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Catastrophic Failure

Failure is taboo in our culture. We hide from it. We brush it under the rug. We are taught that accepting it is weakness. We are urged to get back up, dust ourselves off, and try again.

I’m curious, is that always the best? Just dust yourself off and keep going? Does the rate at which we get back up and try again matter? Does it have to be immediate? I believe, sometimes, it’s best for your heart, your soul, and your growth, to pause. To pause and let the failure sink in. Reflect on it. Truly feel it throughout your whole being. Analyze it and determine its worth and meaning in your life. IMG_4489.jpeg

Over the past year I’ve experienced some BIG failures. We are talking category 5 storm type failures. Let me tell you; they knocked me down and they obliterated my heart. They were excruciating to swallow. They were hard to understand. The embarrassment was smothering. It felt impossible to accept that they happened. I couldn’t fathom dusting myself off and going back for more. Fails at this aptitude make your body cringe and skin crawl.

I truly don’t think it was best for me to quickly dust myself off and get back in the game. I needed to take a long hard look at why I failed and what I wanted my successes to look like going forward. Sometimes failures are so catastrophic they make you question who you are. I needed to understand what part of that failure was mine to own, and which parts I could release to others. Was their more to my self worth? Could I find passions in other realms to fill my self image? Was I enough? In the midst of the storm I needed to decide who I was despite the failures.

With time, perspective sets in. You get to see the reality without the emotion. It’s no less devastating, but your heart comes back to fight for you and it allows you to put the failure in its place. It allows you to see if for what it really was. It allows you to take the lessons learned and simply leave everything else.

Failure can be devastating but it isn’t everything. We all fail. Everyone fails. It’s not as taboo as our culture makes it. Without failure there would be less understanding, less learning, and less perspective taking. Failure is imperative in any journey. You need it.

For catastrophic failures, let them sink in. Don’t get whirled into the belief that you’re weak if  you take a moment to breathe. Allow yourself the time needed to check in with your soul; decide what the failure(s) means to you. File them where they fit. Grow from the lessons. Tip toe back out there when your heart is ready and merge into your lane with a new outlook. Find those who are there rooting for you, and embrace them every step of the way. Or don’t. Maybe your reflections will lead you to a completely different path entirely. Either way, it’s okay.

When faced with a catastrophic failure that shakes your whole being, take care of you. Listen to your heart and make the decisions you need to feel like you again. Don’t be pressured by the labels of society. You are not weak. You are not a failure. You are you and that’s something worth taking care of.

My kid is in a slump, what can I do?

Slumps are tough for kids. They begin to feel like no matter what they do they are never going to get a hit.IMG_3948 It tends to snowball into more of a mental hang up than a physical one. As parents and coaches we know dips and peaks in performance are normal, especially for our young athletes. So what can you do to help them get out of their funk before the negative mindset tarnishes their confidence? In order to help them regain confidence in their athletic abilities it is helpful if you reframe their definition of success at the plate by focusing on what they can control.

The goal shouldn’t be to get a hit because technically you aren’t in control of that. There are too many factors at play – umpires, pitchers, fielders, score keepers etc. The goal should be to have a good or productive at bat.

What does having a good at bat look like?

1. Productive mindset. This is a HUGE idea with so many ways to instill it but I’ll try to keep it simple. Explain that their thoughts need to help them succeed. They can’t just have random thoughts that wonder through their mind at the plate, nor can they have negative thoughts that hinder their performance at the plate. They need to have thoughts that will help them produce the outcome they want. Think of three things they can say to themselves in the on deck circle and in the box that will lead them to success. Have a mix of confidence boosters and mechanical cues. (Examples – 1. I’m a powerful hitter. 2. keep my hands high 3. Keep my weight back. Or 1. Step early. 2. I’m a great baseball player 3. See it and crush it.) Make sure these statements are phrased in an outcome focused manner. Have them say things they want to accomplish as opposed to things they want to avoid. (Example – Keep my hands high vs. Don’t drop my hands).

