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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.”

Parenting in Youth Sports

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This week I had the pleasure of working with a team full of 8-10 year old girls. Our topic was emotional control and how it relates to the way we handle mistakes or unsuccessful outings on the softball field. As our conversation got deeper, they made it very clear to me that most of the pressure they feel to succeed comes from their parents. As a 27 year old Master’s graduate who is currently living at home, let me tell me you, I can relate!

Some of the common complaints I heard from my athletes during our discussion were; “He (her dad) just keeps repeating himself!”, “It’s annoying when my mom yells, “it’s okay, you can do it!” from the stands”, and “They (her parents) are always comparing me to my older sister”. These are all different perspectives, there are no guidlines for parents to follow so they become the perfect youth sport parent. My suggestion to all sport parents is to create a dialogue with their child about what they need after or during a poor performance. Simply ask them what they want from you when they are struggling on the field. Sometimes all athletes want is silence.

Here are some other great ways to keep your involvement in your child’s sport experience positive:

Key Phrases:  It’s helpful to let the athletes dictate the conversation surrounding their performance. You can ask, “How did it go?” instead of “Did you win?” or “Did you get a hit?” Did you win and did you get a hit imply that those aspects are the most important pieces of the game. By asking, “How did it go?” your athlete can dictate what they want to talk about. They may even bring up their poor performance before you do.  Sometimes we just don’t know what to say; here’s a great line: “ I loved watching you play”. It has no judgment and it’s completely honest every time! (Lancaster, Llosa, & Pain, 2013, p. 3; Stafford, 2013). 

Ask First: It’s hard to talk about a game when you didn’t play the way you wanted to.  “Is it okay if we talk about the games or would you rather wait until later?” is a great way to take the pressure off and have a more meaningful discussion later on. Kids want your input; they just want it at a time that works for them.

Start and focus on the good: Your athletes want to impress you so badly. When you finally do have that conversation about the game, start with the things they did well. Be sensitive when talking about the things that didn’t go well. Before the conversation is over remember to reiterate how they succeeded; there is always something positive you can point out. Think of it as a sandwich: Positive – Constructive Criticism – Positive.

Silent Acceptance: It’s hard to keep our mouths shut when our kid isn’t performing at their best. It’s not always beneficial to shout something from the stands, or lecture them on the way home. Sometimes silence is the best route to take. Athletes appreciate when coaches and parents are silent after a mistake, everyone knows it happened and athletes just want to move on, no need to bring extra attention to it.

Here’s an easy rule to remember when talking to your kids about their performance. Before you say anything ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it kind?
  3. Is it necessary? (what will you achieve by criticizing?)

If you can answer yes to all three questions, go ahead and speak your mind. If not, it may be better for everyone involved if you keep it to yourself. This one isn’t just a sport lesson, it’s a life lesson. Whenever any of us open our mouths to speak, we should check ourselves and ask these three simple questions.(Lancaster, Llosa, & Pain, 2013, p. 24). 

“Kindness is a language the blind can see and the deaf can hear” – Mark Twain 

References:

Llosa, L., Lancaster, S.,Payne, S., (2013) Beyond Winning: Smart Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press.

R Stafford. (2013,  November 11) 6 Words You Should Say Today. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-macy-stafford/six-words-you-should-say-today_b_3863643.html

 

Constructive Rainy Day Practices

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The rainy season is hard on teams. Practices get canceled, tournaments get rescheduled, and daylight is limited. This is the perfect time in your season to work on team chemistry. Here are a few exercises that are great to do indoors or on a black top! Some of these may sound silly, but never underestimate how much difference having a little fun as a team can do for the team cohesion progression!

What makes a good teammate?  Equipment: Paper and Pencil.  Purpose: To create a supportive, safe, team environment. Have the team gather in a circle, assign two players to make a list of characteristics each player wants in a teammate. Each player should answer and share two questions. 1) Why do you play softball? 2) What do you need in a teammate? After everyone has shared, read the list back to the group and consolidate the characteristics that make up a good teammate. Now have the players discuss examples of each characteristic (how they can show their teammates that they possess the characteristics, for ex. High fives, picking players up, no shit talking, and respectful tones).

Human Knot/Circle sit: Equipment: none. Purpose: Teamwork, communication, and leadership. Have the team stand in a small circle. Have each player reach out their RIGHT hand and grab a teammate’s hand. Make sure everyone is holding a person’s hand. Now have everyone reach out their LEFT hand and grab a DIFFERENT teammate’s hand. Make sure no one is holding two hands of the same person. You CAN NOT let go of the hands you are holding during this activity! The goal is to have them untangle themselves and end up in a large circle all holding hands. (Sometimes you’ll have two small circle intertwined, or a figure eight, that’s okay!) Have the team discuss what was helpful in reaching the goal and what wasn’t.

