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My Coaching Philosophy

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As a coach, I want you to succeed. I want you to push yourselves and improve. I want you to love this game, and come back to it time and time again. But first. I want you to be happy.

This is not just softball to me, this is life. When I ask you to tell me what makes a great player, I’m sure I would hear savvy base runner, strong throw, quick feet, hand eye coordination. But the characteristics I think that truly matter go much deeper than mere physical qualities and abilities. I think great athletes come from qualities like courage, persistence, selflessness and patience.

My entire career I’ve always heard, softball is an escape. But I never understood the true essence of that statement until a few years ago when I was working as an instructional aid in elementary schools. I had just moved to a new city where I didn’t know many people, my romantic life was a bit rough, my graduate program was working me to the bone, and I was trying my best to adapt to living in a large city. Emotionally I was struggling to get by on  a day to day basis. Going to work at first was tough, I truly enjoyed my job but I could feel myself going through the motions. I was physically there but my mind was always wandering off somewhere else.

Watching my students fully immerse themselves into the daily joys of being a third grader made me realize I should be doing just that with them. For Pete sakes, my job consisted of hanging out with eight year old kids coloring and playing games. It was an amazing job to have. It was hard at first to really let go of life outside of work, but with practice I was able to fully enjoy myself everyday.

We miss so many of life’s wonderful moments by worrying about the past or future instead of living in the present. When I found myself doing this at work, I would make myself recite three to five things that were in my immediate present. Things like, “It’s a beautiful day outside, we are playing balloon volleyball, and I’m coloring in third grade again “. It shifted my focus back to what I was doing, it got me out of my head and let me simply live in the moment.

I didn’t recognize it’s importance at the time, but softball is what got me through every speed bump I hit from 8 to 22. The game was always something that was there for me.

It was a place where I could forget the world and dive into the reality of improving as a player and becoming successful in a game I loved. The satisfaction of working hard, improving, developing relationships, and being a part of something that was bigger than myself allowed me to establish a healthy sense of self-worth. It was my out and saving grace when the world got tough. It reinforced the notion that even when life gets tough, there’s always a piece of it that’s worth fighting for, there’s always something to enjoy.

With that said, here on this field I want you to develop into the people you want to be. I want you to take this time to be selfish. Shut out the rest of the world and better yourself here. Develop or the successful qualities you have, and make them stronger.  

Quote of the day

“The wins and losses will fade away but the friendships and memories will last a lifetime” 

Choose Your Words Wisely

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We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s the little things in life that matter.” This statement couldn’t be more true for sport. The words coaches choose to use with their athletes can make the ultimate difference in how an athlete performs, and even how much they enjoy their sport.

Imagine you are on a basketball court waiting for practice to start. Your coach starts practice by saying, “Go ahead and take ten shots”. What does your mind’s eye see? A player standing at the freethrow line taking a few shots to warm up maybe?swish Now imagine If that basketball coach has said, “Go ahead and take 10 swishes”. Now what image do you get in your head? I happen to see shot after shot swishing through the bottom of the net.

The words coaches use can instantly shape the way an athlete’s mind views the task at hand. By using keywords like “swish”, it immediately increases their focus by directing the mind to concentrate on a precise desirable outcome. The mind automatically visualizes a ball swishing through a net which will actually help the player perform more successfully. Imagery is a popular sport psychology tactic that consists of a mental rehearsal through visualization. It’s been proven to be effective in improving sport performance at every level of sport, from novice to expert. Instructing athletes to “swish” the ball prompts the mind to do just this, visualize the outcome.

Most coaches, without thinking, constantly tell their athletes “Nice play”. I prefer to comment on my athlete’s effort. Here’s why: Telling an athlete you loved their effort rather than commenting on the outcome, puts the athlete in full control of their performance. They now understand that what you are looking for is hard work. Hard work trumps a clean play any day in my book. huddleTalented athletes can slack off at a practice and still have the chance to perform well. By rewarding the effort the athlete put in, you can reinforce the importance of working hard and improving skills no matter what skill level the athlete is currently at. You can also compliment the athlete on what specific mechanic they did well so they know how to be consistently successful.