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2. Strong Body language. Strong body language is a much more tangible expectation than simply saying “Make sure you look confident at the plate”. Have your athlete practice showing strong body language and weak body language so they understand the expectation.

3. Swinging at the right pitches. Batters never get to choose which pitches they are thrown but they can choose which ones they swing at. Swinging at good pitches is imperative to having a productive at bat.

4. Swinging well at those selected pitches. They’ve chosen which pitches to swing at, now they must also swing well at those pitches. Did they use the proper hitting mechanics that their hitting coaches have been instilling in them?

Use these things as a checklist after every at bat.

Did you have a productive mindset?

Did you have strong body language?

Did you swing at the right pitches?

Did you swing well at those pitches?

You can do this with them in the backyard or at the cages to instill the habit and begin to switch their perspective on success. Practice “real” at bats with them. Before the at bat make sure to give them time to do their 3 mental statements. It may help if you do it out loud with them. Then have them step in the “box” with strong body language. After each at bat go through the checklist with thimg_3949.pngem. Use the no answers as moments to coach and improve. Use the yes answers to deliver well deserved praise!

Focusing solely on the things they can control makes success feel more tangible. When hitters, especially kids, are in a slump (on a side note, don’t use that word when speaking to them about their performance) getting a hit feels like something that happens by chance. Like all these factors have to magically align and then they can finally get a hit. They relate it more to luck than talent. By focusing on the controllable things they’ll feel more confident because they will begin to realize that they play the biggest role in their success at the plate.

WARNING. This isn’t an over night fix. Switching their definition of success takes consistency and time. I urge you to try and always use this language when talking about hitting with them. Your language will dictate the language they use in their head with themselves. By speaking this way about hitting they can use their hitless at bats as learning opportunities because there are specific things they can change/ fix. When they do get a hit (which they will because they are focusing on the process which is how hits happen) they will well up with confidence because they will know it wasn’t chance or luck. It was their deliberate hard work.

I chose to play anyway

As adults we have the ability to see the big picture. We know that our decisions, actions, and behaviors will play a role in our future lives. We may not know the size of the role, or the type of role, but we are able to foresee the possibility of an impact. We’ve earned that perspective.

As an adult myself I am often surprised by the reality of that impact once the future arrives in my present. Especially for those past decisions that have made a significant impact on my current present. Even with a decent amount of life experience under my belt it’s hard to understand how my future self will cope. It’s hard to empathize with the struggles that haven’t happened yet; it’s hard to feel the pride in the victories that are yet to come. When the future arrives in my present the reality feels more overwhelming than I originally imagined. Time and time again I am surprised that decisions and circumstances that felt so small can seep so deeply into so many different facets of my life.

As hard as it can be for adults to take into consideration how our present selves can impact our future selves, for children, it’s even harder. They haven’t had enough time to understand the big picture. They are still trying to figure out how to function as a human. The present is overwhelming enough as it is; they don’t have the resources to consider the future.

When I was a freshman in high school I had earned a spot on the varsity softball team.  I had hopes of playing in college and this was an exciting stepping stone to one day meet that goal. Towards the end of my sophomore season I started to feel a pain in my throwing shoulder. It progressively got worse as the season went on, and by the time tournament ball was well under way I knew something was wrong. My heart was dedicated to my teammates and my eyes were fixated on my dreams of playing in college. Through the lens of my young perspective admitting I was hurt would only disappoint my coach and crush my collegiate dreams. I kept playing without complaint until midway through my Junior season of high school ball. The pain was constant and I had lost significant strength. Being a pitcher, the change in my performance was obvious. I finally had to admit what I had been dealing with. It turns out I had frayed the labrum in my shoulder and I would need surgery to rivet it back onto the bone. Due to the timing of the surgery and the length of the recovery process I lost out on my biggest recruiting season. I was angry, broken hearted, and defeated. These emotions served as my motivation to make it back on the mound for my senior high school season. I raced through the recovery process, fought through the pain, and started my senior season alongside my teammates. The next year I ended up playing for the local Junior College team. My dedication to the sport and my teammates continued; I allowed my coach to over use me on the mound even though I knew it wasn’t best for my shoulder. It didn’t matter to me. My teammates and our performance mattered to me. I would have done anything to contribute to our success, even if it meant sacrificing my health. Finally, in my junior year, I made it to the big leagues; I finished my collegiate career playing for a Division II state school.

