Dr. Jeni Shannon serves as the Director of the Carolina Athletics Mental Health and Performance Psychology Program. She is a Counseling and Sport Psychologist within the UNC Department of Sports Medicine, providing performance enhancement and psychological services to UNC student-athletes.
Shannon meets with individual student-athletes on a one-on-one basis and also works with teams to offer comprehensive and integrated mental health and performance psychology support. Additionally, she collaborates with other Athletic Department staffers to educate student-athletes on a range of topics related to mental health, well-being and optimal performance.
A native of Phoenix, Ariz., Shannon earned both a master’s and a doctorate in counseling psychology with an emphasis in sport psychology at the University of Missouri. She also completed a pre-doctoral internship and a post-doctoral fellowship, both with a specialty in sport psychology, at the University of California, Davis.
She is a licensed psychologist, a Certified Consultant with AASP and a member of the USOC Sport Psychology Registry. She also serves on the advisory board for the Collegiate Clinical/Counseling Sport Psychology Association.
Shannon and her husband, Eric, live in Cary, N.C., with their son, Oliver, and daughter, Ivy.
In this episode, Jeni and Cindra talk about:
- Why committing to action under pressure is important for high performance
- How to train yourself to be in the present more often
- 3 strategies you can use to build team culture in sport and business
- How we can use our values to guide our decision making
- Why failure is a teacher
Cindra: Dr. Jeni Shannon. Thank you so much for joining us all the way there from North Carolina. How are you doing today?
Jeni: I’m doing pretty well winding down the semester semesters over but winding down for winter break and looking forward to a few days off.
Cindra: I know I am to. I would love to just have you share with the people who are listening, a little bit about your journey and how you got to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill?
Jeni: Yeah, absolutely. So I was a competitive gymnast. That’s my sport background and have plans to walk on in college and unfortunately ended up injured so it was an injury. I wasn’t able to come back for never got to compete in college at all. And so that kind of shifted a little bit of a plan, a lot of plans for me. And I actually ended up coaching. Coaching club gymnastics while I was in college. It was a psychology major but had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I as a gymnast was one of those kind of headcase like mental blocks and bulking and all that stuff my like almost entire career. I was a mess. So wish I would have known a lot of this at that time, but then the injury was really challenging for me to deal with emotionally and then when I was coaching seeing it from that angle and seeing kind of what my athletes went through and wanting to help them but not having all the tools, but I didn’t know that sports psychology was a thing. At the time I got really, really lucky I was at the University of Arizona and this name will mean something to you, but maybe not other people but I ended up taking a class with Jane Williams. One of the, like most amazing women in our field. I had no idea who she was the class was called psychology of excellence fit my schedule. I was like, hey, why not. The first day I learned that sports psychology was the thing and it was just this like amazing moment of, oh, okay. Well, that’s what I want to do with my life. I was just amazing and being the nerd that i was i like ran down after the lecture and introduced myself to her and asked if I could learn more about sports psychology and it was just like the most wonderful coincidence, because I got connected with her and worked in her lab for three years. She mentored me and that really set me on the path. Once I knew sports psychology was a thing. It was like I never looked back. So that’s how I got into the field in the first place, which again I just feel super lucky that all those things lined up to get me in that random class that day.
Cindra: That’s awesome. And I know she has written like a classic book in sports psychology. That is one of my go to’s whenever I have a question or need refreshing, it’s like, Okay, what is Dean Williams book say exactly, exactly. And that was the book of my class. So yeah, it was an amazing experience. So I ended up doing both my masters and doctorate at the University of Missouri and Counseling sports psychology or sorry, counseling psychology with a sports psychology emphasis and was really lucky that my program allowed me to get like right into the athletic department. I was working hands on with teams and athletes throughout the whole time there. And so, got a lot of really great performance psychology experience. And then also a really, really strong mental health counseling background which I really enjoyed having both parts because so often they overlap or people are willing to come in for performance, but there’s really the mental health components just gave me an ability to work from all angles, which I really enjoyed, and then I did my internship and postdoc at UC Davis kind of similarly
with counseling center and athletic department. I worked at a division two school in Colorado for a little while. Regis University did a private practice while I was there and then got an opportunity to come out to North Carolina to work part time at UNC as a contract provider and with an existing private practice here with Dr. Bradley hack. I loved you and see. I loved working in this athletic department. I’ve always loved being part of a system. And so when the opportunity for a full time position came about. I was really excited for it and was fortunate enough to get it and I’ve been in that role for a little over three years now.
Cindra: Yeah. That’s awesome. Thank you so much for describing a little bit about your journey. I think that helps people just better understand your experiences that you come with so now that you’re at Chapel Hill, tell us what about how would you describe your philosophy of applied work in general?
