entering that yellow light zone on the signal light.

What does it sound like, what does it feel like and what are you doing? Because the tendency in that area is to and this is what I always asked, What do you do when you see a yellow light on the road? What would you answer? My answer would be to slow down, but sometimes I want to speed up. Yeah, you want to make the right drive? I'm extremely cautious. Oh, that's good. You guys are great drivers is the office I push through. My my kids might disagree with me. Dad, dad, dad, dad, slow down. Slow down, you know? Yeah, yeah. Well, most people, when I ask them that, especially the high school college, you know, even younger kids, they're like, Oh yeah, you want to speed up to make the light. But you know, the reality is, if you try and speed up those yellow light thoughts, you usually find yourself in a lot of trouble because the part of our brain that wants to protect us tends to kick in and override our ability to think logically and with clarity. Right. So we quickly find the red light zone. If we are not aware enough to slow down, that's the keys. We have to build an awareness. That's why we ask, What are they? How do they feel? What do you do? And then the same goes for the red light thoughts, because sometimes you find yourself before your awareness kicks in and that red light zone.

So that's where you just really need to stop. And totally reconnect with whatever you're doing, right, like really take a moment to just, I mean, you have to stop because it's not going to get better. If you keep going in that red light zone, it's probably going to spiral, right? So, so that's usually what it is. And like I said, green light thoughts are usually pretty simple. Maybe not a whole lot of thinking, but they probably feel like you're flowing, like you said and then your light thoughts, it's like, I'm a little unsure. I'm a little bit overthinking, second guessing, cautious, right? I'm not. I'm not attacking. I'm not playing freely. Maybe playing with a little bit of fear, which is creating that, that path of least resistance response and then red light is like, Man, I'm just mad. I can't see anything. It's everything's red, right? So like, I think that's a good analogy for the self-talk. Yeah. Fantastic. Well, hey, what how so from a sport growth standpoint, say you're having a conversation with a club director or a coach or whomever. How can. How can we use sports psychology to help grow the sport of water polo, right? How can, as at that real grassroots level, be able to communicate with parents to say, this is what we're trying to do with our kids? Here's the thing that's going to have impact in both your school and your career.

How can we use that to help attract more athletes and have a better, well-rounded athletes, both mentally and physically? Do you think? Love this question. It starts with the coaches, and I say that because. As our coaches understand what a great environment for for growth is built on, and also they understand their own philosophy that aligns with that right because we're all different people as coaches, then they can help support the needs and demands of the athletes, right? And people feel like they want to play the game or they find joy and showing up and being challenged, but showing up in a climate and call it a motivational climate that is both competitive while it's both. It's also mastery oriented. So I'm kind of talking about these different orientations towards success. And in order to do that, we need to understand how to support people's basic psychological needs. Right. So finding ways to have a structure in an organization, but also have ways to give the athletes a say in the matter and help them feel like you have some control in the progress that they're making, even though they probably want a lot of instruction, this is part of a leadership model as well, right? Can you know how to direct while also support at the right level based on where you're athletes are? And part of that is also based on the environment that you're creating and the values that you align with successful behavior and development, right? Because I think a lot of times people get too caught up in winning too early and they forget how to win.

There's a difference. There's the desire and hope that we win. And, you know, winning is everything. While it's the ultimate goal, right? It's just not the process and the destination, right? The development of character in the development of people through also through sport and learning the fundamentals really well of sport and competition. Not just the fundamentals of water polo, right? How to beat or how to come over your hips. How to shoot properly, right? It's also about how do you connect with other people and how you connect with yourself to bring the best pieces of you out and through those basic psychological needs being met? Yeah. Excuse me. Jenny, I've been hogging, Brian, do you have any you have any questions? I've been I've been going down this roll here. I like asking personal questions. So go for it, Brian. Like knowing your history for very well. I remember your discipline of even like looking at your nutrition. You're right and you're no carbs other than fruits and vegetables for a while to help or an already strong, fast person become even performing an even higher level. So for your mental side of things, did you personally have routine that you started developing and how late into your career was that? And what? What age start start there? Yeah, I think you're I got a little crazy in two thousand eight with my diet and my training when we were already training six seven hours a day, I decided I was going to go on a well, maybe it's not crazy anymore, but there are no processed foods diet, which was really hard for me because I hadn't done that before.

