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Category Archives: Character Building

Keeping the Game in Check

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As we role into the Word Series of D1 NCAA softball there’s plenty of opportunity to watch elite athlete’s succeed and fail in the face of pressure. It’s make it or break it time; it’s win or go home. Athletes are facing some of the most difficult situations of their careers, everything is on the line, and they can taste that world series championship.

An Article was recently published with the title: “How butterflies and TED talks boosted Georgia’s Alyssa DiCarol”. The article sheds lights on the pressures faced by successful athletes and how they effectively keep them at bay.  (Read it here: 2019 NCAA softball tournament: How butterflies and TED Talks boosted Georgia’s Alyssa DiCarlo)

Alex Scarborough quotes DiCarol’s experience growing up, “Earlier in her career, she sometimes let nerves get the best of her. She had devoted everything to the sport — “It’s my life,” she said. “I didn’t go to prom, didn’t go to homecoming. I didn’t do anything but softball” — and the idea of not living up to expectations made her timid on the diamond.” As she points out, athletes who reach the collegiate level often miss out on other social opportunities along the way. Due to this their evaluation of their self is purely based in sport. When they fail in sport they feel like a failure overall. Sports are their entire life, so they when fail in sport they feel as though they are failing as a person. They aren’t just failing on the field, it’s much bigger than that to them. For this reason it’s crucial to give our young athletes a healthy sport-life balance. Especially when they are young, they need the opportunity to grow all aspects of who they are. They need room to discover their talents in music, school, friendships, and hobbies. They need to feel that they have value in a variety of atmospheres so when they fail in one they have other confidences to fall back on. If kids had these opportunities throughout their athletic careers the pressure to perform would be far less. (I wrote a blog recounting my experience in having a healthy sport-life balance a while back, you can read it here: Keep a Sport-Life Balance)

In the article DiCarol is also quoted with commenting on how her mental game has helped her succeed; “Being mentally tough,” she said, “keeping your emotions at bay is something I’ve had to work on a lot.” The mental game is often over looked, especially by coaches of youth athletes. They don’t have the training or the experience to teach young athletes how to use their mind to excel. Even more important than excelling, having an effective mental game can help athletes of all ages experience more joy while playing the game. Having the tools to deal with the high pressure demands that come with being an athlete keeps the negative emotions at bay and allows more room for the positive ones to flourish.

Teaching athletes mental game strategies and giving them the room to explore their other talents can help to keep the game in check. Keeping the game in check has the potential to give athletes the best opportunity to fully develop into themselves, both as a an athlete and a person.

Selflessness

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I believe that selflessness is one of the most important characteristics for an athlete to posses when playing on a team. In order for the team to reach their full potential athlete’s need to be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to better the team. A true teammate mentality, asks what does the team need, before asking what do I need?

When I was an athlete, one of my favorite things about playing on a team, was the opportunity I had to help my teammates be successful.IMG_9849 I learned to push my skill level by keeping the mindset that the team’s success was more important than my own.
On defense, playing for teammates helped me to overcome my fears. Instead of worrying about how scary diving for a ball was, I was focused on getting the out my pitcher needed to end the inning. I knew that if I didn’t lay-out she was going to have to throw to another batter. The need to help my teammates over shadowed my fears.

As a coach, I’m noticing that this mindset is no longer the norm. I may have been simply oblivious to the selfish culture of sports as an athlete, but it seems to me the game has drastically changed. Athletes are so focused on capturing that collegiate scholarship that they’ve completely forgotten about the teammates around them. It’s me, me, me, or I, I, I. Rarely do we hear an athletes concern for “we”, “the team” or “us”. We constantly hear: “Why am I not starting at first base?” or “ I didn’t get enough fly balls at practice”. What’s even worse, is most of these complaints aren’t coming from the athlete’s themselves; they come from the parents. “My daughter only got to base run today at practice”. “My daughter sat out two games weekend.”

This culture of hyper-focusing on individual success is eroding a piece of the game I IMG_0064loved most. Creating that unique bond with your teammates is something I haven’t found in any other environment in my life. When you know that the people around you care just as much or more about your success then they do about theirs is an indescribable feeling. It’s why teams become families and create bonds that last a lifetime. With so much focus on individual success and college scholarships a lot of athletes are missing out on what it feels like to be a true teammate.