Jeni: Yeah, it’s probably my favorite part of my job is getting to do that applied work and I’m lucky I get to do it with both individuals and teams and while it might look different in some ways I think some really common underpinnings of I really work a lot from kind of an acceptance and commitment and mindfulness acceptance commitment approach. So, meaning a lot of my emphasis is very present moment focus, like if you’re very focused on process and very focused on helping athletes kind of ground themselves in in the moment, putting their focus on where it needs to be right then and there. The acceptance part of that, and often means that they have to accept that they feel some sort of way or thinking some sort of thing and kind of direct that focus to right here, right now. And then when the next thing comes up, adjust that focus to be in the next right thing right now. It’s a really anchoring a lot in that present moment focused or goal directed focus, whatever you want to call it that helps us really just direct it to what’s most important right here, right now the other parts of that of my philosophy that I really lean on our values-based approaches with both my teams and individuals. There’s rarely a session or a conversation that doesn’t come back to values in some way to really identify what are those core values for you as an individual or you as a team. How are we acting in line with those rather than the emotions are the thoughts that may sometimes pull us away from those. I really believe they serve as kind of our compass that that tells us what to do in the hard moments that tells us how to do the harder thing when that’s in front of us. And so that can be incredibly valuable for high level athletes and people in high pressure situations is to always have that to come back to always kind of have that consistency of choosing action based on your values, um, you know, being able to feel any sort of way, and still commit to action still commit to what you need to do to execute. And so that’s kind of that committed action piece that you literally can feel any sort of way, and still commit to action. You know, I think with that comes the ability to accept your thoughts, except your feelings, except everything and keep moving forward. I’m always like to tell athletes or teams like Don’t believe everything you think like that’s one of those things. We can come back to the example I give. And I love this one is I’ll ask my athletes like how many times have you had the thought in the middle of a really hard workout. I’m going to die, without fail. Everyone’s like, yep. Mm hmm and then ask them like have you died yet. And if they’re talking with me. Obviously, they have not. And so we use that as an example of like you can think of thing and it might not be true. So how do we kind of recognize when we’re thinking those things and redirect them
attention to the moment redirect our attention to values-based action and I find that when we can do these things, it’s, it’s super freaking it’s really helpful to know you can think anything feel anything. And while you might not be able to control what pops up, you have the ability to redirect your focus to the moment to those values directed actions and work from there.
Cindra: Awesome. Thank you Jenny, let’s kind of dive into that a little bit more. And I’m thinking about the application and first of all, there’s so many ways that people can use what you just said. And I’m thinking about right now during the pandemic where sport has been impacted been impacted holiday plans have been impacted you know like I’ve been with my parents for 40 some years at Christmas. I will not be with them this year. So there’s a lot of like guilt and sadness and all that comes with that maybe you’re a business owner who’s struggling, you know, with their business right now. So how would you suggest you know these various people use what you just said. And specifically, you know, these principles related to ACT?
Jeni: Mm hmm. Yeah. Oh, it’s so true. I mean, we’re all in in the same swirl of confusion with us right now. And so, I think, a really important part of it is starting with like the acknowledgement of what you’re feeling and the kind of compassion for it. Like whatever we’re feeling right now makes sense. We don’t do ourselves any good beating ourselves up over it like we’re, we’re all feeling stuff for a reason. So I think this kind of acknowledgement of what’s there is really, really critical. And then an acceptance of it like it’s not right or wrong, it, it just, it is you know the acceptance of it makes sense that I feel this sort of way. Like of course I feel this way with all of this and then I think we can kind of shift our focus our energy to maybe some of the more values-based stuff are committed action. Like, for example, really getting clear on what your core values are because even if the action with it looks different when you can come back to I choose what I do. Based on these values, not based on my sadness, not based on my guilt, not based on my fear but I choose it based on my values that can be really helpful. You know example for myself. Connection is one of my core values and I am so zoomed out so much of the time and like tired, maybe from a whole day of talking to people, but it’s like those moments I feel most drained are probably the moments I need my own connection and really well so I can either check out and scroll on social media or I can have a committed action of, like, Okay, I’m gonna have an engaged present conversation with my husband when I get home, but I’ve got to go through this process of being like, Oh, I feel so drained and then have a moment of like yeah of course you do. It was a really long day and tele health is hard and then say, okay, what would my value of connection, tell me to do. All right. I can feel drained and I can connect you know and I know and that is that’s congruent. For me, that aligns with my values and so I’m going to feel better about what I did with my time and I’m going to get what I need even if it’s the harder thing in the moment. So I think for folks to, you know, I think about this process. I use this with performance a lot to have like acknowledge except adapt the three A’s have acknowledged accept adapt and I think kind of going through it with something like this works too. I feel some sort of way, it’s okay that I do and what am I going to do with my energy or my focus and specifically in line with my values or related to being focused in the present moment. You know, how do I kind of acknowledge that I am really exhausted but be present with my kids because that’s really important to me. All right, let me get down on the
floor and like just observe what they’re doing. Be curious like feel the floor beneath me listen to their sounds just observe what’s going on. And so I think we can find a lot of ways to do that right now.
Cindra: Yeah. That’s beautiful really clear examples of how you could do it and how you could use some of these principles. So give us a sense of this acknowledgement that you see and people using these principles. How do you see that helps athletes perform better, or people perform better in general, what do you see the benefits are well, I think the benefits are it frees you up to do something?
Jeni: And to do something that lines up with what matters to you, we can get so easily stuck and I shouldn’t feel this way. I can’t feel this today. Oh my gosh. That just takes so much energy like think about the energy that goes into fighting something that’s there like we didn’t shoot with it like none of us. He was to feel crappy I don’t know, but we do sometimes. And so what I’ve seen with the athletes is when they can buy into this idea, which sometimes it’s hard it’s a little bit different for a lot of athletes but when they do. It’s just freeing. I think that’s the best way I can describe it, because you really learn that you can feel anything and commit to action that lines up with what matters. And it’s a lot of like holding both is the way I phrase it, sure it’s often like okay, we can do this even physically like you can feel sore and really commit to pushing off, you know, you can feel exhausted and like in that moment, you can’t change how much sleep you got you can feel exhausted and focus on you know, getting to that spot on the field, whatever it might be. We can hold both, but we’ve got to start by acknowledging what what’s there, whether it’s physical, whether it’s emotional, whether it’s mental like we can name it and you know there’s a saying about name it to tame it. And I think that’s so true. Like we take some power away from it. When we say like okay this is here. I know it’s here doesn’t mean I have to let it dictate what happens, I can acknowledge that it’s here I can allow it to be here and I can put all my attention and energy on the next right thing the present moment my action that’s based in my values like it can be there and shift my focus. I can shift my energy to right here, right now. The next most important thing. And then I shift it to the next most important thing, even while all that other stuff might be kind of in my periphery.