As a coach choosing your words wisely can make a world of difference to your athletes.  Take into consideration the following sentence that was said by a coach after a 11-0 run rule victory. “ I just wanted to say sorry to you younger kids who didn’t get into the game; we didn’t score enough runs early enough to get you in”. This statement makes those younger girls feel as if they aren’t good enough to play unless the team is ahead by a bunch of runs. It implies that the coach doesn’t trust their talents to keep the game within reach. Instead the coach could say, “I just wanted to say sorry to you younger girls who didn’t get in the game, due to the high amount of runs scored the game ended in 5 innings and I didn’t have enough time to get you guys in.” The difference here is immense, especially in the minds of high school athletes.

As a coach, the words you say matter. It’s the smallest thing, but it makes the biggest impact.

Quote of the Day:

“It’s the little things that matter most”

Setting the Tone for the Season

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Every great coach has his or her own coaching philosophy. They know what they value, they know what they want to emphasize, and they know what they expect out of their athletes. It’s the foundation that guides the way they interact with their athletes, it guides the practices they plan and execute, it guides the consequences they give, and it determines the persona they fulfill as a coach.pyramid success

I believe a great way to start off a season is by having the athletes create their own philosophy and code of conduct for the season. By doing this exercise early on, it immediately sets the team culture or “tone” for the season. The athletes will know what is expected of them, and what the consequences will be. They will have a structure to guide their behaviors. This will alleviate the coach of disciplinary issues because the athletes already understand how to comply. This code of conduct and philosophy will set the foundation for the team and give them an immediate sense of identity; “this is how we do things here”. Allowing the athletes to create their own code of conduct gives them a sense of autonomy. They are more likely to buy in to the philosophy if it’s something they create on their own.

IMG_9645Not only does this create a great jumping off point for the season, but it is also a great team building activity. The athletes are forced to collaborate with one another, which means they will have to overcome conflict. From a coaches stand point, it’s an opportunity to see personality traits emerge: who acted as a
leader, who kept the group on task, who added a lot of energy to the exercise, who was more concerned with social goals, who was a good listener, who allowed for everyone to be heard?

It’s optimal to have this activity facilitated by a coach, especially for younger teams. Help your athletes think through all facets of their sport. Make sure to include social aspects into the code of conduct, as well as more sport oriented things like effort, attitude, and punctuality. A great way to end this activity is by having athletes come up with a team motto that sums up their philosophy. This team motto is a great way to remind the athletes what they stand for. It’s something they can print on team shirts, wear on wristbands, or hang on a banner near the field. It’s a constant reminder that mentally prepares them to excel everyday.

Quote of the day:

“To inspire, to excel, and to take pride in one another; together we are one!” – PHS Varsity Softball’s Team Motto 2014 

Develop Team Captains

Many coaches designate team captains at the beginning of each season. I myself was a team captain on multiple teams throughout my career. A speech I saw at the AASP 2014 Conference made me realize that coaches usually lack intentional leader development. leadershipMost coaches appoint team leaders at the beginning of the season and then never revisit the issue. Coaches commonly assume that team captains know what’s expected of them and how to perform their duties.

It isn’t that simple. In order to have an effective team leader, coaches need to play an active role in developing those qualities that make a great captain. When designating a leader, coaches need to first understand their own definition of leadership. Define leadership on your own before designating a captain. This will help to solidify your choice in athlete to become the team leader.

Most coaches pick a player, pull the slot machine lever, and hope they help lead the team to victory. This hit or miss strategy isn’t the most efficient. In order to get the most out of a team captain, the athlete needs to understand exactly what is expected of them. As a coach, write out the duties you expect your team captain to perform throughout the season.

