On a recent visit to Oregon State University, I had the opportunity to visit with the men’s basketball coaching staff. The turn around story of the program intrigued me. This past season the Beavers reversed an 0-18 conference record in ‘07-08 and went on to win this year’s College Invitational Tournament.
I will be sharing many of the insights I gain from my visit in the weeks to come. One quick story can’t wait. I find myself telling this tale to coaches in person and would like to share it with you.
Assistant coach, Nate Pomeday took me on a visit of the facilities. When we entered the locker room, I noticed a dictionary sitting on it’s own stool at the front of the room. This was a new one for me. I can’t recall ever seeing a dictionary prominently placed in a team locker room. Nate noticed my puzzled expression and promptly gave me the following explanation:
“Coach Robinson is always pushing education. Coach likes to use complicated words during practice and tells his players, “If you don’t know the meaning of the word, look it up.” He means it, we have a dictionary in our locker room and the players use it. It has become a game with the players to then use the words they have learned in television and radio interviews heard across the nation!”
I love this as an example of “how you do anything is how you do everything”. The OSU coaching staff wants their players to think on and off the floor.
As coaches, we want our athletes to develop their skills to the point where they become automatic, especially under pressure. Although nothing can replace the endless hours of practice that are required to make physical skills automatic, athletes can enhance their ability to perform sport skills automatically by using visualization.
Visualization or imagery is a proven tool of top-level athletes. Many successful athletes use imagery to create the perfect performance, seeing and feeling themselves perform at their potential. They also re-create past successful performances, calling to mind what they saw, felt, and thought. This kind of visualization allows athletes to create their performance twice: once in the mind and once when they actually perform the act they have visualized. In addition, visualization can help athletes manage their emotions, build confidence, refine their skills, improve focus at practice and prepare them for competition.
I like to think of visualization as mental movie making. Here’s a sample ‘script’ to help you introduce visualization to your athletes:
Picture yourself sitting in a theater watching a favorite movie. What images do you see as you look at the screen? What colors do you see? Who are the main characters? Who are the actors playing these characters? What are they doing? Now imagine yourself watching a different movie, one in which you’re the star. This movie will feature you performing at your absolute best at your sport. Imagine what you look like on the big screen. What are you wearing? How are you standing? What expression do you have on your face? Picture the opponent, the playing area, the fans, your coach, the referee. Make your images as vivid as possible. Engage all of your senses as you fill out the scene: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Watch yourself as you perform at your highest potential. Bring up all the emotional pieces as well: how it feels to perform well, the connection with your teammates, and so on.
In order to realize your potential as an athlete, make this movie again and again in your mind until it is vivid and believable. Remember, you learn new skills faster using a combination of physical practice and mental imagery than using either one alone.
Coach, visualization is a great tool for you as well. Incorporate it as part of YOUR preparation routine. See yourself running practice exactly the way you’d like to; coaching your best during competition; handling a difficult meeting or conversation with grace and integrity.
In addition, you can change your emotional state in the moment, by evoking the appropriate images during visualization. The chemistry of billions of cells within your body changes in response to what you imagine. In other words, you can change your emotional state by evoking the appropriate images during visualization. So if you need to calm down or psyche up prior to a practice, competition, meeting, phone call etc., take a few moments to visualize the appropriate images.
Enjoy the show!
If so, think again. Without time off (aka recovery) from any sport, the physical, mental and emotional strain will destroy your athletes. By the way coach, the same is true for you! Do you model for your athletes how to effectively take time off? Do you use your down time to refresh and renew?
One thing I’ve learned in more than 20 years of coaching, it’s that most coaches do not know how to take a break and turn their brain off. What we need to realize is that it’s usually not the stress that does us in; often the culprit is lack of sufficient rest.
In terms of “periodization” or a fancy word for a long term training plan designed to optimize chances for peak performance at desired times, seasonal breaks are called “Active Rest” phases. Now that your competitive season is finished, it’s time for you and your athletes to put your equipment down for a little while and allow your body to recover. This is one of the most controversial, yet most important, areas of periodization. Remember, without proper rest, you’ll just wear yourself out mentally and physically.
However, it’s called “active rest” because you shouldn’t just sit on your duff. Do some cross training, play other sports for FUN and relaxation.
“Stress is the Stimulus for Growth. Recovery is When you Grow” – Dr. James Loehr
Here’s a great exercise for you and your athletes:
- Take a blank piece of paper and divide it into 4 columns
- Going left to right, name the columns as follows:
- 2-5 minutes
- 5-30 minutes
- 30 minutes to ½ day
- ½ a day or more
- Jot down the things that are fun for you. Put them into the columns below according to the amount of time they take.