I believe that it’s imperative for coaches to create a team culture that is built around selflessness. Selflessness is the basis of teamwork. Teamwork is one of the biggest factors of success. Praise athlete’s when they display the trait of selflessness. Reward the ones who have mastered what it means to be a teammate. Create opportunities for your athlete’s to show how selfless they can be. Set team guidelines so your athletes know what you expect, and know what selflessness looks like on a team. Selflessness can teach athletes so much on and off the field. It can help them reach their true potential by learning to rely on their teammates and experience genuine teamwork.

Quote of the day:

“It’s not about what the team can do for you, it’s about what you can do for the team.”

Passing the Torch – Servant Leadership

A former player of mine recently contacted me and shared an amazing piece of her coaching philosophy with me. Since my time as her coach, she has taken my place as the assistant coach at our local JC. I couldn’t be more proud of the thought and passion she puts into her coaching. Below is something she wrote for her players and I am absolutely in awe of her passion and talents. Great, great, job Taylor, you are going to make such an impact on the athletes you come into contact with.

coach_taylor“Did you push yourself to be great today? If you didn’t do it, we lost a day. And we don’t have many days to lose. It’s so easy to be average. It takes a little something to be special. Why be around average? I believe there are certain ideas that can push teams to greatness. Servant leadership. Having an attitude of gratitude. Selflessness. Humility. Let’s find a way to incorporate these acts into our lives, every single day. As John Wooden said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Ask yourself this: are you more concerned with the team’s outcome or your own personal outcome? Would you rather see the team win at the expense of you getting no hits with 2 errors? Selflessness wins games. Servant leadership wins games. And having an attitude of gratitude wins games. Do you understand what servant leadership is? Do you really understand what it means to put others first, and in doing so, genuinely want them to succeed? A servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. If every person on this team promises to practice servant leadership, how could we fail? We will succeed because we will become better human beings in this process. For a team to be great, selflessness and humility are 2 necessary traits for a team to posses. People with humility don’t think less of themselves. They just think of themselves less. Often times in sports the bigger picture can be lost.

As a coach, my short-term goal is for this team to win games. I am competitive and passionate, and I want us to be the best. But my long-term goal is for this team to grow into amazing human beings and to be the best people we can be on and off the field. Our time is so short and it’s crucial that we incorporate these ideas in our everyday lives to be successful. We need to work harder at having an attitude of gratitude. We are so lucky that we were given this opportunity. At the beginning of every year, I make a promise to myself to cherish and enjoy every moment. I tell myself not to get caught up in the wins and losses, but to enjoy the moments with all of you special people. Time speeds by at an alarming pace. Sometimes we can forget to take a breather and enumerate what we have been given that we’ve forgotten or taken for granted.

Because of this, let’s all try to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Let’s start, end, and live each moment of the day in gratitude. Because after all, our time together is so short and you will never forget your teammates. You will forget the wins and losses. You will probably even forget the countless conversations you had with each other. But you will never forget the way your teammates made you feel. And for that, we should all be thankful. In the big picture, we are all moving towards the same goal. We are all holding onto the same rope, pulling that rope together in the same direction. So hold that rope tight, and be thankful you’ve been given the opportunity to be one of the special few to experience this special environment. Being a part of something bigger than yourself is such a special thing. And if you forget everything else, remember this: a player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that’s teamwork.

Thank you again Taylor for sharing, seriously, I couldn’t be more proud of you. You are going to go so far, and impact so many people. Keep up the incredible work, and thank you so much for keeping in touch and sharing your successes with me.

Quote of the day:

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill 

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 

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

Keep a Sport-Life Balance

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The statistics pertaining to youth sport participation are disheartening; 70% of children who are participating in youth sport will drop out by the age of 13.

My question is why didn’t I? Why did I play through college, coach through grad school, and am now pursuing a career that is centered in sport?

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NCS Champs 2007

I specialized in one sport at a very young age; I played competitively almost from the get go, and even specialized in a single position by the time I was 17. I had all the warning signs of being an athlete who would burnout before reaching my full potential. So what kept me in the game?

