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Coach Communication – Part One

By Craig Sigl

Youth coaches have a difficult job and yet most are very passionate about their role which fuels them to take it on.

I want to address the big pink elephant in the room about youth coaching and that is the age-old balance between striving to win and developing players. Let’s face it, coaches want to win. Let’s accept that. Even coaches who preach that they have “fun” and “sportsmanship” and “life lessons” first STILL want to win, at heart, and we all know it.

I get it! I want my clients to win too and I celebrate right along with them when they succeed at achieving their goals. There is one area of coaching where you don’t have to make the choice between striving to win and developing players by putting your efforts into it and that is:

Coach to Player Communication

The ironic thing about coaches putting efforts into this area is that it definitely contributes to, and sometimes is the difference in, turning a team or player into a winner even if that’s not your main goal! I’ve got a 4-part series here on my best tips to help achieve both of those goals for you as a coach. Parents can learn just as much from this series.

1) Create the environment for your players to build their confidence.

I could write a book on confidence building but, the first and most efficient thing for a coach to do is to NOT do things to your players that hurts their confidence. You may be a passionate, loud coach who believes you have to be tough on your players but you also better be aware and read your player’s reactions to your yelling to see if you cross the line.

One of the most common things I have heard from athletes who come to with an issue is: Inconsistent confidence.

And so many times, a coach has been a big reason for the problem. If you aren’t sure about whether you cross the line in hurting your player’s confidence vs. giving good feedback, the best thing you can do is to consistently PRE-FRAME your style and how you give advice and coach. Like this:

“Team, listen, sometimes I yell at players. Sometimes I call players out and it might embarrass them. Sometimes I say things that even I am not proud of. It happens. I’m not perfect. But make no mistake…that even when I am doing those types of things, it does NOT mean that I don’t like you. It does NOT mean that I don’t think you are good enough to excel on this team. It does not mean anything but this:

I CARE so much about you succeeding here. Period. Nothing else and nothing less. So, please forgive me, in advance if I ever go over the line. DO NOT take it personally. It’s just me caring about and doing my best to make you successful. Got that!”

I would give that kind of speech often and you will have inoculated them for any confidence destruction from your actions. They will then build their confidence on the continuous improvements they make in skills and effort which you will praise regularly and everywhere.

2) Notice and call out team players and teamwork behaviors

There was a scene in the famous movie “Hoosiers” about a small-town school basketball team that went to the state championships. In that scene, early in the movie, the coach tells the players they must pass the ball 3 times before anyone takes a shot. One of his players violates this twice and makes both shots. The coach takes him out of the game. Fans and parents yell at the coach because they all want to win that game and that player seemed to have the hot hand. But the coach knew that teamwork was much more important that any single win in the long run.

You can see another example of this in the movie “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team which almost made me cry it was so good in how it showed this “teamwork” thing. Now, this is nothing new to coaches, right? You all know about this power. But many coaches don’t fully take advantage of it by calling it out on a regular basis, especially when they see it in their less-talented players. You need to put it on your radar to really look for players supporting each other in less than obvious ways (like right after a big score). Go all out to point out players who make unselfish assists in games AND practice. Notice who doesn’t ever complain when others do and tell them, individually how much you appreciate and notice that. Don’t fall into the trap of just giving the majority of your attention to your star players but certainly take the star player aside and tell them how much you appreciate how they built up or inspired a lesser player.

Truly, your team is only as good as the weakest links, and you know that deep down.

3) Consistent messages of open and honest communication with you.

You probably have a pre-season meeting with players and parents, great! You probably are good about post-game analyzing and recaps, even better! What you probably are not doing is giving your players the idea, through consistent messages, verbal AND non-verbal that you want them to come to you for your feedback on how they can improve.

Players are deathly afraid to talk to their coaches, even the friendly ones. Believe me, I’ve heard what they really think and won’t tell you or their parents. The more individual, personal, quick chats you have with each player on your team, the more they will get that message. Every person on earth wants to be recognized and acknowledged and kids need it even more since they base their entire identity on what others (especially adults) say to and about them.

