Former South African Rugby National Coach Peter DeVilliers leans in, piercing me with his eyes while the echo of his words bounces around in my head.
A coach is merely the extension of a child’s dream.
I scream at these athletes to be more aggressive under the basket, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. I have three of the tallest girls in the league and we are getting outrebounded! I slap my clipboard to get their attention, but it seems nothing is working.
Then, the plastic clipboard shatters into about ten pieces and falls to the court all around me.
I call a timeout. Embarrassed by my actions, I frantically pick up the pieces of my shattered clipboard. My sixth-grade girls basketball team walks toward me with their heads down. It is only the second quarter of the first game of the season.
“Girls, I am so sorry.” “Why do you keep yelling at me?” asks Halie. “I’m not yelling at you, I am trying to get all of you to box out and get the rebound.” I pause for a response. I get nothing but blank stares. The girls look back at me and say nothing. “Okay, a fresh start. No more yelling,” I say. "Let’s just have some fun out there. Randy, get a break and let’s get back to the game.”
The girls say a team break and I can tell immediately I have not only shattered my clipboard, but also their confidence in me as their coach. For the rest of the game, I try to win back their trust but I can see I have a lot of work to do.
We lost the game. The year before, the team went 0-10 under a different coach. It looks like I might be headed in the same direction. I kept the post-game talk to about ten seconds then released them to get on the bus.
A friend of mine came to watch me in my first game as a girls basketball coach. On the ride home, it is silent for a few blocks, then she turns the radio down and breaks the silence.
“Why were you so upset?” “I know, I am so embarrassed.” “But what did you want them to do?” “Just get a rebound!” I explain. "I don’t know why it is so hard. They are the tallest girls in the league, and…” “I know,” she interrupts. “Do they know what a rebound is?” “Of course they do!” What a silly question, I think to myself. “So, then what kind of rebound drills have you done at practice?"
There it is. Dang it! She was right. In three weeks of practice, I had not once taught the girls to rebound, much less “box-out” to make it easier to get a rebound. I made the common mistake of believing my girls would just inherently know how to use their height as an advantage. The fundamentals are never too basic to teach. I think of Coach Lombardi when he would start every football season as an NFL coach with a simple sentence as he held up a football: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
Thanks to youtube, I found some great drills on teaching rebounding. I apologized to the team for my behavior and asked for their forgiveness. They accepted my apology, and and with hard work and determination, we ended up in the championship game losing in triple overtime.
Every season, no matter the level of the sport, a different team shows up. Though the athlete could be coming from the same school as the year before, every season has its own culture and feeling. 6th graders are now 7th graders, juniors are now seniors, so on and so forth. A lot changes in a young athlete’s life between seasons, and as coaches we should not assume fundamentals are as sharp as they were the year before, or that the athletes are coming with prior knowledge. As an adult, I need to be reminded more than taught, and that is also true for my athletes. Repetition breeds mastery, and as coaches we must not forget the importance of the seemingly mundane tasks of practicing the fundamentals. The lesson I learned was to focus on the basics and make it easy to unleash my athletes to reach their highest potential. The next time I coached at that level, I took a very different approach from the very beginning. (Here is a sample of one of the drills I do everyday).
Start your season with a clean slate, and make sure every athlete understands the expectations you have for them and the knowledge to live up those expectations. Good luck, Coach!
In my senior year of high school, I decided to see if my athleticism could transfer to the volleyball court. I had been a two-way starter on the football team all four years and had spent time on the wrestling team, baseball team, track team, and the competition cheerleading team. How hard could it be? Although I made the team, I did not play much. Volleyball, like any sport, requires a particular set of skills that must be developed and mastered. Not only did I not possess those skills or the years of developing them like my teammates, I was the shortest guy on the squad which did not help my playing chances. I remember my first day of practice being in awe of these athletes. They would soar through the air and smack the ball with a loud thud that echoed throughout the gym with ease. A ball would speed at them faster than I could track and they would somehow move their bodies right in front of it, bumping it perfectly to the setter to then create an echo from the air-assault on the ball.
Though I did not play, I took away lessons that I would later use as a coach. At the end of every practice, had us repeat an exercise I still use to this day. She would gather us up in an informal huddle and randomly ask each player one of three questions: with a few
She called it “You, Me, We” and we never ended a practice without spending a few minutes celebrating the good things that happened that day. I later found out she kept a record of who he asked on her clip board so no one would go more than a few days without having to answer one of the questions.
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YOU Getting a compliment from a peer is very powerful. As a coach, you may not have noticed something good that one of your athletes did during practice. This is an opportunity for players to notice each other and build each other up.
ME Many athletes dwell on past mistakes and that slows down their improvement or they focus on the mastery or mistakes of others. Give your athletes an opportunity to search for the good in their performance. Did they hustle more than the day before? Did they improve on something today? Force them to recognize some sort of improvement in their game and try to notice that in the next practice.
WE Celebrate the team. What is the team getting better at? Was there a moment in the previous game when the momentum shifted? Is the energy level of practice improving?
Focusing on self, others, and the team is going to happen whether you do this exercise or not. However, I find that doing this helps you as the coach guide the thought process of your athletes, leading them to focus on positives instead of negatives.
