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“Don’t Look Down!”

“Don’t look down!”
If you’ve been involved in athletics in any sport at almost any level you’ve probably been told this. It is a kinesthetic principle that where we look tends to be where we go. “Keep your head tight ropeup!” is a reminder to maintain balance, stay focused, and to keep from keeling over. As a former athlete and coach, I’ve heard and said this thousands of times and witnessed what happens when one looks down. As a psychotherapist, counselor, and coach over the last 20 years I’ve seen hundreds of instances where the same advice can be applied to life challenges that my clients face.

What we focus on tends to be where we end up. The things that we most fear is likely to happen because we attend to it. When the fear becomes real in our minds it soon becomes real in actuality. It certainly happens much quicker in athletic events, but it is inevitable in real life, even if it doesn’t happen as quickly.

There’s a great story that I heard a number of years ago that I have repeated to clients countless times since. I recently looked up this story on the Internet and couldn’t find it. The story is, however, such a powerful illustration of  focus that I will continue to tell it even if I find that it is false. The story is something that New York Giants football coach Bill Parcells told his team prior to their first Super Bowl victory in 1987. If you’re not familiar with him, Parcells is a Hall of Fame coach and one of the great motivators in the game’s history. On the first day of practice Super Bowl week, Parcells brought his team to the middle of the practice field, had them all take a knee, and told them how important it was for them to stay focused that week. He told them that the best team doesn’t always win, but the most focused team parcellsusually does. He then had his assistant coaches bring out a balance beam and place it in the middle of the field. The balance beam was the kind used in women’s gymnastics, approximately 5 inches wide. The beam was set at its lowest level, a foot and a half off the ground. He then had the entire team walk across the beam in their stocking feet. They then lined up again and walked back the other way. The beam was removed from the field, and Parcells barked “Alright everybody take a knee!” He then launched into a lecture that is the take-home point of this story. “All of you had no problem with that. But what would happen if I raise that beam as high as possible? What would happen if I were to raise that beam and placed it between two buildings in downtown New York?… You know what would happen, you’d probably all fall. And you know why…? BECAUSE YOU LOOKED DOWN! YOU LOST FOCUS AND STOPPED LOOKING AT WHERE YOU ARE GOING!”

Not much more was said that day about focus. This experiential learning event made an impression on his players. They did remain focused and defeated the Denver Broncos 39 – 20 the following weekend in Super Bowl XXI. As I said before, I’m not sure even if the story is true as it is something that I remember hearing years ago. When I tell a client this story it never fails to make an impression. Their eyes usually glaze over a bit as they ponder the story, their eyes clear, usually they nod and say “Yeah, yeah…” Stories like this often become powerful vehicles of change for clients.

shot putSports Psychology has a lot of carryovers for Counseling Psychology. Perhaps no athletic principle is more applicable than “Don’t look down” and “keep your head up.” Think about this metaphor when struggling with motivation and staying on task with goals you have set for yourself.


“See what you hit, hit what you see.”-A Lot of Anonymous Coaches


P. S. Check the categories section on this page for more articles like this. Contact me at john@mindbodycoach.org if interested in mindbody coaching. Like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

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