Do not underestimate this and blow it off thinking: “I give my players lots of encouragement and advice.”

That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about going a level deeper into showing each player that you care about them as a person and an athlete. One key in doing this, is to get as specific as possible when giving feedback, good or bad. Don’t just tell a player they need to work on their shot. Don’t just tell them that they need to be more consistent. Don’t just tell them they need to be more aggressive. Get into details and specifics of what exactly they can do to improve their performance and HOW.

You don’t have to be warm and fuzzy about it. Do it with your own style, even if it’s a rough, tough style.

You know what I mean. Do it and reap the rewards of players who will do anything to please you.

Stay tuned for part 2 coming next

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com

Decision Declaration

By Craig Sigl

I’ve worked with countless youth, college, and pro baseball players over the years and I am shocked at how few of them have taken advantage of a very simple, yet powerful mental tool to get their play to the next level.

Usually, they come to see me because they have problems…they are in a slump, or have the throwing yips, or just not playing to the talent and skills they know they have.
I often start out by asking them about the decisions they have made about their game. They usually answer something about deciding to play for this team or that team, or maybe deciding that they want to play a certain position.

Rarely do players make a powerful decision to achieve a goal they have in mind and that can be the real problem! Here’s what I mean:
You can have a goal, like playing at the next level of competition, and you “want” to achieve that goal…
But, DECIDING that you will achieve that goal is twice as powerful.
Let me explain…

Imagine 2 people on one side of a canyon with a rickety footbridge as the only way to get to the other side. Both of them “want” to get to the other side. The bridge looks risky and dangerous, but passable. They both pause and look at each other and then the first person makes a DECISION to cross. Who is more likely to get to the other side?

Pretty obvious, right? Now, let’s magnify this power.

The second person, 10 seconds later, makes a DECISION to cross and then tells the first person: “I’m going.”

Now who’s most likely to be the first one to the other side?

That’s the power of a DECLARATION!

You want to start making solid decisions and then declare them to yourself, and even better, to people who support you.

Goal setting is great and I encourage it. The way to increase your chances of actually making your goals reality is by coming to a solid decision and declaration that you are going to achieve them. You want to do this on goals that are do-able, but tough and something longer than a month or two out.

Here’s a couple examples of what this might be like:
“My goal is to start on Junior Varsity this year”
“My batting average is .350 or better by the end of this season.”
“I’ve decided my goal is to play soccer on a D1 college team.”

Without making a decision, you are operating at only half speed. You also leave yourself wide open to a destructive force called “procrastination.” This is where you keep putting things off or make up reasons why something else is more important to do now instead of your training or workouts.  Once you make a decision, your mental wheels will start turning and you will come up with a plan of attack. Your body will get antsy to take action. You will naturally want to do things like go down to the cages and work on your swing…or take some grounders at the field.  Your DECISION is like a match lighting a fire. A DECLARATION is like pouring gas on the fire.

A declaration has double benefits. When you do this, you trigger inside of you a strong internal program we all have to follow through on what we say we will do. And secondly, you will be amazed at how people around you support you in your goal because they now know how serious you are.

Check this out… when you do this…life actually gets easier …because you now have Direction and you don’t have to force yourself to practice or train any more. It all happens naturally! You become a powerhouse of action and that actually feels really good to do things on purpose like that on a daily basis.

You have it in you to do this.

So go ahead and make sure you DECIDE on something you want to achieve in sports this year. Write it down on a piece of paper. I like using 3×5 cards for this and I put them everywhere. Whenever you read it, stop for a moment and put some thought energy and emotion into it. This makes it solid in your nervous system and creates all sorts of amazing changes for players of all ages.

Even kids as young as 8 years old can take advantage of this.