What duties are you expecting your team captain to perform?team cohesion chico

  • Are you expecting them to help with instruction?
  • Do you expect them to keep their teammates on task?
  • Do you expect them to deal with conflicts between teammates?
  • Do you expect them to be the messenger between the team and the coach?
  • Do you expect them to lead warm ups?
  • Do you expect them to help their teammates make smart choices on saturday night?
  • Do you expect them to designate which jerseys the team wears?

Explicitly lay out what is expected of the team captain. This way, once a leader is designated, the athlete will know exactly what is expected of them and where to focus their energy.

Being a team captain is no easy task. leaders are expected to be friends with their teammates but also be looked at as a person of authority. They wear many hats; they are a friend, a mentor, an advocate for the team to the coaches, a student, an athlete, a representative,and a role model. Vans-PartyWearing all these hats can be a STRESSFUL position to be put in. Finding a balance between friend and captain can be a slippery slope. Great captains will always put the team before themselves, and this can sometimes cause their own personal performance to suffer.  Team captains can tend to get so caught up in their role as team captain, that they lack the emotional and physical resources to put their all into enhancing their personal performance. THIS IS OKAY. As a coach you can help your team captains get through this and allow them the time to settle into their new role.

Leadership can be seen as a continuum. It is a skill that needs to be developed. Offer team captains the resources they need to fulfill their role successfully. ducksBring in speakers, give them articles or books, and ALWAYS give them an open door to come in and discuss their difficulties. It’s beneficial for team captains to have someone they can come to with concerns and struggles. There are situations where they will need advice and support for the decisions that need to be made. It can be helpful for team captains to have a mentor that they can confide in and discuss issues. Set aside specific meeting times for your team leader to come in and talk about what’s going on. Role playing difficult situations can really help the team leader deal with situations effectively.

Intentional leader development is an invaluable focus for teams to put forth. It’s easy to simply designate a team captain at the beginning of a season and send me them on their way to lead the rest of the season. Captains are going to need a coaches support to be the best they can be. L.E.A.D. – learn from theory, experience through practice, analyze through reflection, deepen through mentoring. Don’t leave the success of team captains up to chance, help them become the captain that will lead the team to Victory.

 Quote of the day: 

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams 

Implementing Self Determination Theory

This past month at the 2014 AASP(Association for Applied Sport Psychology) Conference I had the privilege of hearing Edward Deci Speak. Edward Deci is a world renowned researcher who is most famous for his work with Self Determination Theory. Self Determination edwarddeciTheory states that athletes have three basic needs that need to be filled in order to foster intrinsic motivation; competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Intrinsic motivation is something we experience in instances where we are motivated to do something because we enjoy it, the task engrosses us, and we don’t require external rewards to keep our motivation. When athletes are driven by this type of motivation they tend to excel; when we love something we want to do it all the time and have the desire to improve. An atmosphere that fulfills the above needs for athletes is called a needs supportive environment. These are environments where athletes can truly thrive and reach their maximum potential.

Competency: Athletes need to be able to demonstrate their abilities in order to feel as if they are competent in their sport. Autonomy: Encouraging autonomy through self initiation and choice reinforces their internal drive by giving them more control over their progress and success. Relatedness: Showing athletes that they belong and are apart of something bigger than themselves fosters our universal need to belong and interact.

So as a coach how do you create a needs supportive environment that caters to your athletes needs SelfDeterminationTheoryand fosters intrinsic motivation? Below are a few simple ways coaches can do just that. As you read through the following examples keep in mind pressure is the number one killer of intrinsic motivation.

Relatedness:

Try to relate to and understand your athlete’s perspective. Acknowledge their emotions and the way they see things. Listen to your players and validate the way they feel. “I know it’s hot out and you guys are working hard, I appreciate that.” “I know it’s boring to take 70 swings at a hitting station by yourself.” Let them know that you can relate!