But then I also was going on my off days up to Santa Barbara to get it two and a half hour workout in. You know, that was a little nuts seven days a week, just training for six months. But it worked out. I felt pretty good. Now I think the routine started to develop in college because I had to learn to make some life changes. After my sophomore year, I had a really, you know, low point in my career where I lost the game. I got actually removed from the junior team over the summer and then I got came back and played a game and got in trouble with my college team and got removed from my college team. And so I didn't have water pull in my life for the first time in five six years at that point and had to really evaluate what what's my main dream goal like? Why am I doing this and how does how do other things that I'm involved in, whether it be school or family or, you know, friendships, how does that all align with that and setting up sort of a better process? So I got good at goal setting in that moment.

And luckily, my coach was open to that where I would set three goals every week, both academically and athletically. And you know, at that point, I couldn't even train with the team, so I had to do it all on my own at the rec center. And and then at the end of the week, we had evaluate, how did you do on that? How's the progress overall towards the big goals and how are you doing as a person? So I think through that year, it really shaped how to be successful for me and how to get intentional with the work and the focus that I wanted to put in to things I thought mattered. And then it expanded as I just, you know, focused on that process and then opportunities arose, and I just kept saying yes to a lot of them because they were aligned with things I wanted to do. So I think also, as I got more world experience, like I remember in two thousand five, we went to Montreal. That was my first world championships. Were you there? And I. You go on three, oh, seven nine, remind, OK. Yeah, so we went to 07 and 09 together, but yeah, Montreal was in Rome. Yeah, yeah. My my first world championships was in Montreal and we did horrible, didn't do very well, but it was a great experience and I happened to meet a lot of like legends that I had started to look up to in the sport.

And then I got an opportunity to go to Spain from the former national team coach of Spain. He was their coach and this team called Valencia, and they actually had one of the best players in the world on the team. Salvador Gomez, who was a gold medalist from ninety six. I think it was ninety six. Yeah, that they won. And the coach was the coach of that team with Manu, a CRT and all those famous Spaniard water polo players. So I just said yes, and I actually went over there before I finished my last quarter of school. And then I got a bunch of notes from a bunch of friends in classes and then went back to Santa Barbara for a week and took my finals and then went back. So I didn't miss a game. So I mean, like, I started to. You can do that online now, right? You know that, right? Yeah. Yeah, this is treason, though. Yeah, preseason is pre-internet now, not pre-internet, but like, yeah, that's funny. You listen to that. It's like, Oh, that's like, you can do that. You can do your degree and play internationally now. So that's interesting. Yes. When we went over there, I didn't even have a cell phone overnight. Fighting for internet mean I don't think half the places had internet.

But yeah, so yeah, it was just stuff like that, right? But I had a real good clarity on how to do it. I wasn't so worried about failure. I just knew this is what I want to do. This is my structure and how I'm going to do it now. I'm just going to follow it. So but I put the work in ahead of time, the preparation to figure that out. How did you go down the pathway to get involved in sport psychology, at what point in your career did that happen? Well, yes. So we one of my mentors still, he works with the women's national team. But Dr. Peter Hauber was coming out from the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center to work with our team. Uh huh.. And you know, at first as a team, we're like, Who is this guy? Why are we sitting in this room and trying to breathe and listen to our mind goes and do my plastic sports psychology response, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I think it took a little bit of time to really connect and get to know him a little bit. But as we did then, I started to develop a relationship with him and we started work on my game a little bit and look to one of your questions. We started working on our refocused strategy around how to reset my focus and how to recover from mistakes or just little misses or failures in the game in the flow of the sport.

