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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.”

Your Thoughts Are Your Destiny

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Thought stopping is a common technique used in sport psychology to help athletes refocus by eliminating negative thoughts, but have you ever considered using this method throughout your everyday life? I hadn’t. It wasn’t until about three years after I initially learned about this technique that I realized it could help me in other situations, like my social, romantic, and educational aspects of life. It all clicked during a lecture on Cognitive Behavior Therapy in my Psychology of Counseling Class this last spring.

In Cognitive Behavior therapy they break down a persons reactions into a thought process following an activating event. It looks something like this.

cognitive

First a person must encounter an event to activate a response, hence the term “activating event”. Let’s say for example, you are walking through a school or work common area and a friend passes you without acknowledging you. This is the activating event. Most viciouscirclecbtpeoples’s immediate belief, or thought process, would be; “They must not like me, or they are avoiding me.” Then we react due to our belief and we suffer the consequence  of a change in mood or even a physical behavior in some situations.

In order to change the consequence outcome we must stop the original belief thought process and replace it with a new one. This is the disputing intervention. Let’s go through the scenario again using a disputing intervention. This time we pass our friend in the hallway, and again they don’t acknowledge us. First, notice your instinctual thought. (They must not like me, or they are avoiding me.) This is where the thought stopping technique comes in handy. Acknowledge the thought, and then think of a trigger word or action to cease the thoughts. Simply saying “stop” out loud can work, or try swiping your foot acrossimages-52 the ground as if you are brushing away the negative thoughts.

Now start to develop an effective philosophy. Think logically of other reasons that could have caused your friend to pass by without greeting you. Maybe they are distraught over a situation that happened earlier in the day… Maybe they are extremely busy and while running through their “To-Do List” for the day they didn’t even notice you had passed…Maybe they just simply didn’t realize it was you.

Now take these new thoughts and intertwine them into your perception of yourself, relating it not only to the initial situation but your whole persona. In this situation I would think, “I am a good friend. I am caring, loyal, and go out of my way to do things for others.” Now I can let go of the negative belief and dismiss the incident as a misunderstanding and allow myself to relish in my new positive feeling. Worthy of friendship.

images-54As human beings we take in so many incidences and allow them to serve as evidence for reasons why we should diminish our self-worth. We play them over and over in our heads and damage the image we have of ourselves. These thoughts we recite as we re-play the negative evidence become our beliefs.The more we say something to ourselves the more we believe it. Think of all the things in a day that you employ as evidence to your negative thoughts. We ingrain them into our values as we recite them over and over again. Our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our habits, our habits become our character, and our character becomes our destiny.  But thats the beauty in it, we can control our thoughts, and in turn decide our destiny.

Quote of the Day:

396294_313426528697317_186309574742347_939836_170420469_nWatch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. – Frank Outlaw.

Providing Productive Consequences

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Over the weekend I found myself at a 12U traveling softball team practice. I had offered to help coach throughout the season every once in a while, and this particular Sunday I was called upon.  Practice began as the girls went through their warm up routine. A little images-51laughter here, a few giggles there, and suddenly balls were being missed left and right. No one could make a proper throw and the drills were quickly becoming unproductive. The head coach had finally had enough, and instructed the girls to jog a lap around the perimeter of the field because they needed to refocus.

This method of refocusing is common, and I can’t claim that I haven’t used it myself. I’ve seen countless coaches use it in hopes their athletes will come back with a better mindset. My question is, what part of jogging a lap teaches the players to refocus their mind? I can agree that it gives them a physical break from the prior drill, and maybe gives them a moment to take their mind off the skill, but how does this method 420110405140055001_t607transfer over to a game situation? During games athletes can’t call timeout and jog a lap around the field in order to regain focus.

My point is, as coaches, we need to teach our athletes how to refocus. Instead of sending them on a jog when the wheels start to fall off at practice. Why not gather them together and take a few cleansing breathes. Then discuss the physical and mental cues that are needed to perform the drill correctly. This teaches your athletes the actual steps they need to take in order to regain focus. It is also a method they can take into a game situation. They can take a breathe between pitches and think about what they need to do in order to be successful on the next pitch.softball-focus

It’s natural in our society to give or receive a consequence when an undesired outcome is reached. However, as coaches, we need to look at ourselves as teachers. Most consequences don’t teach athletes how to avoid similar situations in the future. When things start to go awry, pinpoint what is causing it. Then take the time to teach your athletes how they can counter that cause. Alter your perspective and strive to teach your players solutions rather then resorting to handing out a simple punishment.

 

Quotes:

“Practice puts brains in your muscles.”