Cindra: I was reading Jenny’s study yesterday about comparing. Like, This act based approach to worrying and worrying thoughts like that it kind of lead to worry over time versus more of a cognitive behavioral approach. And this was more effective, right, just like naming the thought. Accepted or naming the emotion accepting it not fighting it and I’m thinking about, especially for athletes who feel out of nervousness before competition or feel a lot of pressure or maybe for us. You know those who aren’t competitive athletes. At least, I would say I’m an athlete, but I’m not competing right now. I can use this when I’m like overwhelmed with the moment or overwhelmed by negative news or the things that maybe happened right now during the holiday season with all of us?
Jeni: Absolutely, and I encourage everyone to just experiment with it, like it sounds counterintuitive. Like if I name it, it’s going to get bigger, but the opposite happens. I mean, if you think about fighting this stuff you’re putting energy into the thing you don’t want to be
there. And so by just naming it and allowing it while focusing on what’s more important or what’s present, it just makes such a difference and you’re totally right. And how that can look with all our present moment challenges.
Cindra: Exactly. So give us a sense for people who are listening or like, I don’t really know what my values are, how might you help one of your clients or a team be able to determine what their values are so they even know you know how to act based on their values?
Jeni: So I you know I think there’s a lot of different ways to do and it kind of depends on how you learn and how you like to sort through things, you know, there are lists like a value words and there’s like values. I have a, like a values card sort that each card has the values where it on it and I’ll have people like narrow it down. So sometimes that’s helpful just to like get a sense of when we say values. What does that actually mean because it’s different than goals, it’s not where we’re trying to be. It’s kind of like how do we get there. What is our compass, what determines how we make choices. And so I think sometimes looking at those as a starting place just to start to wrap your head around it. For some people, then like keeping with that and like breaking it down like crossing off the stuff you know doesn’t matter. And then starting to go through, like, okay, what really matters and continuing to break it down and narrow it down to you get to like three-ish core values and it doesn’t mean the other ones don’t matter. It just means these are the ones that you absolutely want to be the way you make decisions. The things that guide you. And so I think that’s one way or the other way, if you’re maybe wanting to be a little bit less concrete with it is in thinking back to times you felt really satisfied with kind of how you’ve moved through tough situations or points in your life where it’s felt like you really were being the person you want it to be an acting in a way you want it to act and thinking back like what was driving those actions like what was kind of some of the consistent pieces in terms of how you made decisions or how you acted or What drove you forward think doing some of that reflection can sometimes reveal the values and then similarly projecting ahead if you think about, like, where do I want to be? Asking yourself what is going to get me there. Um, with the teams. I work with we revisit core values every year because each team and each set of challenges might need a slightly different set of values. I think for individuals, they tend to be a little more like pervasive, but for teams have this kind of living, breathing changing culture, we need to kind of see okay with this group of people and with this set of goals.What are going to be kind of the core things we want to act on. So, you know, I think, again, looking through those lists and just narrowing down, reflecting back or kind of projecting forward are all different ways to get at the kind of question of what’s most important. And how do you want to make your decisions. How do you want to choose your actions.
Cindra: Ooh, so good. I love all the various ways and strategies that you just gave us to consider and I’m thinking about, you know, starting the New Year. Right.And even considering what are some of your values that you want guiding you for the year I did that last year about this time. Jeni and I actually have a great board on my way by my office framed over here. My three values, which is like love courage and then the last one is contributions. That’s what I wanted to guide my work is like, okay, how can I be courageous to share how can I contribute. But how can I show love and warmth and then I wrote some what I call a way values. And those are just
values that I didn’t want. I didn’t want to live by, or I may have experienced them, but I didn’t want them guiding me like not seeing my value. I don’t really know if that’s a value, comparison, judgment. So that helped me kind of acknowledge like how I don’t want to feel or what I don’t want to be. So just the idea of that I might feel judgment or comparison. Sometimes, but not kind of not giving into that.
Jeni: I love that. That’s such a cool spin on it and you know it makes me think about some of the way to kind of deep in the values sometimes is one of the things I asked my teams to do a lot of times, kind of along those lines is with their core values. Think about like okay. What are the actions that show you, you’re moving towards your values and what are the actions that show you’re moving away. And I think that identification is a little different but related to what you mentioned that ability to catch it when you’re slipping away from your values is so important and so I think it’s really, really critical to know what that looks like. So you can not only like choose the actions that lineup but notice because we all slip, but to be really, really attuned to. Oh, I’m getting away from my values. How do I kind of get back on track.
Cindra: Yeah so powerful. So I encourage people to think about how they might do that at the beginning of the year like list their values and then what actions will you will help you experience those values more often and what would not.
Jeni: Yes, exactly. I’m like, Yeah, I don’t set resolutions, I set intentions and I try to happen. He really values based.