First of all, let’s decide something right now. You are not competing with anyone else, ever again. Starting now, your primary strategy is to make everyone else around you play at your level. You won’t make excuses; you’ll cause others to make them. You won’t play down to an opponent’s level; it’s up to them to play at yours. You won’t stop until the final whistle blows; you’ll go all out until the time runs out. If you can commit to that mentality, in practice and in competition, please keep reading.
I want to talk to you about building confidence. The definition of Confidence is the feeling you have when you prepare to win. Confidence is knowing you are prepared to compete to the best of your ability. Confidence means if anyone is going to beat you, they will be in for the fight of their life.
Confidence is not arrogance. Arrogance is an exaggerated belief in one’s ability to perform. Don’t be arrogant. In the movies, the arrogant guy always has a short career because his mouth and lack of preparation writes a check his body can’t cash. Like the fourth firecracker in a 4th of July finale, he was loud and bright for a moment but… what was his name again?
How do you build confidence? One word: Daily. When you show up to practice early, when you do drills all out, and when you stay after to do a little extra, your skills improve. With improvement comes better performance. When you perform well, you become more confident and take more risks. When you take risks, some of them fail, but some of them succeed. This cycle continues, all the while building up your confidence bank and increasing the belief in yourself that you are improving. I call it a bank because you get to spend that confidence on the unlucky sap across from you who did not prepare as well as you did.
The Olympics have a saying, “Not every four years, every day.” Confidence is the byproduct of constant intentional improvement. There is no such thing as a perfect practice, but you can give a perfect effort. A few days of perfect effort (eating healthy, resting adequately, and spending energy wisely) will give you a sense of confidence that will affect how much you trust yourself on the court, field, track, mat, or in the pool.
Like I said before, when you have confidence, you take risks. Do not be afraid of taking risks. In fact, fear is the number one way to deplete confidence in yourself or an opponent. When you are fearful, there is no room in your brain for confidence. Confidence is the absence of fear. Fear is removed by committing to and following through with proper preparation.
In After Earth (2013), Will Smith’s character says this about fear:
“Fear is not real.
The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future.
It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity.
Now do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real.
But fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story.”
A former coach of mine used to say, “Fear stands for Future Events Already Realized.” A confident athlete lives in this moment, right now. When a pitcher is asked to throw a fastball in the lower left corner, it doesn’t matter if it’s at practice, in a preseason game, or in the final inning of the championship game. The mechanics are exactly the same. Nothing has changed except who is watching. A confident pitcher will take that situation and throw that strike perfectly. What happens next is unknown – you can deal with that when it happens. Besides, you prepared for it in practice, right?
Confidence comes from taking responsibility for the only three things you can control as an athlete: your preparation, your effort, and your attitude. That’s it. Outside of those three things you do not have much say. Confidence is a frame of mind that comes from proper preparation and through the use of some simple tools. I am happy to share these tools with any young athlete who cares to learn. Fortunately for you, many young athletes believe they know it all, so if you decide to step up your game and use these tools you will have the mental edge. Professional athletes use these types of tools to build unshakable confidence and find immeasurable enjoyment in their sport.
An outcome goal measures what happens at the end. Once you get to an outcome goal there is nothing left to do. An outcome goal is built on process goals. A process goal is a goal that you can work on every day. It’s measurable and if it’s not working out or improving your game as much as you had hoped, you can modify the goal. For a basketball player it would be something like, “Stay after practice and don’t go home until I hit 7 out of 10 free throws.” Maybe you are a softball player and your goal at the batting cage is to, “Hit three balls to the left and three balls to the right in 10 pitches.” Write these goals down, talk to your coach about it, and ask for feedback.
You will make mistakes. All athletes make mistakes. If you never make a mistake you are not trying hard enough. The difference between the good athletes and the great ones is the amount of time it takes them to get over that mistake. The great ones exude confidence and take risks and some of those risks end up in failure. Create a mistake recovery ritual. A baseball player I work with makes a mistake on the field and literally holds his hand out, flushes a make-believe toilet, and then moves on. This is silly, yes, but it always puts a smile on his face, and the mistake is gone and he has moved on. I know a basketball player who, after he misses a shot he pretends to wash his hands of the missed shot, if the other team makes the rebound (one of his process goals is to always follow the shot to get the rebound so he can shoot again). Do this physical recovery ritual in practice and let it help you keep your confidence high in competition. You have to practice it or you won’t remember it in the game.
There is an old story about two monks walking along a river, one old and one young. One of their sacred vows included never touching a woman. An old woman appears and requests assistance to cross the river. To the surprise of the young monk, the old monk smiles, picks her up, and carries her across the river. He sets her down, nods his head, and then continues his journey. After a few miles the young monk cannot hold his tongue any longer. “You carried that woman and we are not suppose to touch women,” said the young monk. “Yes, my son. That is true,” the old monk responded. “I carried that woman, then put her down. You, however, have carried her this whole time.” The point of the story is that when we make a mistake we must not dwell on that mistake. Our brains want to remember what we did wrong because it wants to protect us. However, this means we forget about what we did right.