Provide meaningful feedback. Be specific; a simple “good job” doesn’t inform the athlete which skill they performed well. Make sure you insert a specific aspect in your praise. For example; “that was great, you kept your hands inside the ball on that sports-vballlast swing.” Try to give feedback Immediately after the action is committed. Giving feedback so quickly helps to reinforce specific skills as opposed to whole performances. By giving athletes meaningful feedback you are conveying that you care about their progress, your athletes will feel like their progress is an important factor in the teams success.

Give a rationale for requested behavior. If coaches offer reasons for the behaviors they request from their players, the athletes feel less controlled. On the team I currently coach, our players were braiding each others hair during our warm up time. As the coaches we told them this behavior was unacceptable. At first they were frustrated and angry; they wanted everyone to look uniform and ready for competition. After we explained that hair braiding needs to take place prior to warm ups because it’s distracting, they were more accepting of our rule change. They now understand that it is hard to mentally prepare to play a softball game when they’re physically focusing on braiding hair. Giving reasons for the rules and expectations of the team helps athletes to feel on the same level as the coaches, they are apart of the team, not being controlled by the team.

Autonomy

Encourage self-initiation and experimentation. Intrinsic motivation is derived from doing something because you enjoy it, and want to succeed or participate. Encouraging self-initiation and experimentation gives athletes control over their progress and success. Allow them to try new things, and find new ways to succeed. Let them be apart of the coaching process. Ask them what they think they should do to better their performance and then help them create an action plan to attain it. Make it their choice to get better.

Offer relevant choices. Reinforce the autonomy of your athletes by allowing them to make relevant choices. For instance, if you know you are going to work on both defense and offense at practice, why not let them choose which one they do first? Allow them to put together their own warm up routine, like I’ve mentioned before in my blog; Autonomy breeds pride. sport_laBarbera_06Pressure kills intrinsic motivation; try not to force your athletes to work hard or even participate. Give them the choice, they know what the consequences are but the choice to participate is completely up to them. The key to this approach is keeping emotion out of your voice. Implying you will be angry depending on the choice they make is the same thing as demanding they participate or work hard. Use an even tone and let them know the choice is up to them. When they do choose to participate, you are reinforcing their autonomy by encouraging self initiation.

Competency

Calibrate for optimal challenge. Athletes need to practice and compete at the edges of their abilities. This way they fail and succeed at a rate that keeps them motivated. Make sure practices, and the level of competition pushes your players but also allows them to achieve success. This threshold of success and failure reinforces their need to feel competent. They will be able to demonstrate their competency by improving and achieving success despite their failures.

Focus on indirect rather than direct competition. Indirect competition refers to athletes competing against themselves, whereas direct competition is when athletes compete against an opponent. When athletes compete against themselves, they focus on progress and being their personal best. There is less pressure in the situation and they can easily see their progress, in turn driving their motivation to keep progressing. I’m not suggesting that all direct competition is bad. It’s important that when athletes partake in direct competition, their personal best is acknowledged and you as a coach reinforce the parts of their performance they can control. Athletes can never control the performance of their opponent, they need to focus on their own personal performance to succeed and recognize their progress. I talk a little bit more about this in my blog: Where is Your Confidence Coming From?

Minimize use of controlling language. When athletes continually hear must, should, or other language that controls their actions, they feel as if they aren’t good enough to govern themselves. It also evokes pressure which again is an intrinsic motivation killer. Try to keep the controlling language to a minimum and let your athletes thrive.

They key to producing elite athletes is instilling a love for the game, something they will come back to over and over again simply because they love the sport.

Quote of the day:

“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.” – Mia Hamm

Put Happiness First

03Our society is a little backwards. We say work harder so you’ll be more successful and that will make you happier. However when we work hard and achieve success, we then just push our expectations higher. So our brains never really get to revel in that successful feeling and immerse itself in happiness.