Cindra: Yeah, that’s great, great suggestion. So we’ve been talking Jenny a lot about kind of present moment focus and why you know that’s important and to label and acknowledge these emotions and getting our attention back to the present. Tell us from your perspective, like why that is so important. Just this present moment focus and I can kind of shares on my thoughts, but wow, how would you describe to a performer why that’s a central well, I think most performers have experienced this. When we asked about, think about your, your peak performance. Think about the time you are best like what were you thinking about the vast majority of them either. The answer is nothing. Or it’s something really like in that moment task oriented like I was thinking about you know some technique or mechanics or some sort of
thing. And usually not even thinking about it but like present with it. I think that sometimes it’s a little bit of a distinction, like I’m maybe not cognitively telling myself, you know, lift my elbow or release here, but I’m feeling it while I’m doing it. And so I think most athletes recognize that where they get into trouble is overthinking where they get into trouble is being in the past to the future and so I’ve yet to find a performer that doesn’t do their best in the present moment, because when we’re there all our energy is in what we’re doing right now as opposed to some of our energy being in the past, in the future, and taking away from what we need to do right here, right now. And so I think most athletes most performers of any kind can relate to this. So it allows us to do what we’ve trained to do it lets us get out of our own way and let our bodies or our minds, you know, depending what type of performing let out all that training. We’ve been putting in. And so I’m really big sometimes I’m connecting more for athletes with like the kinesthetic side like just being in your body like don’t necessarily tell yourself. What you need to
do, but feel what you need to do while you’re doing it, like commit to the field that works for you. And again, I think it just comes back to, we get out of our own way. And when we’re right here, right now. We are tending to do the things that work best, but we’re also more able to react and respond quickly because we don’t have to like stop thinking about something we can just take it in and shift with what we need to do. We’re just so much more able to do that. And in some sports that’s the difference maker right there. The decision making that happens at its best. When you’re present as opposed to in your head.
Cindra: Yes. Yeah, and you know what you just said about commit to the feeling that works for you. I think that’s really powerful in terms of present moment focus. I’m thinking about like even ways I perform if I’m speaking on stage and if I focus on how do I want to feel today maybe inspired or courageous, you know, that’s very different. I show up very differently. So yeah, I think that’s really powerful. And I’m thinking about how really the present moment, I think, is the only place we can be at our best I’ve never heard of anybody saying oh I experienced flow by thinking about the past?
Jeni: Right when I was ruminating on last the last game. The last inning, like, no. Or I’m worried about what Coach is gonna say when I get back to the bench like no one performance at their best.
Cindra: So good. What are ways do you think or what would you suggest to a performer who wants to learn actually how to do that. What would you suggest that they might do to get to train their mind to be more in the present?
Jeni: Yeah, there’s so many awesome ways to do it. I think, you know, mindfulness meditation is one that’s, you know, very popular right now and there’s a million different apps like headspace and calm and some other ones. So that’s a great foundation that’s pretty accessible to most of us in terms of learning more traditional mindfulness meditation, which has us kind of present with our breath, being able to notice thoughts and let them go. So definitely encourage everyone who’s interested to try that out to get a feel for it. And ideally, engage in like a more intensive mindfulness practice. There’s really cool research about how that changes our brain, like the actual structure of our brain and makes a really big difference for not only performing but just everyday life with happiness well-being. Reduction in stress and all of that. So, so that’s one. But I think some more applied ways to do it are incorporating it into your everyday life. And so some of the suggestions I tend to give my athletes is mindful walk. So you’ve got to walk on campus in normal I for virtual right now but in normal life. You have to walk across campus. And so most of the time they’re thinking about what’s the next thing I need to do, or they’re on their phones or whatever it might be. So I tell them, like but your phone. The way take your headphones out and from walking from this building to the next building just notice all the senses notice everything going on like feel the ground beneath you feel the sun on your skin hear people talking without actually like tuning into it watched the leaves falling off the tree like spend not walk being present noticing and your mind’s going to wander that always does. It’s what or nine steal that use that as an opportunity to notice when it does, and then redirect back to that next step where your foot makes contact redirect to that sound of that leaf. You
just crunched like take that walk, which you have to do anyways. Like, this is not adding time to your day, but instead of it being a mindless walk, let it be a mindful walk and train that focus of just being or we’ll talk about something like when you take a shower. Like, again, you have to do it. You can’t really do anything else while you’re doing it. You know, you can think about things, but you can’t actually do anything so for that time you’re in the shower, feel the water pressure feel the temperature, you know, smell your so like be present and when that mind wanders just bring it back. So these are really good like everyday ways to train that ability to be present and be focused so I like those because they don’t do any extra time for us.
Cindra: Yeah, and they’re really practical and I think about how many times I think I’m you know practice mindfulness at least that’s my intention, but there’s still so many times throughout my day that I’m I unless you know, especially when you’re singing in the shower. I’m like, oh, I’ve taken mindful walks and then mindful eating, but I haven’t been in mindful shower.
Jeni: It’s awesome. I highly recommend. You know, and then for athletes. I think one of the like next steps of training. This is to bring it into the stuff you tend to do mindlessly in sport. So I will tell my athletes and teams all the time like put this in your warm up or you’re stretching or something else that you just go through the motions, like most of the teams we work with you do the same exact warm up no matter what. But most of them do it really kind of mindlessly going through the motions. So if you start on that, like, first jog instead of just doing it like feel your feet may contact field how your knee lift when you’re stretching. If you are feeling that kind of stretching your hamstring. You know, like tuning into your body, especially staying focused on the movements of these things. You know, again, the tedious stuff that you do all the time, but you really get curious and present and notice how your body feels when you are doing these very, very basic things. That’s an amazing way to train it or like in the weight room like I work really closely with some of our strength and conditioning coaches to incorporate these concepts. And that’s something we talked about, like, how do we get them to be really focused on what they’re doing while they’re doing it in some of these types of repetitive activities and with something like lifting, there’s an added benefit of they’re likely to do it better and get more out of it. Just like once we perform on the field. But I think building up to that and training that skill of being present with those types of things makes a really, really big difference. And then applying it to pressure moments and intense situation.