So I found some value in that. And then all of a sudden I was like, Huh, there's something here and I really like it. I like the mental aspects of the game, and I had been through my own journey to that point, too. So after I think it was actually in Rome, I remember having a conversation with him at the Twenty Nine World Champs in our hotel. And the lobby was like, Peter, how did you get into this field? You know? So I started picking his brain and he actually had a similar story to the way my story turned out with hockey. And so I really connected with that. And then finally, I was like, Yeah, this sounds like something I'm really interested in. So I finished playing with the Nash team in 2012, and then I went, actually, I worked for a company called the Ken Blanchard Companies. It's a leadership development training company. So we were working with other companies, HR departments and managers and executive leaders just helping them be more effective through leadership theory and development. But it's a lot of synergies, a lot of similarities between that work in the business world and the work that I do now with athletics. But finally, I just said, you know, I want to work in the sports world, I want to work with athletes. So I went back to school and got a master's degree.

Yeah, cool. Very cool. Good stuff. So we're running up against time here. But so I want to ask my last question that I've been asking, but generally I just kind of laid on them of like, OK, what's your favorite type song to get you ready? But really, it's more of an insight into how you control your optimal, optimal level of arousal as you go into a game, right? So it's really interesting to get people's feedback in terms of how they answer that question. So first is, what's your favorite hype song, right? As you're getting ready for a game, as you as an athlete and I guess special to you. Why is it important to athletes to have something that creates that awareness as they go and perform ready for performance? Yeah, this is a good question. It's funny because it brings back a lot of memories to other people's hyped songs on the bus, right? Like, I think like I yes, yes, they were talking with Tony and he was like, You know, I really listened to that many. But Merrill's earphones, exactly. I'm hearing like five rows around. He was like blasting techno and EDM, and we were all vibing to it as well. Right now, no. So I arranged it depended on what I what I thought I needed. You know, sometimes I need to relax, so I listen. It's pretty funny. And in college, my roommate was this. I think he was like from Russia or Kazakhstan or something.

He always played Enya. There you go. Ok. So I listen. And yeah, and I was like, Wow, this feels pretty good. So if I needed to relax, I'd put on some Enya and really like, dive into that. But if I needed to get hyped, I would maybe listen to like, Rage Against The Machine or something. You know, those are those are two opposite ends of the spectrum, for sure. Definitely. Yeah, definitely. But yeah, and how relates to that optimal zone or that state of arousal is like I said, I think you have to know, where is your where is your optimal state feeling state mental, state emotional, state energy state that correlates with your peak performance? And how do you get back their moment to moment? Because it's one thing to sort of do it pregame. But then as you get real time results, how do you get back to it so you can't use music in that moment? Right, right. But you know, like my I call it my number. Mine was usually around like three or four on a scale of one to 10, which was like kind of like in this happy medium space with a little bit more relaxed because as things happen, I tend to find a little bit more anxiety in some ways. So I really wanted to kind of usually focus on that relaxation response to then also relax my body because I tended to get.

A little bit tight and tense, and then I wouldn't be able to be as mobile, right? So that's kind of how I described it for myself. And, you know, Kobe actually had that book Mamba mentality. I don't know if you saw it, but yeah, in that book, you talked about his pregame routine. And he also talked about it in his own way of I needed to listen to myself to know what I needed to either energize or relax. And some days it was connecting with other teammates. Other days it was just isolating myself and putting the, you know, the headphones on and really connecting with vibing with some music. And he had his own tunes, depending on what he needed. So I think it's all individualized, right? But it has to be a plan. It has to be part of a mental, physical, technical, tactical plan of how you get your mind and body ready. But I'm hearing a little bit that it's a little bit fluid. You can't say this is predetermined because your body and your mind might be in different places, you know, depending on what you have going on outside of the sport. Yeah. Yeah, I think it definitely is, and that's for their self awareness kick starts that fluidity. But like, think about it, some sometimes, you know, as a training program, you're not going to be tapered, you're not going to be, you know, your body's not going to be feeling great.