Why don’t we work backwards? Studies have shown that “happier” people perform better in many contexts. Doctors make quicker more beneficial decisions, and students perform higher on tests. This is because these “happier” people have more internal resources to dedicate to their successes, in other words they have fewer negative distractions. Research has done studies that ask participants to increase their happiness levels. This is done by learning to live in the moment, increasing gratefulness, engaging in random acts of kindness, engaging in meditation and regular exercise. If we could increase the happiness indexof our athletes they would have more personal resources to put into sport. We could help athletes enjoy their sport despite the outcome of competition.

Increase an athlete’s happiness? That sounds like quite the daunting task for a coach. I’m telling you it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it may actually make coaching easier in the long run. Here are a few simple things you can do to assist your athletes in becoming happier more productive assets to your team.

Living in the moment: As humans we tend to spend only 53% of our time actually living in the present moment. We are constantly worrying about or anticipating future situations or analyzing and reliving those in the past. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to get lost in the present moment. Matt Killingsworth found that the more we let our minds wander, whether our thoughts are negative or positive, the less happy we tend to be. So how do we stay in the present moment and how will that improve sports performance? When you realize your mind is wandering and you aren’t focused on the task at hand, silently name 5-10 things that are positive and within your present experience. For instance if an athlete is at practice and they realize they are thinking about their weekend plans or last nights TV episode, they might recite these five things silently: 1) I am outside on a beautiful day and the sun is shining. 2) I am surrounded by teammates that I enjoy spending time cd_skatepark_getout_061611_32with. 3) I am playing the sport I love. 4) I am about to take a fly ball. 5) I feel confident in the way I’ve been performing at practice. These thoughts immediately bring the mind to the present and keep thoughts focused on the task at hand. This immediately increases the mental focus of athletes and helps them to perform at a higher level because they are using product thoughts to aid their body’s performance. Matt Killingsworth’s Ted Talk

Count your blessings: Expressing gratitude to someone else has been found to increase happiness by 25% according to research. Those who are thankful for the good things in their life tend to be more optimistic, energetic, empathetic, and generous. It’s easy to dwell on the negatives in this fast paced, ever changing, social media crazed world we live in. Give your athletes a chance to be grateful for the positive things in their life everyday before or after practice. Team members, as well as coaches, can share out loud 3 things they are grateful for, or you can have teammates partner up to share their gratitude for the life they are living. Being grateful for the way things are today is another way of living in the present moment and keeping distracting thoughts at bay.

Random acts of kindness: this-beautiful-random-act-of-kindness-was-photographed-give-this-awesome-guy-a-like-for-caringResearchers have conducted studies where they give participants $20 dollars. The participants are either told to spend that money on themselves or someone else. Results suggest that those participants who spent their money on other people were happier and more satisfied with their purchases than those who spent it on themselves. Happiness research has come to the conclusion that random acts of kindness leads to living a happier life. As a coach you can make this part of your team culture. Make it apparent to your athletes that generosity, selflessness, and kindness are highly valued on your team. After all they are key characteristics of a good teammate. Set up friendly challenges where athletes strive to outdo each other in the number of random acts of kindness they commit in a day. It can be things as simple as lending a stranger lunch money, giving a stranger a compliment, bringing a teammate a new hair accessory, or bringing a special snack for the whole team to enjoy after practice. These acts of selflessness will show the athletes that they are in this together. When someone is willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group others tend to feel more secure and are willing to put forth more effort. Knowing that their teammates are putting others before themselves will help the team come together and be stronger on their rise to victory.

Regular exercise: Since I am focusing on sports regular exercise is 4bb87f872f32423626104be6b8f010a5418f1c93something that you as a coach are already taking care of. However, sometimes the workouts we get as an athlete aren’t enough. Encourage your athletes to do more off the field, keeping our bodies healthy is a foundational step in attaining higher levels of happiness.