Cindra: Yeah, and I can see when we practice it throughout our day, right, that just that it’s more like who we become for sure that we’re doing it as we perform and only as you know in our in our performance, whatever that is. If it’s on the field or in our job or in our business. So Jeni, tell us something about the work that you do with teams and maybe let’s just get started there. And then I can kind of dive into that deeper?
Jeni: Yeah, I love my teamwork. It’s so much fun. If you know I obviously love working with individuals to but the dynamic of a team is really fun to work with and I am super fortunate here at UNC we’ve got really high caliber teams to work with an amazing coaches that I have learned so much from so it’s just the environments exciting. What the teamwork that I think is best, and that I enjoy the most is the consistent teamwork. So I have a number of teams here
that I meet with really, really regularly either weekly or every other week, which you know, the world of collegiate athletics, where there’s limits on hours to have a coach give you any consistent time is incredible. And so these coaches have done a really nice job of demonstrating the value of sports psychology by making it a consistent part of training and so my work with teams tends to be a mix of kind of team culture team dynamics work and performance psychology work. I tend to do a lot of front-end team culture work because I really genuinely believe that’s such a difference maker at this level. That the teams that have that foundation can push each other more can work harder can put themselves out there more. And so we invest a lot on the front end on building that culture in a few different ways, you know, goal setting values work and connection work. I think it’s really important that teams aren’t to be vulnerable with each other that they learn to really know each other as human beings and that they develop way authentic ways of communicating with each other. So we do a lot of that on the front end and then kind of shift more into the performance work after that. And, you know, it looks lots of different ways depending on the team, but I tend to be very, very discussion based I always want my teams talking to each other. These athletes are together all the time, but they rarely actually get to talk as a team, without someone talking at them. And so I find that, whether it’s team culture or performance stuff like giving them that space has just been so valuable and they come up with awesome stuff and I’m just like, I just feel lucky to be a part of it.
Cindra: That’s great. Yeah, I’m thinking about all the teams that have been really successful there that you work with. So that’s really great. You know, I just had a conversation last week with a coach, actually he was asking me kind of similar questions. You know, how do you develop she called it a championship culture and but I think it’s also like a healthy team culture, right. That’s kind of focused on high performance. So what are some strategies you might give let’s say a coach or a leader, because I think we, we also develop culture within our business within our family. So what are some strategies you could give us Jenny that will kind of help us consider that?
Jeni: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think one of the things I love about this work is the applicability to so many different areas and definitely I think what works in a collegiate team can work in so many other settings and so if, if I think about kind of three really key pieces and whenever already spoken about like rally around values like you know, I think teams really have to get clear on who they are. So values is the way I like to really dig into that and create this kind of collective identity based, not just on a goal, but on the, like, who are we, what matters to us and what are we going to do every single day. And then teams get to use that as a compass for themselves. And I think that’s such a key part of culture because that creates consistency when I work with teams on values we incorporate them into everything and they’re not just nice fluffy words like we really break it down to what does that look like. What are the actions, how do, how do we see this show up every day. You know, I’ll ask teams all the time like okay if I go to practice tomorrow, what am I going to see that I could be like, oh, there’s your value like show me it’s one thing if we say it, but we need to show it and live it and breathe it. And so I think when teams buy into this and really embrace it. That just makes such a kind of pillar of their culture, because it is something that ties everyone together because we’re all going to
bring the same revaluing the same things. And we’re working from the same understanding and it creates a consistency and how we move through everything we do that. It’s always coming back to these values and they’re things that teammates can reference with each other, that it’s, you know, if we need to, kind of like call someone out or call someone in that we can have it be based on values and it doesn’t have to feel personal it’s like hey we as a team said this matters. Right, what’s happening isn’t lining up with that, like, what do we need to do to get back around this and it’s kind of a non-threatening way I think to keep coming back to center to have that consistent piece for teams so identify values clarify values incorporate them into everything reference them all the time. So that’s, that’s one piece, I would think about.
Cindra: That’s great. I think that I’m just thinking about the teams that I work with. And it’s like, I think some teams do have pretty clear values, whereas maybe other teams don’t so and we can incorporate this into again to our work, or maybe even our family as well.
Jeni: Definitely, yeah. And then I think another step is like developing a real connection. And when I see a real connection. I don’t just mean like, you know, play some getting to know you games or like go have dinner together like that can be, but I really like for teams to be vulnerable with each other. I think that is such a key and I’m a big fan of Bernie browns work and lead to buy into the idea of vulnerability as courage courageous teams and I think we need vulnerability as a team to do that. I really encourage coaches to foster this by having them really get to know each other. Learn about their lives outside of sport, give them opportunities to connect. Ask them questions that challenge them. You know, to, to, like, open up with each other, create space for that in some of your team bonding stuff and make it real model at yourself as a coach, so they can see that and then from a more sport perspective really making space for athletes to connect around like their why their purpose their passion. That if you like really get underneath the surface can be very vulnerable for people. But we’ve got to create the space that they can dig into it. It can’t just be a surface level like okay, why are you doing this, like we’ve got a really good unpack it a little bit and create environments where they can open up and create environments where they can talk to each other about why and then this create something bigger than themselves that they want to fight for because they’re fighting for each other. They’re connected with each other. They see each other as like these real human beings that they care about. And then I think this kind of foundation then allows for hard conversations and it allows for more kind of work around mistakes and failure and all the tough stuff we run into. But we’ve really got to build this this foundation of connection and vulnerability. So although sometimes coaches don’t want to take time away from like the X’s and O’s in the physical training. I think there’s a lot of value in investing in that creating that connection and vulnerability and authenticity with your team on the front end.