Or maybe you're in that phase of the year where you've got a lot of midterms, you've got a lot of tests and there's a lot of stressors outside that you're just dealing with. And maybe you haven't gotten a lot of sleep. So maybe you've got to do something a little bit unique based on that moment. And like sometimes you have to act differently than the way you feel. So, so we talked about you working with senior national teams, ODP, all these different levels for individuals or high school teams. How do you reach out to them or how do they reach out to you? And then what? What type of steps are taken? We yeah, so we one of the first ways they'll say is we have an app. It's called well, you mental training, and we developed it for that reason because as we get to make it clear, it's well known to you. I don't think people understand the letter u yeah, w pll the letter u mental training. And we've just found that we want to expand the opportunity for people to get high level mental training on the go, as well as for people that couldn't afford it or just, you know, they couldn't access somebody because time for each professional is limited. Everybody has a capacity. So that's the first thing and and we are starting to roll it out with teams and organizations. The second thing is we try and, you know, be available for emails so anybody can find my email on my website at Athlete, Mental Skills Coach.

And you know, we all we have these social media channels, too. There's a ton of good content out there as well. And I think the key, though, is trying to do something about it right and seeking out the information, especially in today's day and age. There's a lot of great YouTube videos, like I said before apps and books. But understanding how to connect with the material and apply it is probably the biggest challenge with that, too. So seeking out support as you do your own work and your own research is part of that. Hey, guys, I'm going to plug in real quick. I can listen. Very cool. Well, I really appreciate your time, Brian Janai, to any final questions. No, when are you coming back to Hawaii? We got to hang out and catch some waves last week. Now you're back in San Diego, but that was awesome. North Shore Yeah. I want to come back tomorrow. It was so nice. Well, look, I want to name names, but I know you have a buddy that's looking at properties, so I think you should go in together so it could be neighbors. I'm an escort now, a place, by the way, since you hope it works out. Yeah, yeah. It's such a special place over there. And I don't know if you knew this, Sean, but I texted Janai the night before we had this family trip out to Kauai because I knew he moved one of the islands.

I didn't know where they said, Hey Jenny, you live in Hawaii, right? Which either you want. He's like, I'm in Hawaii. Like, Oh, no way, we're going there tomorrow. So where are you staying? And it's like Honolulu. It's like, Oh, which place Honolulu Bay Resort? He's like, Oh, wait, that's in Princeville. I live one street over from there, if you need it. He was so awesome. If you need a car, you need a car in his car, which is in great demand in Hawaii right now. You can't go to Hawaii and have a rental car. So, you know, like that was huge. So I was like, Erica, cancel, cancel. We had a rental car sort of cancel out there. He's got to have any boards that we can use. Do you know where the local break is? Like, it got all the I think the best is when I came and did the surfboard pickup? Ellis Island. Yeah, yeah. My my eight year old son and I walked down and we did a little jungle hike down the bay and then wound up at this river mouth. And then, like, now I can't walk across and here comes tonight with a little surfboard in a dry bag. So we put him on the surfboard and we walked across with our dry bag stuff and then on to the other side of Honolulu.

It was pretty cool. That's awesome. Well, it's always good to have Janet Kerr on your back pocket, that's for sure. Especially when you're in Kauai. It sounds like so do you not, boyfriend? Yeah. Did I post some great stuff on social media? We just watched like, man, I wish I lived in Kauai. So, so cool. So cool. Good stuff. Well, I actually signed with Sotheby's. I'm working real estate with Sotheby's now, so I can actually save people some money on their properties out here. There you go. There you go. Well, cool. Hey, Brian, thanks again for joining us. We end all the podcasts by saying game on. So thanks for joining us and game on, man. Appreciate it. Game on. Yeah, game on. Thanks, guys. Thanks, Brian. Have a great one. You two guys in our show notes is a link you can use to send us a voice message if you have a question or comment. Don't hesitate to send it and we will incorporate it into the podcast. Please subscribe rate. Give a five star review and share the podcast. Find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. All by searching at Game on l.s. Check out our website WW w WW, Google's CEO. We are just trying to make a journey to be the voice for sport growth in the water polo wilderness. Always honor the game and keep your head on a pivot until next time. Peace.

Contributor Details

S1E5 – Brian Alexander

Brian Alexander currently serves as the athlete mental skills coach for USA Water Polo for ODP and now the US Men's National team. You can regularly see him speak at JOs, ODP camps and read his column in Skipshot! magazine.

Brian Alexander on Linkedin