Posts Tagged 'coaching'

Skill + Time = Results

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

It’s quite obvious that player development is based on building skill over time. The more an individual works at something, the more skills are developed. As skills are passionately pursued throughout a significant timeframe, expert performance appears.  Yet, it can be difficult to maintain this perspective on a daily basis – especially around tournament time. As competition nears, other ideas seem to bubble to the surface:

How many points is this tournament worth?   Who is in the field?  What’s the winning score going to be?

Although these thoughts are exciting to consider, they also tend to become a distraction to performance. The more distractions that arise against the player development mindset, the less attention an individual has to focus on the task at hand; and distracted is not a mindset which is synonymous with success.

Throughout training:IMG_20141007_085300583

Golfers don’t practice making birdies, they practice making smooth swings.

Golfers don’t practice shooting 4-under par, they practice staying target focused.

Golfers don’t practice getting recruited by a college or turning pro, they practice patience.

If distracting ideas start taking over (make birdie, shoot 4-under, get recruited) especially around tournament time, unreliable results are likely to follow. Discussions based on short-sighted results breed a mindset linked to distracted performance, frustration, lackluster effort and potential  burnout.

Parents, coaches and athletes who reinforce a player development mindset (Skill + Time = Results) seek long-term growth and build healthy competitors as a result. These individuals see competition as an opportunity to exhibit skills (smooth swings, target focus and patience) and test personal limits. When skills continue to remain a top priority throughout training and competition, consistent results unfold. As individuals consistently take part in dialogue filled with themes of player development, birdies happen, scores drop and barriers continue to be broken.

This post was originally created for & can also be found at


One Foot In, One Foot Out

The micro-cultures of sport are strong. Norms, values, and common practices of coaches and athletes create athletic worlds that are truly different from the world that exists outside of their locker rooms and playing fields. Walk into many a boathouse and you will see the endurance pain and suffering at the hands of a ergometer praised (i.e. this is not hyperbole… we’re talking blood hands and lost lunches… passing out is praise-worthy not medically questionable). Consider bounty-gate. Within the confines of a NFL locker room encouraging career-threatening harm to fellow players is seen as a path to Super Bowl glory. Witness the hockey parent that seeks out the sport psychology professional because his child is afraid to “hit” other kids. Never mind that “check” is a term more beneficial and sensical, failure to “hit” others is seen as an obstacle to the Hockey East scholarship. The micro-cultures of sport have some strong beliefs.

The strong beliefs of sporting cultures are wise, they have been built on many decades of experience and from the mouths of many passionate coaches and teachers. The strong beliefs of sport are also caps on potential. They may lead to good play, but it is important to question if they truly lead to great play.

In rereading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, I was struck how his description of Berlin Wall falling created a new word-view that “unlock[ed] enormous pent-up energies” was a concept that benefits sport culture.  Friedman states, “The Berlin Wall was not only blocking our way; it was blocking our sight.”  So often the tried and true traditions of a sport’s micro-culture blocks our way and blocks our sight.

This failure to see beyond the walls of habit and comfort that we tend to create is a common theme when considering potential unrealized.  It’s a subtext to many of the thoughts, reflections, and examinations of neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer.  In reading through many of his recent blogs and his new book Imagine, the willingness and ability to think about things “differently” is at the core of creativity and achievements of great renown.  Stepping a bit out of the context and culture in which one practices, competes, and coaches could be considered essential for great strides forward.

Finding the muse of high performance also requires the sport scientist to have one foot in the world of the sport at hand and one outside of it.  A great example of this mindset in coaching action was the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra’s off-season continuing education efforts.  He spent time with Oregon Duck football… rather than excessive hours on the hardwood.  Love or hate the Heat, I feel pretty good about the growth of a team whose coach grows in the sport by looking beyond the sport.  A wise coach asks, “What am I saying?  Is there a better way to say it… one that has greater resonance and meaning to my athletes?”  The excelling athlete wonders, “Just because a television commentator highlights it, is it a truly valuable concept to occupy my competitive thoughts with?”  Conventional wisdom in all sports can lead to good things, great things lie ahead for all athletes and coaches that put windows in their walls so they can look outward for other perspectives on daily practice and approaches to game day play.

Coach Like a Marine

The United States armed forces do a tremendous job teaching men and women a variety of performance and life skills. I had the opportunity to sit down with university Marine ROTC commanders and cadets to discuss the development of high performance programming. The meeting struck me with a tremendous lesson in leadership for sports coaches.

