With the Minnesota Vikings marching toward one of their most successful seasons ever and the state engulfed in Super Bowl fever, sports consultant Cindra Kamphoff is feeling a special sense of pride. She has worked with the Vikings for the past three years, helping individual players master the mental side of the game. A champion long-distance runner who has also worked with a range of other elite athletes and business leaders, Kamphoff has written a new book, “Beyond Grit,” which aims to help the rest of us learn how to become top achievers.
Q: You started your work with the college football team at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen was a senior at the time. What did you learn?
A: I did a workshop every week to help them develop mental toughness. I could see how just 30 minutes of focus on a high-performance mind-set paid off. I could see their performance improving. I could see the results of training your mind.
Q: Thielen, who still works with you, signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent. Now he’s a Pro Bowler having one of the best seasons in the NFL. In the forward to your book, he writes that “power phrases” are important. To him, it’s “Lock it in.” How does that concept work?
A: To perform at your best, you have to stay in the present moment. It’s a strategy to stay confident rather than focusing on the yards you need or the score. If an athlete is thinking about the last play or a past mistake and not locked into the current play, they can’t be at their best. You have to take it one play at a time. You have to block out distractions. For Adam, he thinks, I just gotta beat this guy across from me.
A: Are elite athletes naturally more mentally tough than the rest of us?
Q: It’s not something you’re born with, though some people are better at it than others. Instead, I know you can develop it. It starts with your mind-set. Your mind-set drives how you feel and how you feel drives your actions. People often think that having a winning mind-set is like riding your bike: Once you learn it, you don’t forget it. But the world’s best athletes know it’s a daily effort. It requires practice.
Q: Where do you begin helping someone master the mental side of the game?
A: In the first session working with somebody, my goal is to better understand how they perform at their best. What are your greatest games, your best moments? What do you do before, during and after? We work to find a psychological profile of emotions and actions that can lead to someone’s peak performance. The goal is to help them to understand themselves and what gets them consistently performing at their best.
Q: How do you help people stay focused when they are facing roadblocks?
A: Being positive is a large predictor of success. Mental toughness is about remaining confident, composed, determined and focused on your goals despite distractions. You continue to go after it in the face of adversity. It’s easy to get in your own way by having thought patterns that limit you or by not letting go of the past. I talk a lot about a strategy I call learn, burn, return.
Q: Please explain the “learn, burn, return” strategy.
A: Learn from the mistake, but do it objectively so it’s not impacting you from a confidence standpoint. You can beat yourself up and become your own worst enemy. Burn: Figure out how you are going to let it go. Return: How to return to a positive perspective with positive self talk and positive body language.
Q: How can someone be more mentally resilient?
A: There are so many things you can’t control. When we focus on them, it distracts us from being our best. In athletics, it’s the other team or the weather or the officials. In the NFL, every minute you focus on something you can’t control is one less minute you’re in the league. For business owners, every minute you’re spending on something you can’t control is one less dollar you’re earning.
Q: What makes your book different from other self-help books?
A: What I find when I work with teams and individuals is that people are eager to learn how to do this. They’ve tried things over the years — some have worked and some haven’t. I’ve tried to get rid of the trial and error. Over the years I’ve learned through experience what sticks with people and what doesn’t, and it’s backed by research. The book has short chapters — three pages each — and 52 chapters. So you can do one a week for a year if you want. Every chapter provides a strategy. I want this to be a book for anybody who wants to find strategies to master their mental game.