Sports Psychology in the Classroom

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I am currently working as an aid in a special education elementary school classroom. The children I work with are between 8-12 years old and have behavioral issues or learning difficulties. Today I was working one on one with a little boy who really struggles with math.Math-problems-dyscalculia He gets frantic and starts to guess at the numbers, function signs, and eventually answers. Numbers just come chaotically flying out of his mouth with no real reasoning behind them. For example, when asked what 6 minus 5 equals, his first instinct is to shout out “7”, then “2”. And so on.  Everything he does is a guess. He never takes a moment to allow his brain to process the numbers and give a well thought out answer. I quickly noticed this, and my sports psychology training instantly kicked in.

I took a moment, told him to take a deep breath and really look at the numbers we were dealing with. After a few deep breathes, he blurted out, “I can’t.” “I don’t know.” I then made him practice some positive self-talk. Out loud I had him say, “I can do this.” “I know my numbers.” After repeating these mantras a few times, and deeply breathing, he began to read the problem images-42out loud correctly. He slowly read the numbers and grabbed his counting chart. He correctly identified the numbers in the problem, and which way to move on his chart for subtraction.  He looked up after he counted, and said, “1?”. I then said, “Do you think you did the problem correctly?”. He said, “yes”. I said, “So tell me confidently you know the answer is 1.” He then proudly said, “1!”.

We then went on to do 15 minutes of solid relaxed math and he began to learn rather than guess. It’s a moment that will forever resonate with me, and further my belief in the power of Sports Psychology.

Quote of the day:

“Just Breathe”

Team Bonding; an aspect commonly overlooked by coaches

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It’s amazing to me how many coaches overlook the importance of team bonding. Im not necessarily talking about team sleepovers, or team dinners. I mean coach facilitated team bonding. Activities and discussions to unite players on a deeper level than a common interest in a certain sport. On both of my collegiate teams, I was merely thrown into the mix of players and left to fend for myself in getting to know my teammates. Yet, in my collegiate classes there was always a teacher facilitated “get to know each other” activity done in the first week of school. This perplexed me. In the classroom I rarely rely on my fellow classmates to assist me in receiving a good grade. However, on the softball field, achieving success without relying on my teammates is impossible. So why were my teachers putting more emphasis on cohesion than my coaches were?

In my undergraduate studies, most of my teachers possessed a doctorate that fell into the field of kinesiology. Since my teachers were highly trained in the kinesiology field, they knew that cohesion within a group breeds success for the group. They knew that if we were comfortable with our classmates we would be more likely to speak up in class, ask for help, collaborate, and discuss, which in turn benefits the learning process by getting us involved. If team bonding activities were so beneficial in improving communication in the classroom, think of how successful it could make a sports team.

Which lead me to my future philosophy as  coach. I will always start off a season with team bonding activities. Not only will I begin the season with team bonding activities, but I will implement them through out the year as well. No one knows better than a former athlete that team dynamics ebb and flow throughout the season. Situations happen, teammates get in fights, suzy steals sallys boyfriend and so on. So extending team bonding activities throughout the season is a very important aspect to me.

I’ve actually found and witnessed a few programs that start their seasons this way. (Sierra City College) In fact, when I coached for Santa Rosa Junior college in their 2012 season, we started our spring season this way. We took our girls up to Tahoe for a retreat. On the retreat we played games, and facilitated discussions so our players could truly get to know each other, we as coaches could get to know them, and they us. I’ve never been so moved. I went from barely knowing my players to really understanding who they were as players and where they come from. Their personalities and behaviors were finally linked to reason, rather than mere physical observations. One of the more popular activities we did, was a scavenger hunt. When I was a freshman at SRJC in 2008 our coaches put together a scavenger hunt for us as an end of the year “party”. We were sent out in groups of 3-4 all over Santa Rosa with a list of tasks to complete and a video camera. We had two hours to record as many tasks as we could. At the end of two hours we reconvened at our coaches house and viewed all the tapes to determine a winner. The footage was priceless. We were all hysterically laughing at eachothers’ success and failures. Some of the tasks included: leap frogging across a cross walk, belly flopping into a pool, eating an entire lemon, rubbing a bald persons head, eating a raw egg and so on. Inspired by my freshman experience I recreated it for my players. Again it was a complete success, they loved it, and really got to know each other as they worked through the tasks.

It is so important for players to connect with one another. It facilitates communication and trust on the field and off. Not only is it beneficial, it’s fun! Can’t wait to implement my own team bonding plan someday!

