The Five Mental Barriers to Success

To truly study oneself and thus anything in depth, a student would need to find a natural tolerance of these five barriers to success.

Founder, Christian Isquierdo

In the Chinese Philosophy, the Five Elements of Healing, there exists a model of organizing health and well being that relate to the natural elements of Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire. These Five Elements exist in a natural state of tension and harmony to promote healing, diagnose illness and help practitioners find balance with holistic remedies.

Unbeknownst to many, I’ve studied under Grand masters of the Five Elements of healing to work with those in need for many years. Soccer is more of a surface mask in my ministry to help kids and people learn to find balance, strength and freedom;  through the years I’ve integrated my study of the Five Elements into what a teacher of mine called the Five Tolerances of Learning. I’ve since modified them a bit to include what I call, the Five Barriers to Success.
Dee Coulter, PhD of Education, taught me several years ago that a true student of “The Way” would start to dissolve connections between thought and the possibility for something new. By studying the space between perception and the space just before a “passing out” stage of consciousness– a relationship to chaos would emerge and become tolerable.
This physical and energetic state of being would help focus the body in the moment before thought and that one would need to spend time below the concept of language– thus “erasing the blackboard and wiping the slate clean.” This state of being would enable any practitioner to reach a Zen like mindfulness necessary for true learning to take root.
In popular wisdom, this has taken the form of “empty your cup,” but learning to coach soccer and these tolerances have allowed me to create a different perspective. To truly study oneself and thus anything in depth, a student would need to find a natural tolerance of these five barriers to success. And watching and learning hundreds and thousands of students learn at LeftFoot has allowed me to dive into these with a deeper understanding of the Five Mental Barriers to Success.

 

If a student cannot tolerate boredom they can’t find the depth of technique or meaning in the smallest variations— they can’t identity the smallest flaw in technique.

The first barrier to success is the Tolerance of Boredom.

In everything that we do, we’re distracted into being excited. Our attention span is so limited and disengaged from concentrating on the smallest detail for an extended time that most students cannot tolerate boredom and quit any action or series of actions that dull the mind. Their mind is so actively distracted that repetition is boring. Meditating on the smallest and finest details in massive repetition helps the brain concentrate and fine tune it’s neural network that refine the pathways to neural success. If a student cannot tolerate boredom they can’t find the depth of technique or meaning in the smallest variations— they can’t identity the smallest flaw in technique.
A lot of the success of LeftFoot students over the years, is the ability to push through this tolerance of boredom and begin to become aware of the smallest of small details. This refined focus eludes the distractible students who only want to “play” and get constant distraction.  And this tolerance of boredom then gets distracted by looking around and seeing everyone else doing the same thing, thus freaking out the mind since the session is designed for the player to go inward, to focus on the space between what they see and what they do. This barrier to success is rooted in distraction, it takes focus, and a special relationship to boredom to push through the same thing, the same technique and the same process of executing the movements. At this stage, learning isn’t fun, it’s boring, but a student begins to appreciate boredom as a freedom from distractions.

Only when both the student and coach can appreciate the silence of practice will the complexity unfold and reveal its secrets.

The second barrier to success is the Tolerance of Complexity.

This is where the mind desires simplicity in everything it does. The technical refinement of our interpretation of the Low Instep Drive or Heading progressions carries a massive amount of complexity in the movement and sequences of executing the technique properly. A student and even a coach can get lost in the variables of progressions that occur in every motion, every snap, every technique. It can be so overwhelming for a player to act what they think and for a coach to communicate what they see that the complexity can be overwhelming to both the observer and the observed. Breaking through the complexity is the freedom for the student and the coach to balance knowing and the unknown. This is where the Tolerance of Boredom is the mother of complexity.
Only when both the student and coach can appreciate the silence of practice will the complexity unfold and reveal its secrets. Simple and refined movement progressions can be done without speaking. True feeling of the movement through the body can emerge when both the student and the coach can silently study and reflect upon the actions of the technique to allow the chaos of the progressions to settle. Complexity of technique is overwhelming to the young student and coach, but tolerating the massive spectrum of refined skills allows students to elevate their understanding of themselves. Without the tolerance of complexity a student will wallow in frustration, stuck in the smallest element of movement — frozen and paralyzed with fear and doubt—establishing a connection that will fuze self-belief with self-efficacy in a debilitating spiral of failure and frustration.

Tolerance of Permeability

The third barrier to success and a critical stage in the coaching and student relationship is Tolerance of Permeability. At this point a student begins to exchange their personality for something greater than themselves. Its at this point that a coach begins to deepen their relationship with the player and forgets themselves in the relationship. This exchange between coach, student and subject material connects a player with an unnerving prospect. What if I’m truly great or better than I believe myself to be? What if I can do this? What if I can’t let go and become someone new or something different than what I came into the relationship as?
At this point students, coaches and parents begin to place huge barriers to protect themselves from being hurt. If I truly let you in, what will happen to me? If I truly give myself to making my technique better, who will I become? What if I work harder than you? What if I truly learn? This tolerance of permeability happens for every player in the academy at some point. They become Lefties. They have taken a type of personality change that might be perceived as cocky, arrogant, confident and bold. They have learned how to learn, how to perform how to demand more of themselves and others around them.

