by Garret Kramer
Last week I listed what I deem to be the most acute eight mistakes that coaches at all levels of sports, make day after day. I received many comments on the list and some insightful questions. So, let’s break each one of the myths down, one by one, and then talk about productive alternatives.
1. Strategies or game plans are more significant than the state of mind of an athlete or team.
Here is very common misconception and a good one to start off with. You see, many coaches formulate well thought out plans, only for their team not to grasp the concepts and thus perform poorly come game time. Why? Because a team’s ability to understand and apply a strategy will only be as high as their collective state of mind when the chalk talk takes place.
Therefore, it is essential for coaches to realize that when their team is thinking clearly, they will always be able to comprehend and implement the most seemingly complex game plan. When the same team is operating from a low level of thought, you’d be better off throwing the game plan out the window and finding a creative way to help the team’s collective state of mind to rise.
2. Winning, or lessons to be learned, are more significant than the state of mind of a coach when advising or disciplining.
Regrettably, coaches often attempt to instruct or teach when they are simply not of the right state of mind to do so. For example, if a coach fails to recognize his or her own low state of mind at a particular moment and attempts to advise or discipline (because a game is on the line or a player needs to learn a lesson), you can pretty much bet that the words will have a negative effect on the player, team, or contest at hand.
Instead, coaches must see that the number one criterion for having a positive impact, is for the coach to be operating at a higher level of mental functioning than the player or team with whom he or she is working. Quite simply, for long term success, coaches should understand that what comes out of their mouths is far less significant than the state of mind from which the words are spoken.
3. The behaviors of an athlete, on or off the field, will determine his or her level of success or failure.
In virtually every case, coaches today are studying the behavior of their players, judging the actions, and then instructing accordingly. From off the field conduct, to performance during practice or play, coaches use an athlete’s behavior to gauge competence. Sadly, however, when a player is judged he or she becomes angry and resistant and negative antics are reinforced.
To the contrary, coaches must see that a player’s behavior is merely the ‘after effect’ of their state of mind in the moment. When a player is operating from a high level of well being, his or her behaviors will always be flawless; from a low level of well being, his or her behaviors will always be disastrous. So, rather than holding a player or team accountable to behaviors that fit within a coach’s personal thought system, try holding them accountable to recognizing their own state of mind in the moment and being guided from that perspective. From here, an individual’s free will and creativity will soar, and so will long term success.
4. The emotions an athlete experiences during training, practice or play, are a direct result of the world around the athlete.
We have all experienced the feeling of getting “caught up in the moment.” In athletics, we often hear players or even coaches blame the circumstances around them for their actions. In baseball for example, you might hear a batter say something like: “The opposing pitcher threw at my head so I was justified in losing my cool and charging the mound!” Yet, the same player on a different day might say: “The opposing pitcher threw at my head but I was so ‘locked in’ that I barely noticed. All I cared about was a solid at-bat in order to help my team!”
In truth, the most productive players and coaches understand that the world around them is pretty much insignificant. This type of athlete knows that he or she is in charge, and that external situations (like the opposing pitcher) are actually neutral and have no ability to regulate performance. When a player’s state of mind is elevated, he or she will always stick to the task at hand. When it is deflated, he or she will be easily distracted. This understanding provides all the potential required for an individual to take destiny into his or her own hands, and to prosper, regardless of the events of the outside world.
5. Supposed ‘issues’ that an athlete or coach faces can be solved by changing circumstances.
Here is a topic that comes up just about every day at Inner Sports. From the parents of high school athletes to pro players, I am often asked if it’s reasonable to want to change teams or even schools because an athlete doesn’t like his coach, teammates, or even the city in which he or she plays.
Well, just think about it for a second- how successful is this tactic? Again, our appreciation for any outside circumstance is totally dependent on our own thoughts and level of psychological functioning when examining the circumstance. Thus, altering this external factor is basically irrelevant. We are all aware of individuals who jump from career to career, spouse to spouse, or on the pro level- team to team, only to be miserable wherever they go. Only when an individual deeply sees that the answers to a contented life rests only within him or her (not ‘out there’ somewhere), will he or she access the wisdom necessary to make insightful decisions and to achieve, no matter what.
6. Errors or mistakes must be addressed and figured out in the moment.
How often do we see a player make a mistake only to have a coach get on the player’s case just as soon as the infraction occurs? Or, we see the same player get down on him or herself and painstakingly try to solve the apparent issue in the moment. While both courses of action usually occur with the best of intentions, success rarely follows. In a flash, the same player makes a comparable mistake and so on; possibly leading to a dreaded slump in performance.
Now, when a player or coach understands the power of one’s own state of mind, they see that it is impossible to grow and flourish from a mistake any time the mistake is addressed from a low level of psychological functioning. If a player is suffering, and he or she attempts to fix things at that instant, then a slump is a sure bet. On the other hand, if the quandary is ‘back burnered’ until clarity and quiet are realized, then insights will flow and you can be certain that a solution will appear before you know it.
7. Competiveness is derived from grinding it out, or the power of an athlete’s or coach’s will.
This myth is pervasive at all levels of athletics today. Coaches have bought into the notion that the more a player grinds or exerts willpower, the more competitive the player will be. Virtually every day we hear coaches shouting from the sidelines: “focus, concentrate, work, work, work.” Only to see athletes trip over their own two feet come crunch time. The truth is that forcing effort or focus overworks an athlete’s natural thought system, binds one’s ability to see clearly, and ultimately stifles the capacity to perform freely.
As an alternative, when a coach allows the game or a player’s life to be the teacher, inner wisdom is accessed and the player is able to figure things out for him or herself. The most revered coaches are those who teach by allowing a player’s own innate knowledge to come forth; not by forcing their views or opinions. Players of all ages want to produce, not to consume. Only when coaches create an environment free from the fear of failure, will players let go of limitations and find the unbounded competitiveness that keys achievement.
8. Mental performance tools (visualization, deep breathing techniques, positive thinking, etc.) promote long term success.
More so than any other myth mentioned, this one best represents the misalignment between the experience of athletes today, and the strategies of the coaches and even the sports psychologists who are trying to help them. That is, if you ask players about their thinking and feelings upon great play and upon poor play, they will use words like freedom, ease, effortless, and no thought, in describing a high level of performance. And they will use words like bound up, work, trying, and over thinking, when describing a low level of performance. Why then does the sports world promote performance tools and techniques that only rev up thought, by providing players with coping mechanisms that are not necessary in the first place?
I believe that it is now time for the athletic community to realize that the only answer to enduring performance rests within an innate understanding that we all own, and these types of external “fixes,” potentially shroud. In other words, any time a player is asked to look “out there” for the answer, he or she is actually moving further and further away from personal growth and consistency. In direct contrast, when a coach demonstrates to his or her players that the power to determine one’s level of passion or engagement solely exists inside of them (never in some external “fix”), then the player’s natural instincts will kick in, leaders will emerge, and trust will thrive. In this environment, players take ownership of their own fate, thus long term success is created with ease.