Broadcasters talk about the “Big Mo” in sports. Momentum. Athletes can feel it on both sides of a big play, teams feel it when they come back late in a game and fans feel it when their team catches fire or goes cold as ice. I sure felt it on Saturday.
There are a lot of opinions in the sports science literature about the existence of momentum. It’s a difficult phenomenon to nail down cause it’s difficult to measure. As a coach, I’m much more interested in what to do about it than I am in its measurement.
I like the Multidimensional Model of Momentum proposed by Jim Taylor and Andrew Demick. They define psychological momentum as “a positive or negative change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event or series of events that will result in a commensurate shift in performance and competitive outcome”. They go on to talk about the six key elements to what they call the “momentum chain”.
- Precipitating Event. Examples include an interception or a fumble. The impact of these events on athletes varies depending on how they perceive it and their level of self-confidence.
- The precipitating event leads to “changes in cognition, physiology and affect.”
- A “change in behavior” stems from these internal perceptions of the athletes.
- Next comes a “change in performance”.
- Momentum is a two-way street and needs a “contiguous and opposing change for the opponent.” In other words, if after a fumble, the recovering team celebrates and increases their psychological momentum, but the opposing team does not experience an equal negative psychological momentum shift then the immediate flow of the game should remain unchanged.
- Finally, if momentum gets this far, there will be “an immediate outcome change”.
My question is how do we break the “momentum chain”? Well stuff happens in sports so there’s no stopping “precipitating events”. It appears to me that the key to breaking the chain lies in step 2. It’s the old stimulus – response phenomenon. The brief moment between a stimulus and our response to it is the key to maintaining one’s Game Face under pressure. Top performers learn to control their reaction in the moment no matter what’s just happened.
Part of our coaching responsibility is to train our athletes not only in the “X’s” and “O’s,” but also in how to adapt, shift, and respond to stimulus or game-time situations. The window of training time between stimulus and response is short but there are a multitude of training opportunities through out the day – on and off the playing field. We must be vigilant with our athletes and train them to respond to all potential negative stimuli (mistakes, comments, grades, teachers, parents, weather etc) as challenges not problems.
The more we can get our athletes to respond to “life’s stuff” with their Game Face, the easier it will be for them to handle the ups and downs of competition.
The “laws of learning” below provide valuable insight into the learning process that will assist in providing a rewarding experience to your team.
Law of Readiness. An athlete learns best when they are ready to learn – they will not learn much if they see no reason for what they’re are doing. It’s imperative to provide a purpose and objectives for what you are doing on a daily basis. Posting and sharing your practice plans provides motivation to participate in the learning process.
Law of Exercise. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Things that are most often repeated are best learned. This is the foundation for practice and drill. It’s nearly impossible to recall something we do or hear once. Athletes learn by applying what they’ve been taught so build in ample time for “drilling”. Remember that practice makes permanent, not perfect unless the task is taught correctly.
Law of Effect. Emotion runs the show! Learning is stronger when accompanied by feelings of satisfaction, pleasantness, or reward and weakened when associated with feelings of defeat, futility or confusion. Negative motivation is an “oxy-moron”, it does not work in learning. It does not mean that we need to set it up where our athletes succeed in every situation. What’s important is that we engage our athletes and they feel like they are making progress. Like I always say, “Fun – the closest physiological profile to the zone AND the appropriate “F” word in sports!”
Law of Primacy. This means that what ever is taught first, often becomes the strongest. “Unlearning” something is harder than learning it right the first time. For the coach, it means what you teach the first time, must be correct. If your athletes have some “unlearning” to do, patiently start back at the beginning and relay the foundation piece by piece.
Law of Intensity. A real time, vivid learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring one. This is why athletes want to scrimmage rather than drill. It’s true, they get more from the real thing than they do from a substitute. Make your drills more like the real thing. Simulate playing conditions and tempo whenever you can. Video tape and stat practice just like you would a competition – talk about creating a sense of urgency at practice!