Quote of the day:

“The main ingredient to a players stardom is the rest of the team” – John Wooden 

Sh*t talking is effortless

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Excuse my french, but, It doesn’t take effort to “shit talk” about people like your teammates, it’s effortless.Image

When on a sports team you spend countless hours practicing with your teammates every day and can easily pick apart their personalities and tendencies finding things that are imperfect or outright annoying. Blabbing these bothersome habits to other teammates hoping to persuade them to notice the negative side of a player only fuels the irritation and does nothing constructive for yourself or the team. What does take strength is to ignore the imperfect habits of your teammates and find the piece of a person that does benefit your team; the part that makes them standout positively. Challenge yourself to embrace their strength and realize that they are a necessity to your team. Persuade your teammates to notice the positive qualities each player contributes to the team. Refusing to participate in conversations that are negative about specific players or situations makes you a better teammate and a better person. We’ve all had our moments of frustration or anger when we talk negatively about another player, but it’s never too late to make a change; don’t follow the pack, be a leader, benefit your team, don’t take the easy way out. Strive to be the best person for your team, rather than the best person on your team. Take the challenge, refuse to shit talk.

I wrote this while playing collegiate softball. I walked onto a new team with a bad habit of talking behind others backs. It was frustrating, and very unwelcoming. So I took my own challenge, to never talk badly about a teammate. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It kept me out of the drama, and focused on the field. I even had a teammate of mine tell me how inspired she was by my decision. She decided to take the challenge in her own life. I never thought I would have had such an impact on others. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Quote of the day:

“Ask not what your teammates can do for you, ask what you can do for your teammates.” – Magic Johnson

Breathe, Look, Talk. B.L.T.

This past summer, I realized a lot of my players were performing in a very tense state on the field. Most of them looked like they were over exerting themselves, extremely anxious, and nervous. This is a strategy I created and presented to my players to aid them in remaining relaxed while competing.

There are three simple things an athlete can do to improve their focus and performance almost instantly. B.L.T. – Breathe, Look, Talk. In order to perform at our highest potential, we must be able to break the game down into simple moments that occur one after the other, rather than trying to take on the entire game at once. Doing these three things every pitch of every game will help to narrow your focus and keep your mind concentrated on positive key points.  This will assist you in performing without distractions, and achieve a successful performance.

Breathe.

In order for our muscles to work efficiently, one muscle must relax (lengthen) while its counterpart tightens (flexes). For instance: raise your hand to shoulder, while keeping your elbow close to your side.  Feel how your bicep flexes and your triceps lengthens. In competition, athletes tend to get anxious or over excited; in response all their muscles tighten up. This makes it hard for the lengthening muscle to do its job. Their bodies start to react like a rubber band that has been stretched too tightly; they snap. You may have felt this effect during a crucial at bat with two strikes. When that next pitch comes in, sometimes we panic, or “snap”, and just swing, even it it’s a bad pitch…strike three. In order to keep yourself in control, and your muscles working correctly, we must keep our bodies relaxed. We do this simply by deep breathing. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold it in for two seconds, and then exhale slowly for 6 seconds. As you repeat this you should be able to feel your heart rate slow, and your muscles physically relax.

Look.

The mind is more powerful than you could ever imagine; it has been argued that it has more of an affect on your performance as an athlete than your physical ability.  Our brain is the control center to our body; it controls what our bodies do. Our body follows what our mind thinks. If we keep worrying about making errors, or striking out, chances are, our bodies are going to make the images we have in our mind a reality. This however, can work in our favor. If we look (think) in the direction we want to go, rather than in the direction we want to avoid, our bodies will positively respond. Picture the outcome you want. In your mind create an image of yourself having success; see yourself hitting a line drive into the gap, catching a fly ball, or throwing a breaking ball that causes the batter to swing and miss. By rehearsing the outcomes we want in our minds, we create a track for our muscles to follow. It’s like practicing, only it takes place in our minds. Don’t look where you don’t want to go.

Talk.

After taking a few deep breathes, and looking into the direction we want to go, we must pick a simple focus to say to ourselves. It should be something simple, direct, and positive. Make sure there is no emotion attached to the way you talk to yourself. For instance at the plate, one could repeat, “up the middle, on the ground”, or in a bunt situation one could repeat, “top half, ball down”. One or two things that create the outcome you want. A pitcher could say “lock, and lift” before throwing a change up. A fielder could say, “Charge and follow through”. Make sure in this statement you don’t include the word “don’t”. Our brains only see the big the picture, and tend to not pick up on the word don’t. For example if you say, “don’t drop your hands”, your brain only hears, “drop your hands”. Instead try flipping to, “keep your hands high”. This also follows the rule of don’t look where you don’t want to go, we don’t want to drop our hands, so we don’t want to think about it either. We want to think about what we want to do, keeping our hands high. It’s a simple point for your brain to focus on, keeping you in the game, and undistracted by pressure.

Before every pitch, breathe. Look. Talk. B.L.T.

Quote of the day

“Quality thoughts lead to quality actions”

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