- Time how long it takes you to run out of ideas.
- Draw a line when you find the ideas are no longer coming quickly and you have to stop and think a while between ideas.
How many activities did you come up with? You might be interested to know that most busy adults run out of ideas after they’ve thought of 10-15. Ten year olds have easily generated 55 ideas in the same amount of time. How many could you think of quickly before having to really search for ideas?
Count up how many ideas you have in the first two columns and how many you have in the last two columns. Which is the larger number? What does this tell you about the problems you are having finding time for fun on a daily basis.
The last two columns give you ideas for your summer break. Continue to brainstorm ideas in the first two columns so you’ll have plenty to choose from once the season starts up again!
Does your assistant coach have your back? You better hope so. I just got off the phone with a colleague who quit coaching last week. The final straw was sabotage by the assistant coach. Granted, the entire season was fraught with challenges and upheaval – difficulty with a star player, an unsupportive administration and more than the usual amount of complaining by players and parents. Despite all that went on, the team was successful on the court and the head coach earned conference coach-of-the-year honors for the second year in a row.
One of my coaching mentors, Rolland Todd always warns head coaches that “there’s often more mischief with assistant coaches than with players.” What does sabotage and mischief look like? Holding team meetings and not telling the head coach, not backing up the head coach in front of the team, going to the administration behind the head coaches back, siding with players and calling the head coach out in front of the team.
I know all too well the “tight rope” an assistant must walk between supporting the head coach and being there for the athletes. I was an assistant coach for a good portion of my coaching career.
So what should a head coach do to avoid the potential pitfalls with assistants? Do the hard work on the front end in order to minimize hassles down the road. This includes the following:
- Spend time evaluating your own strengths and weaknesses.
- Look to hire folks who are strong in areas where you’re weak.
- Write a detailed assistant coach job description.
- Do your due diligence before hiring someone. Talk to coaches the person has played for and worked for. Talk to athletes who have played for them.
- Have prospective assistants submit a written coaching philosophy as part of the screening process.
- Give a copy of your coaching philosophy to all potential candidates.
- Write out and ask thoughtful interview questions. Here are some samples:
- What qualities would you look for if you were hiring an assistant coach?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a coach?
- What is the role of the assistant in building a program?
- Why do you feel you’re the best person for the job?
- How would you deal with a player that came to you complaining about the head coach?
- The day you hire someone, ask them to articulate their expectations of you and of themselves. Then explain your expectations of them and of yourself. This way you are on the same page from the beginning.
- Have your assistant(s) introduce themselves in person to the team. Have them discuss their philosophy and their role as an assistant.
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities on the coaching staff.
- Make it very clear where and when “the buck stops with you.”
- Meet with your assistant(s) on a regular basis to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Implement an evaluation process at the end of each season where you prodice feedback to your assistants and vice versa.
Yes, there’s a lot of work involved. Remember – the more you do on the front end the less you have to do on the back end.
Lebron James is a great athlete yet not a true competitor. He plays hard and“leaves it all on the floor” as they say. Unfortunately he forgot to leave his handshake as he walked off the floor after game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Here’s LeBron’s reasoning for ignoring the Magic players:
“It’s hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I mean, I’m a winner. That’s not being a poor sport or anything like that. Somebody beat you up, you’re not going to congratulate them on beating you up. I’m a competitor,” he added. “That’s what I do. It doesn’t make sense to me to go up and shake somebody’s hand.”
I’d like to give LeBron a quick vocabulary lesson.
The term “competition” comes from Latin roots and literally means “to strive with” – not “to strive against”. A true competitor strives with their opponent.
According to David Shields, author of True Competition: A Guide to Pursuing Excellence in Sport and Society (Human Kinetics, 2009):
“In true competition, the contest enables all who participate to push themselves toward excellence. When we are true competitors, the challenge provided by a worthy opponent, and the effort we exert to try to win, are valued because they help us reach the boundaries of our capacities. True competition is mutually beneficial to all who participate. Everyone gains through pursuing excellence, and by experiencing the enjoyment that comes through vigorously pursuing a worthy goal. Sure, winning is more fun. But win or lose, we gain.”
Hey LeBron, where would Magic be without Bird (and vice versa)? Where would Nadal be without Federer? Venus without Serena?
True competitors honor their opponents and know that without them there’s no opportunity to grow, to improve, to engage and bottom line, there’s no game.