Cindra: Yeah so powerful. I’m thinking about a story that I read about Clemson football and I don’t know if they do this in the offseason or when exactly they do this, but I’m guessing it’s probably in the offseason where it’s like this hot seat where a player goes on like a really difficult moment they had in their life so that people can connect with them and I’m thinking about I have to feel safe and secure to even share right so it’s like creating part of that
acceptance of each other regardless of the tough things that we’ve gone through or what I might describe is like a crucible moment. Right, that where you are, where you are today.
Jeni: For sure. Yeah. And you make such a good point that kind of leads to the third part. I was going to mention about safety like I think the other thing coaches absolutely have to do is create psychological safety. Now there’s been a lot of research from the business world, like Google did like a huge study about psychological safety and what a difference maker that was in successful teams and innovation and this applies to sport in a really big way. And when it comes down to it, like coaches are the environmental engineer coaches create that environment that allows that gives it an opportunity or not in so many ways like yes our athletes have to be the ones that like really go with it and foster it but coaches have to create it from the beginning. And so some of the ways they think about creating psychological safety and what I mean by that is creating spaces where athletes or performers, or whoever feel like they can speak up, they can give input, they can make mistakes. They can ask for help and feedback. It’s kind of like I can put whatever out there and I know I’m okay. I know we’re okay. I know my team is still there, and has my back. And when this happens, what a difference it makes when people aren’t acting out of fear or aren’t holding back because of fear, but are willing to put themselves out there, whether it’s with ideas or opinions with kind of speaking to difficult dynamics that are happening that are maybe problematic or like physically taking risks in their sport that you know tend to lead to really big outcomes and so creating an environment that allows for that kind of stuff. That’s what I mean by psychological safety and I think some of the ways that happens that coaches can influence is creating team norms, as part of it that like on this team. Everyone has a voice. You know, on this team we own mistakes like one of the teams. I work with, for example, one of the norms is when you make a mistake, you put your hand up like to just show like I got like owning it, you know. That was my bad. And you know that’s created a really cool culture around like ownership, but then also the ability to kind of come back to that person later and give some feedback because, you know, they know and it’s not a big deal. We’re just all trying to get better. You know, we’re all working for the same stuff and so creating team norms around that type of things like everyone has a voice. How do we handle mistakes. How do we get feedback. How do we communicate like that. So we all are on the same page takes practice. And we’re all going to screw up and not do it. But for coaches to work with their teams to create those norms are really helpful. I think another part of creating the psychological safety is have the hard conversations we tend to shy away from it because we don’t want to stir it up more, or we’re just hoping it goes that way, but being able to name conflict and address it and address it when it’s small, rather than when it’s loading. Even if it’s off the field stuff like it can come right on. And so I really encourage coaches to make that part of their practice. You know, we’re bringing a sports psychologist and if you want someone from the outside, but have the hard conversations and have the athletes have the hard conversations. That’s where that foundation of connection and vulnerability helps because we know we can and we still love each other. We’re still there for each other and then I think for coaches modeling it to how do you react to mistakes when they happen you know that sends a huge message, how do you kind of elicit feedback from your athletes, how do you kind of invite opinions from, you know, all players like modeling like walk the walk, talk the talk that makes such a difference in a big way. And then when you see your athletes are your performance
doing it well. Reinforce it like the whole catch them doing something right. Like when you’re like hey you, I saw that she owns her mistake and you came up after and gave her feedback. That’s awesome. That’s what we’re about. You know that just rewards like not that we’re not focused on the mistake, but we’re focused on what do we learn how do we grow from that and how do we handle it. So yeah, so I think that’s kind of the third thing I think about all the ways coaches can create psychological safety.
Cindra: So good. Dr. Shannon, thanks for dropping some good bombs their knowledge bombs that we’re going to call them and I’m going to put in the show notes the, I think it was a Forbes article that I read. I think about Google and psychological safety, but I’ll put some resources in there for people to learn and I think what you just said about like making mistakes. Okay, and that this idea that everybody makes mistake and paying attention to how we react as a leader to other people’s mistakes. So many times when I’m watching TV, right, a man or even when I’m at a game. I might see a coach blow up or, you know, the whole-body language of the team changes when an athlete makes a mistake. So what do you see, you know, the really good coaches do because you’ve got to watch some of them and be a part of their teams in terms of when an athlete does make a mistake. How do they react?
