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Navy SEAL Preps Scrabble Champ for Big Game Pressure

Curses, screams and notebooks hurled in stress and rage are all part of top-flight Scrabble – in game’s 75th anniversary year

Scrabble star toughens tournament mindset with cold shower training

The US Scrabble champion is getting help from a Navy SEAL expert in warrior toughness to handle the pressure of top-flight Scrabble, in the game’s 75th anniversary year – and a gruelling few months of major Scrabble tournaments ahead.

New Orleans-based Austin Shin, 33, is the Scrabble grandmaster who is the only player ever to have won both the US and UK national Scrabble championships. He has won some 70 tournaments worldwide in all and long held a Guinness world record for the most Scrabble points scored in 24 hours.

Navy SEAL Master Chief (retired) Stephen Drum is the co-creator of both the US Navy’s Warrior Toughness training program and of the world’s first guided Cold Shower Protocol, available exclusively on Mental.

He has given both Austin and his wife and fellow Scrabble player Lindsay personal coaching to complement the in-app training he gives all users of Mental on strengthening their mindset and controlling stress using  the app’s Cold Shower Protocol.  

Lindsay, 40, is ranked 214 in the US. Husband and wife both follow a strict daily study regimen to improve their game.

This year has been the first since 2001 that the US has hosted the Scrabble World Championships (in Las Vegas, July 22-26). Shin is now prepping for the North American Collins Championship in Seattle, November 10-13, the year’s next big Scrabble showdown on the elite North American circuit.

Playing top-flight Scrabble is, of course, not the same as risking your life in war. The only parallels are that, like the Navy SEALs, elite competitive Scrabble is both an overwhelmingly male world and one that requires a cool head under pressure.  

It is a cliché of competitive Scrabble that all but the most composed players are prone under tournament conditions to forgetting familiar words and spellings. Curses, screams and the hurling of notebooks across the playing area in stress and rage are all part of tournament Scrabble.  

“People feel stressed even before a tournament because it’s like going into an exam after studying hard,” says Shin. “And then, with live streaming, you’re playing for the whole world to watch, with a camera pointing at you, and scared of making glaring mistakes.” The pressure gets to some.

“Mental uses cold shower training not just for its physiological benefits but because it’s an excellent training environment to simulate stress,” explains Drum, the app’s Chief Learning Officer and Master Chief Cold Shower Protocol Coach.  

“It enables you to achieve a neural state closer to the one you feel under extreme pressure, whether it’s on the battlefield or across the Scrabble board – and causes the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline.”

Mental gives men simple, evidence-based and action-orientated tools, including cold shower training, to help them beat stress, build discipline and find purpose.

Drum’s cold shower regime trains Mental users gradually to cope with the “good stress” of taking a cold shower – as a way to immunize themselves against “the bad stress” of their daily lives.

“We use cold water as our training environment,” explains Drum.

“Mental helps you intentionally ramp up stress, via the cold showers, and then trains you with practical tools for handling it in four key areas: tactical breathing, body relaxation, self-talk and mental clarity. These enable you to dial it down on command – the same way we train in the SEAL teams.”

Other mental health apps tell you to breathe and calm down when stress hits. “We’re the only ones that intentionally ramp up stress,” says Anson Whitmer, Mental’s CEO. “Because increasing stress this way for just a minute a day will reduce stress the rest of your day.”

Austin Shin himself is better under big game pressure than many but always looking to improve.

“We’ve both been enjoying the Cold Shower Protocol,” he says. “During tournaments until now, we normally took warm showers in the evening but we think now we’ll try a cold shower in the morning or lunch break, to help stay calm and focused.”

Adds Lindsay: “We also drink strong coffee during tournaments to stay alert throughout a long day of up to eight games. But a cold shower may now be a healthier way to get that jolt of alertness.”

Austin thinks that Mental’s cold shower training will also help him handle the pressure of his day job, doing logistics for a fruit import business. “You have constant deadlines and targets, which can get really stressful.”

The world’s top Scrabble player, meanwhile, is a New Zealander called Nigel Richards, who is famed for both his superhuman memory and his supreme calmness under pressure. “He’s always in control,” says Austin. “He never cracks.”  

But then even he has never played against those with mindsets toughened by a Navy SEAL Master Chief and the rigors of cold shower training.

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