Watch yourself over the next week and see how things start changing and lining up to help you reach your goals. Acknowledge the positive changes and you will keep getting more – I promise!

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting:
http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com

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Identity Building

By Craig Sigl

I had a conversation with a sports dad who was asking my advice about how he should advise his 9th grade son regarding choosing what sport to play in an upcoming school year. His son isn’t the typical sports kid, no,he is one of those rare kids who is just a natural athlete and excels at everything.

The story is, his son, let’s call him Max, had played baseball for years as his primary sport and football in season for his school team. It seems that his football coach wanted to give him a shot at starting quarterback for the upcoming season and thought he had a better than average shot at it but, of course, there were no guarantees. Max loved his football coach and got excited thinking about the prospect of being starting QB. On the other hand, Max was a standout on his baseball travel team and his coach there really wanted him to play the fall season with them. Max was the captain and stud of the baseball team and had lots of past success and everyone looked up to him. The baseball coach put some heavy pressure on him to play with the team year round telling him that he had reached the age where it’s time to specialize.

When I asked the dad what his son had said about these choices, he said Max seemed excited, yet hesitant about the football option and seemed pulled more toward the baseball option talking about how it was a sure thing and “I can’t go wrong with baseball since I’m good at it.”I sensed that the dad was convincing himself on our phone call that Max should play baseball because he wanted to see his son feel good about himself and build confidence. That is, until I asked him point blank:“What is it that you want your son to get through playing sports?”He answered:“I want him to learn life skills like determination, discipline, teamwork, the value of working hard for something, follow through, and respect for self and others.”“So, which of these 2 options do you think will give him the best environment to get to the next level of learning those things you just mentioned?” I responded. Long pause…. He came back with: “Wow, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of t that way.”I continued on…“it seems like another season with the same baseball team will probably go a lot like the last season, right? Where is the challenge for him there that can develop his determination? Where is the hard work that requires discipline there?You are so concerned about his confidence but it seems he already knows how to build that from his baseball experiences.

He was so happy to have this clarity and thanked me profusely for the insight ready to jump off the phone and tell Max his advice. I told him, “Not so fast! The 2 of you have been so focused on performance results and celebrating his wins and basing so many of your actions and conversations around that that you are going to have to get Max on board with what we just talked about. Everything taught in youth sports is geared toward and measured on performance as to whether goals have been reached. You say you want all those life skills for your boy but have your actions and words supported that over performance over the years? Another long pause…. You see, Max (and most kids) are fully trained and programmed that Short Term performance results are what matters in their participation. You are going to have start reprogramming him for the long term benefits of life skills and let me tell you, that is no easy task since all of society and culture are on the opposite side of that.

You are also fighting the fact that kids pre-frontal cortex doesn’t fully mature until their mid 20’s! This is the part of the brain that understands Delayed Gratification. If the deck isn’t stacked enough already, remember that kids are in a deep struggle to establish their identity and they start building it from EXTERNAL feedback. Max has a lot to lose by going to football and adults far underestimate this motivation kids have to get that external feedback which they base their confidence and identity on. If you want your child to be successful in the long term, you want them to build their identity on qualities, resources, skills, and talents that are NOT DEPENDENT on continued achievements or praise from others. I’ve seen many a talented athlete burn out or stress out because they always felt like they had to continuously “PROVE THEMSELVES.”It never ends and the stress and tension of that burden actually hinders the performance everyone wants.

Instead, Max’s father would do very well to help his kid instill beliefs that last a lifetime that sound something like this:“I’m a fighter and competitor and never ever give up”“I love and seek out challenge”“Discipline and hard work will get me through any difficulty”So….the big take away from this story:

1.Consciously decide what you want for your kid in youth sports.

2.Make your actions and words congruent with #1 above

3.Help your kids build their ego/identity on things that can never be taken away or judged by anything outside of them.

Alright, sports parents. Let’s do this!