I may have achieved my goal of playing collegiate softball but my shoulder was never the same. To this day I deal with ache’s, pains, losses in strength and mobility.  There are activities and experiences I avoid because I know it will cause pain to my shoulder. Simple things like shopping – moving hanging clothes across a rod, holding my cell phone up to my ear to have a phone conversation, or cradling a baby all irritate my shoulder.

Dedicated athletes, especially young dedicated athletes, are near sighted. Their whole word is in the present. It’s hard for them to fathom their life after sports. In their eyes that life doesn’t matter unless they perform right now. Is that dedication to the sport, their teammates, and their dreams beautiful? Absolutely, without question. Is it also concerning? I think so. Especially when you take into consideration injuries that affect the brain, like concussions. I feel lucky that my injury was simply to my arm, and not something as sacred as my brain.

The culture of competitive sports often puts the success of the team before the health of the athlete, or even the coach. Those who miss practices or competitions to heal their bodies are often portrayed as weak or less dedicated. It’s almost as if sport forces us to ask our bodies for forgiveness rather than permission. We take less preventative measures because we don’t want to miss out on the present. This culture of pushing our bodies to the limit is so deeply rooted in our hearts as athletes. If you play through the pain you are elite, you are dedicated, you are tough. You are tough. This seems to be the ultimate compliment an athlete can receive.

I still struggle to listen to my body when it comes to competitive situations. I still push myself farther than I should. It’s easier for me to see the big picture for others. I can help my athletes make healthy decisions; I can help my friends make healthy decisions. For myself, however, it’s a different story. I am still influenced by the athlete mentality; I still am deeply committed to prove my worth. To prove my dedication, my abilities, my toughness.

Was it all worth it? That’s a question I still can’t answer. As most athletes say; I wouldn’t change my decision, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. It’s baffling isn’t it? Even in hindsight, knowing the consequences, we still choose our sports career over everything. It is an extremely influential culture.

When I began to write this I wasn’t sure where I was I going to end up. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be an answer or a final message. I guess it brought me to awareness.  Everything starts with awareness. As coaches, parents of athletes, and athletic directors we need to be aware of how influential the culture of sport is in our athletes lives. How influential we are in our athletes lives. Athletes themselves need to recognize how influential sport is in their lives. How much it’s socialized into them. Sport makes a life long impact. The lessons athletes absorb and the things they learn to value are deeply rooted in the soul of who they become. We need to always be aware of their future selves. We need to be aware of the imprints we are leaving on their hearts and in their paths.

Explicit, Direct, Instruction

I am now in my second year of teaching special education. My experiences and schooling has bettered my understanding of how students learn, and even how athletes progress. In teaching, there’s a rule that states, “Don’t ask your students to do anything you haven’t taught them yet”. In coaching, this happens constantly. objectivesCoaches move right into hitting fly balls or turning double plays in the first few practices without covering the basics of what they’re looking for. I remember watching a coach, run a fly ball drill, and each athlete wasn’t performing as the coach had expected them to. A majority of their players weren’t using the correct footwork to move to the ball. At this particular practice, they had a college player as a guest. This player was executing the drill properly, dropping her hips and crossing over to move to the ball. She was eventually highlighted to the other girls, and immediately everyone’s performances improved. The rest of the team suddenly understood what was expected of them, and they were then able to perform properly.

There is a simple way to integrate teaching skills before asking them to be performed – setting objectives. In teaching, it is best practice to have the objective of the lesson written on the board; ‘Today we will determine the greatest common factor between two numbers”. After reading over and explaining this to students they are aware of what the goal is and why they are completing the work at hand. With this information, they can self-monitor their progress throughout the instruction. It gives their work purpose and also helps the teacher to keep each lesson focused and productive. In the coaching world, this best practice can easily be implemented it just looks slightly different.