Jeni: Yeah, that’s a great question. And, you know, obviously, every question Find your own style, but I think the ones that I’ve seen that have been most successful are keeping their own composure, you know, which is hard and takes a lot of practice and a lot of their own work. But when they can keep their own composure and, you know, connect with the athletes around the mistake in terms of, you know, depending on the athlete like ask them like, Okay, what do you think happened out there you know I think creating some of that like very like let’s use this as a learning experience and obviously the middle of the game. You may not have the time to engage in that that might be more of a practice situation where you can engage in that, but I think the other thing that happens is telling me athletes, what you want to see in a constructive way so often, where I see coaches and that kind of blow up moment. They’re screaming at the athlete for what already happened there telling them they screwed up when made very obviously already know and I have yet to find an athlete that makes a big mistake that doesn’t know they made a big mistake. And so just really talk to them about how it doesn’t get them anywhere. So instead of doing that, helping the applicant to see like, Hey, here’s what you need to do next time like help them see what they need to do can be huge. And then it becomes again a learning experience. And that’s, I think, what mistakes and failure is all about. Is that kind of teacher learning experience. And so when coaches can embrace that idea to maintain their own composure and then be able to kind of coach, the athlete in that way. Not here’s what you screwed up. And you know what the hell are you thinking, but like, okay, that happened. Here’s what needs to be different. Next time, here’s what you need to do and that also helps the athlete direct their focus to the next right thing to that present moment focus
as opposed to being stuck in the mistake that already happened. So I think that’s probably one of the best responses I do love to have that like back and forth when there’s time without a practice or watching film, but in the heat of the moment. I think the best thing coaches can do is composure to share their own calm and then to direct to like the here’s what you need to do and I always so coaches, I tell this to athletes to it. If you don’t do it. Well, it’s always okay to
circle back and be like, Hey, so, you know, heat of the moment. Sorry I blew up. Let’s break this down, let’s learn from that. And I think that sends a message too.
Cindra: And I really good point of like when you help athletes learn it helps them get back to the present and doing their the direct their, their attention back to the next right thing. And as I was listening to Dr. Shannon, I was thinking about parenting. You know and how our kids make mistakes or as a business leader. It’s like, you know, mistakes happen all the time. So creating that psychological safety is a really excellent point. So one of the things I asked almost everyone on the podcast is to help us get an understanding of how you define failure and tell us about a time that you failed. So would you describe what failure means to you?
Jeni: So I think I kind of referenced it but like I think failure as a teacher like that is the biggest thing like it’s where we find our edge. It’s where we learn about the stuff. Maybe we don’t want to learn about but it’s like I have yet to ever experienced failure that hasn’t taught me something or work with an athlete where failure isn’t a teacher, but my mic to that is we have to be kind of curious and compassionate with failure to learn from it. And so I think as I’ve kind of wrap my head around failure and what that means in my work and personal life like that comes right along with it, like, yes, failure is a teacher 100% but only. I think if we can allow ourselves to kind of be curious about it and be compassionate with ourselves so we can learn and grow from it. If you think about some, I have a one year old and she literally just took her first steps, the other day.
Cindra: Oh my god.
Jeni: So if there is ever like a model of learning from failure. It is an infant, learning how to walk and like she has fallen down so many hundreds of times, but she doesn’t beat yourself up about it. She doesn’t stop trying. She doesn’t say, Screw it. I’m never going to walk you can like see the little gears in her brain turning and the next time she tries something a little different, and she balances for one more second. Before she, you know, and then it’s just like, it’s such a humbling thing to watch kids because you’re like oh that’s what we all need to be doing. And so I think of that, it’s like that quintessential example of like yep keep failing. But every time like getting something out of it and getting a teeny, tiny bit closer to it. So that’s, that’s my like real life recent example of someone else. So she got it.
Cindra: Back in April, I interviewed jack Canfield on the podcast. So he wrote all those books. Chicken Soup for the Soul I’m sure you’ve seen and one of my favorite books called the success principles and he talked about how like fail equals fall and so one thing, like always need to do is change that third letter instead of an I. It’s an L and it’s like okay, it just means when we fall we get back up. So thinking a lot about your, you know, learning to walk analogy, you pick yourself back up. It’s okay. With you taking this carry and compassionate approach.
Jeni: Yes. Exactly, exactly. So yeah, so a time that I think this came up for me, it was kind of earlier my career. So it’s a professional table so many athletics athletic since I could get but we’ll, we’ll go with that professional example on and it was a little bit earlier, my career and
there is a team. I was working with that. I just really wanted to impress and connect with and was like really just putting a lot of pressure on myself. And so if this was an example of jumping in without actually knowing enough about the team culture without really learning the team where I got engaged in this team session and the coaches weren’t there and it turned into a lot of complaining and I was trying to facilitate it again like I said before, really discussion based. And so I was trying to facilitate it in a way that everyone felt heard, and I could be an advocate for them. And I could help them figure some stuff out. But really, I just kind of got sucked into some drama of it and also didn’t know, kind of like who was on the team enough to know like, who were the leaders who are the influencers and what ended up happening where people who were maybe not as well respected or influence on the team kind of commandeered this session. And we’re, you know, complaining about things that were maybe perceived a little bit differently by others. And I ended up you know, I left feeling like everyone got their voice heard and they were feeling good. It’s like okay that was somewhere and then I got a call from one of the assistant coaches afterwards, who I hadn’t had some of the more experienced older players come to them and say that did not go well that was not helpful and it was like I had such a pit in my stomach because all I wanted was to do well with this opportunity and I would have learned from it, like it crashed and burned like I had to spend a lot of time we building credibility with the coaches and with the players after that because it just wasn’t helpful and it frustrated a lot of the players. So what I learned from that was you know one I got to know teams, a whole lot better. Before I start kind of facilitating those kinds of conversations I got really oriented to the culture and the dynamics of who’s who, but it also like brought up my insecurity and my need to be liked and like wanting to be joining the group and on their side over was what actually helped in the moment. So that was such an incredible humbling moment and teaching moment of like okay I’m to get grounded in my philosophy about how to approach team sessions, not just go in wanting to make them happy. And so I got real clear real fast on kind of my approach and what matters to me in session.