If I truly let you in, what will happen to me? If I truly give myself to making my technique better, who will I become?

Tolerance of Ambiguity.

The fourth barrier to success and sometimes the initial premise of the relationship is the Tolerance of Ambiguity. Soccer is a subjective sport with objective measures. Scoring a goal is obvious to all observers, but what works at one level is not what achieves success at the highest level. This ambiguity impacts both the youth coach and the youth player. At U9 no one really cares how the ball gets into the net, just that it does. Same with U16 State Cup games. At u16, its not the fastest player who scored all the goals at u13 that makes an impact anymore.
It’s the player who is at the beginning of the refinement period and entering an execution of tactical speed that truly makes an impact at this level of play. U16 is not a stage of learning, but of executing at speed and refining technique. This is why the Tolerance of Ambiguity is so difficult for learning. There are few milestones for any player to accurately know exactly what is required of them at any stage of the game. Between U9 and U18 so many subjective opinions exist about the game and player development that players and families have to live in a constant state of flux. Ambiguity exists to allow a player to refine their self-image, deepen their confidence in particular skills and make skills faster.
Refining the speed of thought, reading the game and acting faster can only help players progress through ambiguity since most coaches will always appreciate a faster player than a slower player. A player who slows down through the ambiguity and gets caught in the muck of thought ultimately short circuits the action. A player who cuts through the noise in their mind and acts with speed and intent will win most battles. It’s because of this issue related to speed of thought that so many coaches are focusing on younger players who often act without thought.
The concrete operational U11 player only acts; the abstract thinker that is emerging into systems thinking at U18 is often confused and set into patterns that have been entrenched for almost ten years with very little reflective abilities if they’re given instructions that run counter to their years of discombobulated coaching. To master this stage of learning players have to act and reflect. Take notes and read through years of learning; parse through what you learned at U12 and see if it still applies at U18. Then go thank the coach that taught you what you needed to learn six years before you needed to do it.

Ambiguity exists to allow a player to refine their self-image, deepen their confidence in particular skills and make skills faster.

Tolerance of Novelty.

Unfortunately our age of attention deficit disorder and constant distraction impairs our ability to truly master this stage of learning. But the Tolerance of Novelty is for the student and parent that is constantly motivated by, “did you learn anything new?” or “I just learned the same thing.” or my favorite, “it was the same exact session”, spoken by the trial parent who didn’t read our advice about not attending the same session twice in one week.
Learning is not the introduction of constant novelty. You don’t learn by living in a state of constant introduction to new material. Mastery of learning is the tolerance of the shiny new car. And with most coaches, we try to do a new session to keep things fresh or change the rhythms of the week. But development and mastery arise through repetition and study of progressive skills or actions that build upon each other. For the coach, this is when they’ve truly mastered their craft, when they can progress the session so that by the time the student reaches the end of the session they have had hundreds of opportunities to practice and refine the skill that is being taught.
The coach that adds new skill upon new skill on top of new skill hasn’t learned to guide the student through the learning, they’ve only entertained the student. Unfortunately, coaches have been in the market for entertaining students and making it “fun” for too long. Students and parents now come to expect that practice and learning have to be fun, exciting and new. Which unfortunately, is the final barrier to their success and then they run to find the next fun thing.

Constantly Learning About Life.

These Five Barriers to Success are constantly nipping at our heels as life learners. Whether it be our Tolerance of Complexity in situations that are ambiguous or it’s our attraction to novelty when we’re bored with what we’re learning. The deepest study of technique and the art of soccer encourages us to dive into the smallest of the small details without being distracted or lost in the study. Keeping things simple will only hurt us and we have to allow ourselves to be reflective, learn, evaluate, reflect and act in situations that are uneasy, complex and sometimes boring. It’s not that we can’t have fun with our learning, it’s just that we have to appreciate that the best things take time, commitment and a dedication to mastery before confident action is done at mind blazing speed.

“The coach that adds new skill upon new skill on top of new skill [in the session] hasn’t learned to guide the student through the learning, they’ve only entertained the student.”

About The Author

Christian Isquierdo

After 21 years of coaching with a long list of soccer accomplishments including two High School State Championships, Christian developed LeftFoot Coaching Academy. His unique background which includes studies in Zen Buddhism, movement psychology and the martial arts, has lead to the creation of a truly extraordinary approach to youth soccer coaching now referred to in his upcoming book, The LeftFoot Way of Coaching. With his passion and love of the game — it’s no mystery why LeftFoot Coaching has become a locally and nationally renown program. Christian founded LeftFoot in 2010 after going undefeated through club and high school the entire season en route to a #1 Nationally ranked team.

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