Before each drill, coaches share what they are looking for with their athletes. For instance, when base running to first base, a coach may explain to their athletes; I’m looking for you to hit the front of the bag, I am looking for you to immediately break down and look right (for a passed ball), I am looking for you to run on your toes, and pump your arms straight back and forth. base runnigAs the coach is going through this checklist, they should also be demonstrating each aspect so the athletes know exactly how to execute the drill. This is beneficial even for the things that seem simple. For instance, there are multiple ways to break down after hitting the bag. Be explicit with your instruction and demonstration. Make sure your athletes know that you want their hips to drop while their head turns sharply to the right after hitting the bag allowing them to stop in an athletic position just a few feet past the bag. Go through each objective and make them repeat it out loud:

Coach: “I am looking for your foot to hit the front of the bag. What am I looking for?” Players: “Our foot to hit the front of the bag”. Coach: ‘I am looking for you to break down and look right. What am I looking for?” Players; “Us to break down and look right.”

Experiencing skills in multiple forms helps them grasp new expectations and skills.  I always make my athletes, see it, hear it, say it, and do it. Making your athletes say the skill out loud helps to prime their brains and bodies for the movements; it helps them remember the skill and execute it. After you have gone through these directions with them a few times or a few practices, it is something you can do quickly and easily before each drill. The coach can simply ask what am I looking for? The players should be able to easily repeat the objectives of the drill.

After I began using this strategy with my players it immensely improved the focus of our drills. My athletes explicitly understood what I was expecting of them and they were able to comply. They now had a rubric for their performance.

Quote of the day: 

“You’ve haven’t taught until they have learned” – John Wooden

3 Steps Back, 4 Steps Forward

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I’ve noticed a common thread among the athletes I’ve had the pleasure to coach over the past year. Most of them have this fear, or inability to slow a skill down and adjust in the midst of their mechanics. For instance, the other night I had my team running agility patterns on ladders. Some of the footwork patterns are a little tricky, a few of my girls were having a hard time finding the rhythm. Over and over, myself and assistant coach advised them to slow down, learn the pattern, don’t worry about your speed, we are looking for quality, not quantity.  Even with that instruction, all my girls sped through the ladder, missing sections, and tangling the ladder around their feet. They are so focused on the outcome, and the pace of their teammates around them. They won’t take the time to adjust and learn the skill correctly, they strive merely “keep up” with everyone else. It wasn’t until I physically stood beside them and wouldn’t let them go any faster than I did that they were willing to slow down and talk themselves through the pattern.

When I’m giving pitching lessons, my pitchers are more concerned with throwing strikes then properly executing the mechanics. When we are working on making adjustments, their focus is on the speed and accuracy of the pitch. They don’t allow themselves to be vulnerable and change their movements which may in turn, for the moment, negatively impact their performance. I’ve spoke to all of my athletes about this, and I haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of what causes it, but I have a few theories which I believe all converge to create this insecurity of not being good enough.

Social Media: Social media has played a huge role in how are athlete’s view themselves. Their self confidence is built around how many likes their pictures receive or how many followers they have. They live, eat, sleep, and breathe this superficial culture everyday that is constantly reinforcing this idea that they are in competition with everyone around them all the time. They must look “good” or “pretty” in order to be accepted socially by their peers. I believe this attitude has carried over to the ball field. I asked my pitcher the other night why she was unwilling to make an adjustment and possibly let the ball go sailing over the catchers head. Her response; “There’s a lot of people watching me and I don’t want them to think that I’m not good”.