Law of Recency. Things learned last will be best remembered. The opposite is also true. The longer your athletes are away from a skill or tactic, the harder it is to remember and implement. It’s important to bring practice sessions and competitions full circle. Circle the team up and repeat, restate, or reemphasize the training and or competitive objectives. Leave your athletes with the important information they need to remember.
These six laws of learning are suitable for most learning situations. Keeping them in mind while planning practice helps to create an optimal learning atmosphere for your athletes.
Serena definitely had a temporary moment of insanity. Yet, you and I should not “judge her actions” from the comfy confines of our living room couch. Instead, imagine yourself on the sidelines as a coach or parent at one of our children’s games. It’s a great game. The score is tight. The lead goes back and forth. Time is winding down. All of a sudden a random whistle is blown. A rarely enforced rule has been called – it cost your child’s team a chance at the championship. Now how do you view Serena’s response?
Things happen in sport and in life. Lines get crossed or as Malcolm Gladwell calls it, “windows get broken.” What’s truly important is what happens next. Does the “window get repaired”?
The USTA definitely made the right call. They needed to step up immediately in order to fix the broken window. In doing so, the officials at the US Open protected the honor of the game. No star is bigger than the game.
To her credit, Serena also fixed the broken window. It may have taken over 24 hours for her “emotional snow globe” to calm down, she did apologize for her actions.
One of my biggest coaching regrets is not defaulting one of my top players in the middle of an on-court tantrum. Her actions were neither in line with the program’s, nor what the stood for. So I was preaching one thing and my actions didn’t back it up. Sometimes the non-action speaks louder and has more impact than an intervention. As coaches, we need to remember that no player is bigger than the team or the game and the dangers of leaving broken windows unrepaired can be costly in the long run.
You set up your team code, now what happens if somebody breaks it?
Simple. Call it! If you someone breaks the code, it up to someone on the team or the whole team to pull that person aside and say, “We agreed on X. I’m calling you on it right now. We are not going to do that here.”
The Code is useless unless folks are willing to “Call It”.
In a strong team culture, “stuff” gets handled informally – by the players. It is not the coaches responsibility to “call it” on folks. It is up to the players to call it.
How to Call It:
- Pick the appropriate time and place to do it. In private if possible.
- If it’s difficult for you to do this, acknowledge your feelings about it. Let them know you are uncomfortable.
- Ask permission. Is it ok to talk about it right now? If they so no, honor it and ask them when would be a good time to talk.
- Talk about and correct the behavior not the person. Depersonalize it – talk about the behavior. “This (x) is the behavior we agreed to…”
- State specifically and succinctly what didn’t work – avoid the whole story! Then offer a solution. “We have an agreement to be on time. You were 10 minutes late. If you need some support or need to be reminded let me know and I will call you.”
- Remind them of the benefits for them and the team when we follow the code.
- Remind them of the line of the code.
- Allow them to respond. Listen. Thank them for listening to you.
If and when you see them correct the behavior – acknowledge it.
Teach this process to your athletes. The pay off is huge – fewer “problems” come your way!
While sorting through the sports sections after my recent trip to the East Coast, one headline jumped out at me, “Oregon’s Blount down for the count after decking Hout”. Having recently relocated to the Bay Area from Portland, all things “Oregon” still catch my eye. It seems University of Oregon football player, LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player after their game and just like that his college career ended.
At first I was shaking my head at yet another sport low light getting thousands of You Tube hits. Then, reading on a bit, I started nodding. Seems Oregon’s first-year coach, Chip Kelly made the tough decision to suspend LeGarrette for the rest of the season and there by defend his team “honor Code”.
After reviewing the incident, Kelly was taken aback when he saw the punch on tape. “That’s not what we’re all about. That’s not what we coach. That’s not what we stand for and it’s unacceptable,” he said.
I had just given a keynote address to over 700 high school athletes, parents and coaches on the importance of culture and the need to defend it. While I’m saddened by the incident, I feel hearted by Coach Kelly’s swift decision and display of leadership.
Go Ducks — only if the Bears are not playing!