As a second fun activity, have athletes stand in a small circle again chest to back. The circle should be VERY tight. All at once have the athletes sit down. The goal is to sit on the persons lap behind and the circle should hold everyone up.

Team Mission Statement: Equipment: Paper and Pencil. Purpose: create a mission statement. Send the team out to a place where they feel they have privacy (center field maybe). One or two people should be designated note takers to write down thoughts as they arise in this discussion. Have each player share what their goals are for the team this season; they can talk about win/loss records, team cohesion ideals, performance improvements, anything that relates to a successful season. The team’s challenge is to combine everyone’s thoughts and goals to create a solid mission statement that can be said as a team throughout the season. Most teams use it during their pre-game cheers. Here’s an example of a team’s motto from a few years ago: “To inspire, to excel, and to take pride in one another, together we are one” – PHS 2014

2 Truths and a Lie: Equipment: Pencil and paper. Purpose: Learn more about one another. Have each person write two truths and one lie about themselves. Go around the room and have the team figure out what are the truths and the lies. With smaller teams, a point system can be used. If the team does not correctly guess which statement was a lie, the person gets a point.

 Link Tag: Equipment: none. Purpose: fun, conditioning, social cohesion. All players find a partner and link elbows with them. These pairs spread out around the playing area.
The facilitator selects one pair and within that pair selects one person to be “it” and the other person to be the “chaser”. The “it” person runs around throughout the pairs. The “it” person can, at any time, link up with any pair. If the link person joins a pair, the person on the pair who the “it” member did not link with must separate from the chain and now be “it”. The other person is then free to join a pair, causing another player to split off and be the new “it”. Game lasts until facilitator says it’s over. It can be helpful for the facilitator to watch carefully and manage potentially confusing situations, specifically when the “it” person thinks they have linked up and the “chaser” thinks they have tagged them just before linking (creating two people who think they are “it”).

Balloon Relay Race: Equipment: Balloons. Purpose: teamwork, fun, social/task cohesion. Team splits into pairs of the same gender. Team must go down, around a cone, and back, twelve times, with a different pair going each time. The two members must side-hug and hold a balloon wedged between them. They may only touch it with their hands if it drops. If it drops, the team must stay where they are until it is wedged back together.

Dizzy Bat: Equipment: bat. Purpose: fun, social cohesion. Split the group into two teams. Set a distance for the race. Give the first runner a bat. Each player must spin around ten times with their head on the top of the bat, while the top of the bat stays on the ground. Once they have completed their ten spins they must race to the designated point and back. Once they are back they must tag the hand of the next player in line. That player must do the same thing until everyone has gone!

 

The first Step to Improving Your Mental Game: Awareness

The first task on your athlete’s journey to strengthen their mental game is to increase the awareness of their thoughts. Instruct them to notice if their self-talk is hindering them or helping them achieve success. It’s crucial that your athletes notice when their minds are working for them and when it is working against them. Their focus is to recognize patterns of when it’s easy for them to stay motivated and focused, and when they struggle to do so.

5308196-success-failure-green-road-sign-illustration-on-a-radiant-blue-backgroundTheir goal should be to listen to their “strong” voice and ignore or smother their “weak” voice. Their strong voice is the voice that fills them with confidence, allows them to take on challenges, and helps them to stay positive when the going gets tough. This voice is the voice that talks them into sprinting their hardest even though they’ve already run 10 suicides; this is also the voice that encourages them to throw another rise ball even though the last one was just hit over the fence. Athletes need to recognize their strong voice and buy into it while simultaneously pushing out their weak voice.

How to work awareness into your coaching:

  1. When practice starts: Remind athletes to work on mentally preparing themselves for the upcoming practice. Which voice are you listening to today? Are you talking yourself into working hard at practice, or are you simply going through the motions dragging yourself along praying that practice will end soon?
  2. Watch their body language: If you see an athlete looking or performing like they are defeated, remind them to find their strong voice and smother their weak voice.
  3. During instruction: If you are working on critiquing an athletes form, make sure to include what they should be reciting to themselves in their head.
  4. When an athlete is struggling: Bring to their attention how their mind could be playing a role in their frustration. Is their weak voice taking control and beating themselves up inside or is their strong voice talking themselves into making the next play.

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 

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

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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