Lack of trust in the process: I believe that sometimes athletes struggle to change their swing, or mechanics, because they simply don’t believe that it will make them better in the long run. Yes, your performance my suffer for a couple pitches, or a couple days, or even a week, but if they make the adjustment it WILL make them better in the long run. The athletes I’m working with don’t seem to understand this process, they view failure as a negative all the time, even if it’s improving their mechanical game. I think it also comes down to trusting your coaches. Trusting that even if your performance suffers momentarily, your coaches adjustments will improve your performance over time.

Insecurity:  Vulnerability is something that isn’t embraced in our society. In fact, it’s shamed most of the time. It makes sense that our athletes aren’t willing to be vulnerable during practice. They aren’t willing to drop their guard and try something that may make them look “silly” or different. They want to be “on” all the time.

It’s imperative for our athletes to be comfortable trying new new things. They need to trust the process of taking 3 steps back if it means they get to leap 4 steps forward. It’s so different from when I played. I am committed to continually talking through this issue with my athletes, I know it’s the push they need to reach their full potential.

 

 

 

Love The Game

Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to write these days. I’m currently back in school full time to get my teaching credential in Special Education. I am also teaching full time as as a Special Education Specialist in my first year of teaching. In between work and school I find time to do what I love and coach my girls.

I don’t have time write a full blown blog today, however I wanted to leave this tidbit of information here because I think it’s imperative for coaches to remember. 25089_1278222429565_5434882_n

As stated by Lubbers (1998) “At the cornerstone of tennis development lies a common thread, which perhaps stands out as the most important ingredient to success.  This is the development and maintenance of a love and joy for the game (Bloom,1985 and Saviano, 2001).  Research shows that athletes who develop a deep love for a sport and are not pushed into serious and heavy competitive environments too early have the proper basis to excel later in their careers (Gibbons, 1998).”

It’s crucial to allow athletes to fall in love with the game. It’s the foundation needed to stay committed to excelling in their sport throughout their career. Without a love for the game, it’s unfair to ask athletes to dedicate the obscene amount of hours it takes to reach the elite level.

This should be our ultimate goal as coaches, especially at the younger levels; to foster our athletes love of the game.

“The game of basketball has been everything to me. My place of refuge, place I’ve always gone where I needed comfort and peace. It’s been the site of intense pain and the most intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. It’s a relationship that has evolved over time, given me the greatest respect and love for the game.”-  Michael Jordan

References: 

Bloom, B. S., Developing Talent in Young People, Balantine Books, NY, 1985.

Gibbons, T., “The Development of Excellence.  A Common Pathway to the Top in Music, Art, Academics and Sport,” Olympic Coach, 198, Vol. 8, No. 3.

Lubbers, P., A Contrast of Planning Skills Between Expert and Novice College Tennis Coaches, doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 1998.

Why Sport Psychology

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I frequently get asked why I chose to pursue sport psychology as a major and as a career. The easy answer was and still is, “It makes me a better coach”. My original reasoning for getting my masters degree in sport psychology was because it would make me eligible to coach at the collegiate level. Now, it’s morphed into so much more than that. I no longer strive to coach at the collegiate level, nor do you need a masters degree to coach at the collegiate level anymore.IMG_9395

Sports have never been about the wins for me, even as an athlete, I’ve always appreciated the value in the experience despite the outcome. As a coach I’m no different; I don’t strive to be the best coach in terms of a winning record or how many athletes receive D1 scholarships. I strive to be the coach that made the biggest impact, the coach that made them love the game, the coach that my athletes will call five years down the road just to check in with. The coach my athletes will call if they ever get into a tough situation or experience a huge success in life. The coach they will look back on and say because of her I am successful.

Sport Psychology is the perfect platform for that. It allows me to seamlessly bridge the gap between sport and life skills. I get to influence my athletes in a way that will benefit them in sports, and in life. It’s a platform that allows me to talk to them about real topics: their fears, goals, motivators, communication styles and mindsets. Sport psychology gives me the opportunity to hear experiences that have impacted their lives and sports careers. Essentially, I get to find what makes them tick, why they are who they are, and how we can grow even further together. That, to me, is most enjoyable role I could possibly get to play as a coach, and that is why I chose Sport Psychology.

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