Craig has personally worked with thousands of professional and amateur athletes on the mental side of their game. He is an author and creator of 7 mental toughness programs sold in 28 countries and writes to over 35,000 athletes in his emails. Download free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For A Great Sports Parent” at www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com

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Failure Q and A

By Craig Sigl

I’ve noticed people can take great offense to the word “failure,” especially in a youth sports context. So, first, let’s define what failure is?

As a mental toughness trainer who has worked with thousands of youth athletes, by far the biggest problem is fear of failure. I have looked at and examined this concept and the word and
have determined it to be non-useful in the context of youth sports participation and therefore, my definition of it is: “A destructive word OTHERS use to describe events when they don’t achieve their goal or outcome.”

In other words, I teach that there is NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE. It doesn’t exist except as a useless story in your mind. (get rid of the idea of failure and you get rid of the fear of it).

Second, what can be seemingly offensive about this word?
It’s destructive to all athlete’s confidence, young and old, and it’s completely unnecessary to use the word for any situation or circumstance. I teach my young athletes to use deadly accurate descriptions of events that allow for growth and improvement, not destruction. For example:

– Event:
A baseball player strikes out at the end of the game leaving runners on base when a hit would have won it for them.

– Destructive description of event using “failed”
“I was up to bat in the last inning and failed to get a hit costing my team the game. I was a failure.”

– More useful description of the event:
“I was up to bat in the last inning and struck out. We didn’t win. I did my very best and learned something about myself that I will use the next time I’m out there. I’m now better able to handle that kind of pressure having gone through it.”
(Notice no need for the word “failure” in any of that useful description)

Why do parents want to protect their children from failure?
Some parents do this because they don’t want to witness their children experiencing difficult emotions..usually it’s the mother. This is because those parents are extremely empathetic and can actually feel the difficult emotions themselves when their child is feeling them. The truth is, those parents are protecting themselves from the feelings that come from “failure.”

Do their interventions hinder children in the long run? If so, how?
Absolutely yes. The whole point about childhood is to learn how to handle life and the difficulties we face while having a support and guidance network as a back stop. If children don’t get the opportunity to experience the adversity and work through it, they don’t learn the mental and emotional skills they will need as an adult and the consequences are much greater as we get older.

What potential life skills come from failure?
Ultimately, it’s resilience. When an outcome is not achieved and disappointment and other emotions follow, there’s 2 basic ways kids (and all humans) respond:

1. Wallow in victimhood
2. Learn from the event and come back stronger and smarter

Resilience, or the ability to come back from adversity or “get back on the horse after you fall off” is paramount to building confidence. Confidence cannot be built in the presence of fear. When you conquer anything difficult, you don’t fear it any more. This applies to small kids as well as adults.

How can parents help their child bounce back from failure to be a better person and athlete?

1. Acknowledge and allow the child to express and discharge the difficult feelings after the event.
2. After emotions subside, help them see the silver lining to the dark cloud.
3. Inspire them by reminding them of their proven strengths and abilities.
4. Label them as someone who always comes back or is a “comeback specialist”

If you have any anecdotes and points you would like to add, please let me know.

I have a story I tell often about a 12 year old volleyball player who’s goal was to play on a college team. She came to me in tears telling me “my coach hates me” and a long story about how she is treated unfairly by this coach and was bumped down to the “B” team in her select club.

After she finished, I shocked her by saying loudly: “That’s great!”

“This coach is doing you a huge favor. What if you had nothing but nice coaches the whole way until your senior year in high school AND THEN you got a bad coach like this? And you fell apart like this right when you needed to be at your best for recruiters?”

“BECAUSE of this bad coach, you are here in my office learning mental toughness and by the time you are a senior, you are going to be the most mentally tough player around and it won’t matter whether you have good or bad coaches all along the way. This coach is doing you a huge favor at this age! She said my favorite words:

“I never thought of it that way”

I ran through all 4 of the steps above in that meeting and this girl ended up bouncing back and starting on the “A” team.

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com