Meditation: I’ve never been a promoter of meditation but a Ted Talk I watched a while back gave me a new perspective. We all know it’s imperative that we let our bodies rest; sleep is the time when we recharge our batteries so we can function at the proper levels the next day. As athletes we stretch our muscles, and rest our bodies between practices and competitions in order to heal and reboot. However, we never give our mind this courtesy. Our minds are constantly going 100% all the time. We are thinking, worrying, wondering, focusing, calculating all day long, and then when we go to sleep we dream. Our minds never get a moment to shutdown and reboot. This is where meditation comes in. Giving the mind the break it needs can be the key to seeing the world and ourselves in a whole new light. Ask athletes to take ten minutes out of their day to do absolutely nothing; no mind wandering, no texting, no TV, no reading, just being. Ten Mindful Minutes Ted Talk

Using this philosophy and working “backwards” to success will show your athletes that you care about their well being. When an athlete knows that a coach cares about them as a person and not just an athlete that aids in the teams success, they are more willing to go above and beyond for that coach. Increase their happiness and in turn1247259.large increase their commitment to the sport, and their drive for success. Happier athletes are more productive athletes simply because they have more resources to put forth.

Quote of the day:

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” – Omar Khayyam

An Alter Ego as a Competitive Edge

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As a young pitcher my disposition was naturally cheery on the mound. I was smiley, and for the most part, completely relaxed. My personality Brian+Wilson+San+Francisco+Giants+Photo+Day+kRgjKI-PYv1lhelped me throw well and kept me calm in pressure situations, but I wasn’t exactly intimidating to the opposing batters. I lacked the intensity of a foo-man-shoe mustache that most MLB relief pitchers sported back in the day. My coach thought I needed a “fear the beard” edge over my opponents. His solution, sunglasses; every time I went on the mound I was ordered to wear sunglasses in an attempt to intimidate the batters I faced. This memory got me thinking; maybe the girls who need a little extra umph out there on the playing field could create an alter ego to release their inner all-star. Beyonce does it, why can’t we!

Sasha Fierce is the infamous alter ego of Beyonce Knowles that allows her to be sassy, sexy, and all kinds of fierce during her on stage performances. ‘When I’m onstage I’m aggressive and strong and not afraid of my sexuality. The tone of my voice gets different, and I’m fearless. I’m just a different person”-Beyonce.?????

Alter ego’s can be a source of mental preparation before taking the field. Instead of going through their mental routine before competition to prepare themselves to play, athletes could focus on transforming into their alter ego personality. This personality may be a little more intense, a little less outwardly emotional, and more self-confident than their normal self usually is. I’ve always felt that the competitive side of me is different than my everyday personality anyway so creating an alter ego may actually help athletes put their game face on.

Give your alter ego its’ own name and its own look.This new persona should be very vivid in your mind, see their body language and how they hold themselves. Know how this person would react in all situations, to failure, to distractions, to successes, and injuries. Even give your alter ego a background story. Where do they come from and why are they so unbreakable on the field. The more filled out this character is, the easier it will be transform into them at game time.

Pulling on this persona before competitions and practice will allow you to leave reality and step into work mode. Life distractions will seem more distant because they aren’t a part of your alter egos reality, they only know sport. Pulling on your alter ego suit will take some practice. Take a few minutes to step into your new persona just before practice and games. For a while you may have to re-engage your new persona during game breaks like Billy Chapel from For The Love of the Game, “Clear the Mechanism”. 

It takes just as much effort to mentally suit up as it does to physically suit up. Take the time to let your mind leave reality and enter the world of competitive sport. Maybe the best time to transform into your alter ego IS while you are suiting up. Visualize yourself changing into that person as you change into your practice gear or game day uniform. Let it be known to your teammates, they should be able to tell the difference between the normal you and your competitive alter ego. Commit to your new character, the less you break face, the easier it will be to become your alter ego when you need it.

Alter egos have helped many notable people in history to be the successes they became. Take the time to create the best athlete version of yourself you can, and next time you step out onto the field, GET YOUR GAME FACE ON!

 Quote of the day:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela 

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