Cindra: Thank you so much. And you know what that same thing happened to me. Jeni: Maybe it’s rite of passage. Maybe.
Cindra: But it was when I was a doctoral student and so excited. It was a tennis team I clearly remember actually even though, as many years ago, I remember the room we were in because it was the same kind of thing. I kind of went into it just kind of trying to and the coach was really general we want it. We need some help, team building and we just want somebody to facilitate and it was the first session. I’d ever done with this team. I would never do this now because I learned a ton about what not to do. Well, you know, because I felt the same way. I was like, man, I did not represent the field, very, very, very well but learned a time and that makes me way better professional now so.
Jeni: Absolutely no I cringe when I think of it, and I do remember it so vividly and like I think of how long I have that pit in my stomach. But it was like it just it transformed how I approached my stuff so, yeah.
Cindra: That’s a great example of failure is a teacher and before we hit record we talked a little bit about the teams that you work with. And I know you work with some men’s teams there. Tell us about your perception of how you might kind of destigmatize just mental training in general with both men’s and women’s teams?
Jeni: Yeah. You know, I think the most powerful way to do it is have them talk to each other about it but you got to get in the door. First, and so, you know, I think the coaches have a huge influence on that the athletic trainers have a huge influence on that, like the people around them that they already trust in my experience has made a big difference.
Jeni: When other people are able to kind of vouch for it and sell it and like, say, hey, this is just as important as your physical training. This is where we get our edge, this is what’s going to make us better that’s the stage. And so that’s really big I you know my experience. The men tend to be a tougher crowd to get in the door and to like be bought in. So it’s so so valuable for someone. They already trust to set that stage, so we might not always have that. But, in and of itself is a men’s coach is inviting me in things like said, Okay, this is important like but giving up some of our precious time. This is important. So I try really hard to help them understand like how it’s going to give them their edge and to help them understand like you put all this time in to the physical stuff and, you know, the classic question so many of us ask like how important you think the mental training of or the mental part of your game and. They’ll all say, you know, 80% 90%. How much time you put into it. None 5% and so we’ll bring that up. But what I’ve been like to do once they kind of help them understand like how it’s going to benefit them and give them the edge is make it really tangible like give them really concrete strategies that they can go out and try that day in practice, you know, I think for men, in particular, getting to the nitty gritty of that has been really helpful. That’s where sometimes they partner with strength and conditioning and it can be reinforced in the weight room. And then when their conditioning can be really helpful. I’ve just as much application as possible so they can practice it, it can be tangible, it can be hands on and then hopefully start to see the benefit.You know, the team sessions are more broad and so as far as getting them in for individual sessions that tends to be a hard sometimes because nobody wants to say I’m struggling. I’m having a hard time and this comes up with the mental health side of it to even more so that when they have teammates who are willing to say like oh yeah I meet with Jenny every week or yeah I worked on my mental game with her, you know, my freshman year, or, oh, when I was injured. I met with her. That makes such a difference. You know, one of the teams. We’ve seen a huge increase in willingness to do individual sessions is our men’s lacrosse team and historically across campuses knows the crosses is a tough nut to crack. And it’s a tough team to get into. But it’s this combination of the coach making time and space for sports psychology. Their athletic trainer, that is like the biggest cheerleader in the world under services. And over time, the guys themselves talking about it. Like, that’s been the number one most powerful things. So I think if we ever have opportunities to encourage people to like talk about their experiences makes all the difference in the world. We had a senior class. A few years back that like half of them at least solder services and like talked about it, like, just like going to the training, remember the day edition and it just said a cascade of people coming in.
Cindra: Yeah, that’s great. Wow. You have given us so much to consider and I’m so grateful for your time. Dr. Shannon. Here’s a few things that I got from our conversation today is a way to summarize we were talking about the importance of kind of acknowledging how you’re feeling and taking more of a compassionate approach and then working from your values and realizing that you can take the next right action that you want to, based on your value. So I really appreciate our conversation about that in this idea of like name it to tame it. I also appreciated the ways that you provided us to kind of consider our values or how we might do that maybe to start the new year off the way we’d like to and the ways that we want to act towards those values and the ways that okay maybe what we would do that doesn’t act towards those values. and then at the end, we’re talking about team culture and you gave us some, like, three suggestions on how to develop team culture and you said rally around values develop real connection and then consider psychological safety and the different ways that you could do that. And then at the end, I really appreciate you describing a time that you failed. Most of you can see we did the same thing.
Jeni: Love it. I love it.
Cindra: I’m gonna leave that helps people as they’re listening. So tell us how people can reach out to you and if they like to follow you on social media.
Jeni: Yeah. So welcome to email me at my UNC email questions, Jenny.Shannon @UNC. And then I’ve got a UNC Twitter @UNCsportssite. And so, either. Those are good ways to find me.
Cindra: Awesome. Do you have any other kind of final thoughts for us?
Jeni: Oh man, I don’t know that I do not. It’s been a long year my brain maybe all out of thoughts, but I really appreciate the opportunity to talk into this stuff with you. I love these things and I think they’re just so, so important, and I hope it reaches more people who can embrace them and adapt them to whatever setting, they’re in, and whatever they’re working with.
Cindra: Absolutely wonderful. So, so great to talk to you this afternoon, and have a great holiday season.
Jeni: Thanks. You too. I appreciate it.