Get a small journal (I use the moleskin cashier journals) and after every practice write down three things you did good, or a positive moment you want to remember. I call it a confidence journal because it reminds you of the work you have put in and when you get to that competition you can pull it out and “prime the pump” of confidence. You did the work, you are ready for this moment, and it is okay that you may need to be reminded.
Confidence does not happen without being intentional about your improvement. Use these strategies and other mental toughness tools to build up your confidence to perform at your best ability. Remember the commitment you made at the beginning of this article, “You are not competing with anyone else, ever again. Starting now your primary strategy is to make everyone else around you play at your level. You won’t make excuses; you’ll cause others to make them. You won’t play down to an opponent’s level, it’s up to them to play at yours. You won’t stop until the final whistle blows, you’ll go all out until the time runs out.” Now it’s your turn…GO!
[ctt title="How to Develop Mental Toughness in an Athlete" tweet="How to Develop Mental Toughness in an Athlete http://ctt.ec/3GjIm+" coverup="3GjIm"] This past weekend I was in Southern California watching friends compete in a Tough Mudder. 10 miles and 18 obstacles requiring strength, endurance, and above all, mental toughness.
Mental Toughness has been a buzzword as of late, and completing a task like the one Amanda completed requires plenty of it. I ran across a Ted Talk that helps to explain what it takes to be mentally strong and how grit is a great predictor of success in students. She says, "Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals...and working really hard to make that future a reality."
But how does one develop mental toughness? As a sport and performance consultant I get asked this often. To answer, let's start with defining what it means. The short definition is: One's ability to perform at a high level under adversity. However, it isn't that simple.
Being mentally tough is not a static condition; it is dynamic. Mental fortitude can waiver for many reasons. Maybe it's not important to you, or maybe it's the end of a long, stressful day. Or maybe you don't see results quick enough so you give up right before the change you are working for happens. These are situations where being mentally tough will help you succeed.
If you have never watched Kid President talk about being awesome, it it incredibly motivating. My favorite quote from this youtube video is when he says "Some guy named Journey once said- 'Don't stop believing...unless your dream is dumb- then get a new dream.'" Kids today need to know its okay to chase after a dream. However, to make that dream happen, a lot of time and energy (and perhaps some good old blood sweat and tears) is needed to get that dream.
Mental toughness requires a person to aware of a situation, assess the situation for lessons to be learned, then continue your journey of improving. Being mentally strong is not about talent, its about effort. Can you give your all even though no one is watching? Can you control your emotions when everyone else is in crisis mode? That is being mentally tough.
One challenge I like to encourage people to do is to go a day without complaining about anything. For most people, it's not easy - it requires mental toughness, and it's also a great way to become aware of how you talk to yourself.
Athlete: Are you used to mom carrying your bag after practice? What if one day she didn't? Would you fall apart, maybe start whining because it's so heavy? It’s your bag- your stuff. Honor your mom by carrying it yourself, and open the car door for her while your at it.
Mom: Make him carry his own bag. He'll appreciate the experience more if he has to work for it, and it will teach him that if he wants to do something, then he has to work for it. You know from experience that anything you had to work for was, in the end, appreciated more than anything ever handed to you. Give him that experience.
Athlete: Maybe your dad hounds the coach to tell him you should play more, instead of hounding you about working harder to become better so you can earn that spot.
Dad: She'll be a better person if she learns to fight for herself. You won't always be there to fight her battles, and the sooner she learns to fight for what she wants in this world, the sooner she'll realize just how much power she has. Most importantly, she is learning to fight by watching you.
Here are some ideas to develop mental toughness:
[ctt title="How to Develop Mental Toughness in an Athlete" tweet="How to Develop Mental Toughness in an Athlete http://ctt.ec/3GjIm+" coverup="3GjIm"]
A short list of books on mental toughness. Sport Psychology is the study of concentration, imagery, goal setting, relaxation, and rituals. These five topics are what separate good athletes from great athletes and the successful from the unsuccessful. Here is list of my top 10 non-fiction Mental Strength books.
I am addicted to ideas on mental toughness. My addiction is so strong that I am currently finishing up my masters in Sport Psychology. In 15+ years of coaching youth sports I have found that a confident, prepared player can beat a more athletically gifted player 1/2 of the time just by being in the right spot at the right time. I also can tell when that "gifted" player is having a fit because they have never had to deal with that kind of adversity. As a coach, I capitalize on that moment, not out of ego to beat a team with superior players, but because I know the lesson that athlete is learning will be valuable later in their athletic career, that is if they don't quit, because according to The National Alliance for Sports, 70% of youth athletes quit sports before they turn 13.
Mental training is important for athletes to master. Knowing how to deal with things like pre-competition stress, injuries, a superior opponent, and a host of other things is many times pushed to the side in exchange for lifting more weights or playing another scrimmage.
Be the athlete that soars above the competition because you can handle the high-pressure situations. Be the coach that teaches the mental game, not just the physical, tactical, and technical game.
What do you say to yourself that beats you up?
Remember when you were a kid and your favorite thing to ask was why? As we get older, we stop asking that question. In return for our ignorance, we do things that make us less productive and waste energy.