I had a sport-life balance. Although I spent the majority of my time on the softball field, the people in my life helped to keep sports in perspective. Sports were a piece of my life, not my whole life. There were other more important things and values; my worth as a person didn’t solely reside on my performance as an athlete.

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Opening night of Boulevard Cinemas

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Working on the homecoming float my senior year of high school

The most obvious example of the sport-life balanced I achieved as a young athlete was in the diversity of my social circles, and the events that filled my monthly calendar. I grew up on a court where three other girls around my age lived. None of them were involved in sports like I was so our friendship was well rounded; we grew up running around our neighborhood experiencing and focusing on other things besides sport. I was also heavily involved in girl scouts, the six other girls in my troop made up some of my closest friends throughout high school. At the age of 15 we opened a theater in our hometown, an accomplishment that bolstered my confidence and added to my worth as a person off the softball field. (Read more about the teens who opened a theater in 2005 HERE.) The friends that I hung around with at school weren’t  involved in sports either, so again I had opportunities to develop other parts of myself; opportunities to be proud of things that had nothing to do with softball. I also had a long term boyfriend throughout high school that attended a school 20 minutes south of me, so I became very close to his friends and family which again added diversity to the people who were important to me. These people who made up my social life all valued me for more than my softball abilities. Some had never even seen me play, so my performance as an athlete was irrelevant to our friendship. It caused me to grow up in an atmosphere that catered to all of me, and helped to give myself worth in all areas of my personality, not just the piece of me that excelled on the playing field.

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Team trip to Disneyland

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White water rafting with the team in Park City, Utah

I was also privileged enough to grow up in a family that was able to take vacations outside of softball tournaments. As I got older my softball team flew all over the U.S. to compete at the highest level. However, my family was fortunate enough to be able to take an additional family vacation each summer. It kept it in perspective that sports were important, but family time was highly valued as well. Not only did I get to experience genuine family vacations, but I had a coaches who understood that for some families, our tournaments were their family vacations. As a team we made every out of state trip a fun family experience as well as a serious competitive outing. Our coach allowed the team moms to plan water rafting trips, team dinners, horseback riding excursions, and once in Park City, Utah we even went on a team hot air balloon ride! My coaches knew the value of having a sport life balance and let us genuinely enjoy our tournament trips. Some of my most favorite memories are from these tournaments and everything we did made me fall even more in love with the sport. Doing other activities while traveling also allowed my teammates to get to know me as a person, not just an athlete. You learn to appreciate your teammates for more than just their athletic performance; you also learn to value the other pieces of yourself.

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Playing powder puff football my senior year

My parents were the most prominent influence of keeping my life balanced between sport and other experiences. The house I grew up in bordered a regional park. On my court lived three other girls that were around my age. Also on the court were kids who were a few years older, and others who were a few years younger. At any given time there were anywhere from 1-13 kids to play with, and a plethora of open space to do so in. My home life away from the softball field consisted mostly of free play with my neighboring peers. Some of which my parents probably weren’t too thrilled about; like tying a rope to a bike seat and holding on for dear life while being pulled on rollerblades. I was lucky enough to have parents who let me be involved in “risky” activities (like the one mentioned above) without reprimanding me to stay un-injured so I could compete. This example may seem subtle, but little things like this that were noticeable on a day-to-day basis were the most influential in keeping sports in perspective. It was a constant reminder that there was more to life, and myself, than sport.

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Posing with our high school rival team

Athletes who have a diversity of experiences and people in their lives learn to value all dimensions of their personality and abilities. This quality helps athletes who encounter chronic slumps, difficult teammates, and unfavorable coaching stay in the game. They can stick with the sport they love through the pitfalls and hardships because they have developed as a whole person and see the value in other experiences; Keep kids in sport by fostering their development as a whole child, not just an athlete!

 Quote of the day:

“A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.” – Mary Lou Retton

Baring it all

My world from my perspective.

One Game, One Love.

Coaching perspectives and life lessons of a Sports Psychology M.A.

Live Love Sport

Improving your mental game

Secret Life of a Startup

Some things you can't complain about at work

M I Initiatives

Belief in Human Potential

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