Archive for February, 2011

Is Your Cart Before Your Horse?

Sometimes during a workshop for golfers, I’ll ask the participants to take a moment to imagine a golf hole they enjoy playing (despite my tongue in check mocking of mental imagery I do employ it from time to time). Whenever this prompt leaves my mouth I realize there’s a bit of a cart and horse relationship that may have occurred in the participants’ minds. What made the hole each chose so enjoyable?

  • Did the player choose a hole that they score well on? Being able to score well on a regular basis led to the fond memories.
  • Did the player choose a hole that is a spectacular layout? Perhaps a nice ocean view or a panoramic look at cascading mountains. Something that stirred up good thoughts regardless of score.
  • Did the hole choice arise from great course design? A twist, a turn, a hazard or two, and fair but challenging green. A hole that challenged and interested the golfer and ultimately led to some good scoring now and again.

I can’t really fault any reason for enjoying a particular hole. If one is not finding enjoyment for one reason or the other, the clubs should be left collecting dust in the garage. This being said, the second and third reason are more appealing than the first. They reflect some sort of genuine love and appreciation for the experience.

Beyond this though, the third reason really resonates to me from a high performance golf perspective. A challenging and focusing task led to enthusiasm. The golf hole, the experience, the few swings, good attitude, and simple competition precedes the score. When this equation is out of order, consistent high performance tends to be elusive.

When you think about your sport, be careful, don’t put the cart before the horse.

Coach’s Culture + Player’s Growth = Great Play

The following line was included in a note to me from the parent of a young hockey player that is already on the radar of Hockey East schools:

He is playing very well… He is figuring out that the coach rewards hard work over skill and talent. So, he’s working harder at the less glamorous aspects of the game and getting more ice-time.

Adolescent successes made this player realize that he was “talented”… an unfortunate curse for player development if one is not surrounded by the right support systems or athletic culture. Talented or not – each new level provides new opportunities and challenges, and requires athletes to grow and learn. Fortunately in this instance both player and coach played their role. Through the struggles, stresses, and confusion that accompany transition the player maintained a willingness to learn. Though “talent” did not initially show itself, the coach trusted his philosophy and remained committed to developing players not just w’s and l’s.

Players can you keep an open mind… be willing to struggle… be patient… when striving to find your next level of play?

Coaches have you examined your philosophy so deeply that it can create a culture of excellence that sustains on both days when talent shows up and those days when it seems lack?

Dear Basketball Dad:

You don’t know me – but we’ve sat next to each other for most of this basketball season. First of all – let me say – I’m impressed that you come to watch each and every game your daughter plays. I’ve known plenty of young athletes who would love to have one or both parents attend even one game in their high school career. So showing up to each game certainly is a sign you care about your daughter.

And it’s clear you know basketball. I’m no mind-reader though – it’s clear you know a little about the game because you’re very free about sharing your expertise and what you’re seeing on the court – with me, those around you, the refs, and your daughter on the court.

It’s also clear you like statistics. I know this because after every game you go down and check the scorebook for your daughter’s numbers that night.

It’s clear you’re very invested in your daughter’s success on the court. Sitting next to you – it’s easy to sense the relief after a close win and the utter frustration that comes with a loss. You seem to live and die with each outcome of a game.

You know, I get it. I’m a sport-parent myself. I easily find myself getting caught up in the game – with his success on the field. Not too long ago, my son was getting subbed out and as he came running off the field, I was there to give him a high-five. “Good job today Dad,” he said, as he ran by me. “I didn’t even hear you once!”

It got me thinking. Didn’t he need me to cheer him on? Turns out – nope, he didn’t. He wants me to be there to watch him play. And that’s it.

Sometimes the level of support that we (parents) want to give is not what our young athlete necessarily needs.

So Basketball Dad – you’ve got to stop.

You’ve got to stop coaching your daughter from the stands. Everyone’s in the gym has a role to play. The athletes’ role is to play the game. The referees’ role is the police the game. The coaches’ role is to coach the players. As parent – you get to parent your athlete. Know your role.

You’ve got to stop shouting instructions to your daughter on the court. Ultimately, successful development of your daughter’s capabilities in competitive performances is predicated on her ability to make key decisions in crucial situations. In order for her to be confident in her own ability to make important decisions, she must experience opportunities where her decision-skills and self-confidence are tested and allowed to grow. Yup – she’s going to make mistakes. But let her learn for herself.

And you’ve got to stop investing so much in the outcomes: the wins and losses, her stats, and her playing time. They feel like tangible things – but in time – the medals, trophies, and news clippings become tarnished, yellowed, and worn with age. Value the effort and courage she displays each night on the court. Let her know you appreciate her effort. The memories and sense of pride that she builds as she faces different challenges each game will live on in her memory and grow in value over time.

The Situation: Determining or Enhancing

Big game players are the thing of popular legend. Unfortuantely, there are many times that big game players fail to show up during the little games. When all is said and done, that is not terribly impressive stuff.

The athlete that thirsts for the tough opponent and dreams about the championship contest while failing to put a reasonable amount of mental preparation and emotion into regular season contests tends to ride a roller coaster of an athletic career. Perhaps a good way to appreciate this inconsistency and learn to manage it is to understand the role of “the situation.” From the first documented sport psychology experiment in 1898 to the incessant discussion of home field advantage today, “the situation” seems to be an important player in mental toughness and consistency.

The question the athlete striving for greatness must as him or herself is, “Does the situation determine how I play?” Is focus and energy automatically found if the energy of the crowd is good and gravity of the challenge interesting? In such instances one must question the athlete’s ability to control (a.k.a. self-regulate) the mental game in preparation for competition. This also highlights how it may be easy to be off one’s game when the crowd is thin and energy in the building muted. The situation determining one’s mental game likely does not lead to a consistent competitor.

This being said, one would be a fool to disregard the value of a good house (as a musician may say). Standing in the tunnel about to burst into an arena of supportive, loud, and enthusiastic fans can really get an athlete going. The wise athlete however learns not to rely on this energy to lift him or her up. Rather they learn to manufacture focus, energy, and challenge in every situation that they face. It can be tough. It puts a lot of responsibility on the athlete for one’s mental game. It does however lead to big game player night in and night out. The second question an athlete should consider, “Does the situation enhance the quality focus and energy that I bring to the field?”

Find your focus and energy on your own and let “the situation” lift it to the next level now and again.


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