You may have seen many tough as nails, drill sargents glamorized in the movies… have all kinds of wild images about hell week at Quantico dancing in your head… but do you have a good sense of coaching done Marine-style? I sat at a conference table with two commanders and three cadets. There was definitely a rank and order to the room, but strength and leadership emanated from all corners. The commanders had some ideas, checked to see if their ideas meet the cadet realities, asked the cadets for their ideas, made decisions together, and made it clear that the cadets will lead battalion actions and performance.

Marines are tough and are built to battle. They are not abusive in their coaching style, but rather collaborative and empowering. There’s nothing soft about a leader that recruits strength and leadership from within the team… one can argue it’s the coaching style that creates the bravest competitors to walk the planet.

No Sails on a Crew Shell

Yesterday I spoke at the What Works Summit at the Institute for Rowing Leadership at Community Rowing Inc.  I shared ideas on creating a culture and language that is build for success in competition.  As things concluded I was asked how I felt about coaches using the quote, “Do or do not… there is no try.”  Did a coach preaching and speaking this idea help rowers?

I had to take a moment before answering.  I have enormous respect for coaches and strive to see the benefit in even the most questionable tactics.  Yet, all do respect to Yoda, the quote above seems like a lot of hot air coming from a coach.

Not so bad I suppose if you boat has sails and could use an extra gust of wind, but not so helpful if you’re looking to motivate or focus athletes.  Perhaps the coach sounds cool and sounds coach-like, but it really requires a bit more thought.  As far as I can figure, at best it it allows athletes to know that there is a Star Wars fan in their midst.  At worst, it confuses an athlete and minimizes the value of a genuine effort.

Cool quotes are too often hot air.  If your team’s not sailing… question the wisdom of all the bluster.

Humbled Again

I think I am pretty decent at helping athletes and coaches find their potential.  I have studied hard for many years and will continue to do so forever.  I have worked at levels and with athletes I only dreamed about not too long ago.  Yet on an almost daily basis I am humbled.  I might be particularly humbled today.

Some days, I think I have “great” ideas.  Today I finished reading Run to the Roar and was reminded how few (if any) of my “great” ideas I can take full ownership over.  Coach Paul Assaiante is the winningest coach in collegiate sport’s history (perhaps winningest coach ever).  he is also my friend, mentor, and coach.  In Run to the Roar he lays himself and his coaching open for all to see – warts and all.  It is amazing, educating, and inspiring.  It truly is a book with something for everyone.  He’s a squash coach but this is a story of humanness, community, family, and the search for excellence.

I graduated from Trinity College 14 years ago.  To this day, Paul Assaiante’s teachings and spirit are stamped on my work.  It is possible that every single one of the workshops I give to anyone in sports includes at least one Assaiante-inspired idea.  So much for being original!  Perhaps I’ve found the science behind his pedagogy and some day’s I’ve changed the words a bit… but still some days not too original…

A skeptic may read Run to the Roar and say, “Of course he can coach this way when he has talented athletes and wins national championship after national championship.  He could get away with doing anything he wanted.”  These would be words of someone struggling to trust the true path to athletic excellence.  The proof…. he was my coach… and I do not have a single championship ring to show for it.  In reading Run to the Roar, I see and hear the same exact coach that led my Trinity College tennis team.  A winning team, a successful team, but certainly not a national championship team.  Under his tutelage I won matches I had no business winning and for a moment or two felt I had almost as much kinesthetic intelligence as my brother had in one of his limbs (he was a scholarship tennis player while also being a frighteningly gifted distributor of the soccer ball).  Coach took a team of misfits (frat boys, Deadheads, meterosexuals, snotty preppies, and lost souls) and made them respected competitors.  “Overachiever” is an overused word, we went from good recreational players to competitors that would leave all opponents feeling the pain of playing us win or lose (I once lost a match 1-6, 1-6 but it took 2 hours for the opponent to put such a lopsided score onto the board).  Win or lose, Coach coaches for character and victory.  It is just a bit easier to get published on tales of winning… lots.

I am even humbled in my efforts at humbleness.  Coach A (along with my family) had a big hand in modeling this habit for me.  You will see it.  In his relentlessly self-effacing style, he shares his “stuff” with the world.

Someday, I may find one or two ideas to truly call my own.  Until then, humbled is o.k.  Thanks Coach for sharing with me and now with the world.  I hope all can find someone similar to you to inspire their “unoriginal” ideas.

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