Are you counting down the days to the start of the NHL season? I am! I think my favorite team, the Washington Capitals, are going to have an outstanding season. No, really! Well, I always think that, but from what I have seen and heard so far, this year they seem to have one extra special item in their toolbox. Not any particular super player, although they did make several significant acquisitions in the off-season that should really make a difference. No, it is their new coach. Barry Trotz, a veteran coach who is an undeniable leader. There are coaches who coach, and there are coaches who lead. The noticeable difference goes far beyond skills and drills. When players are inspired by their coach's philosophy, when they internalize and make his vision their own, that is the result of quality transformational leadership. The team is empowered and can take their collective skills to a higher level. Here is how he is doing it so far:
1. Coach Trotz is meticulous, detailed and highly organized. His every move is calculated and deliberate. From start whistle to finish, everything is done according to plan. When this is communicated to the players, there is trust. No surprises. He tells them what they will be doing and when, and that is what happens.
2. He has assembled a team of coaches and staff who he trusts to work at a high level, who buy in to his vision and own it. These individuals are at the top of their respective areas. Mitch Korn, for example, is a guru of goalies. His style and original training props (mini-pucks, white pucks, a curtain of hanging strips and more) simultaneously raise eyebrows and inspire motivation to perform among the players. The consistency among the coaching staff in their approaches to training and play is necessary to maintain credibility and trust of the players within this system.
3. Coach Trotz has a clear vision and philosophy. He communicates this to his players verbally and by example. He communicates his expectations for the team and expresses confidence that the players can meet and exceed these expectations. His belief becomes their belief.
4. Coach Trotz nurtures the team atmosphere, the "we're in this together" feeling. He personally invited select players to form a leadership group. The group members are players who can lead by example on and off the ice, who can help teammates manage their emotions so they don't get in the way. They can ensure everyone plays as a team. If there are issues, players are encouraged to speak to the leadership group, which acts as a middleman between players and coaches. Leaders were paired as mentors with rookies at training camp, even assigned locker stalls next to one another to further drive the point home that they are all one, all part of a greater whole. Everyone matters.
What these things have done is to break down barriers common in teams--veteran vs. rookie, superstar vs. fourth-liner, management vs. player. It has produced an atmosphere in which they have not just a team, but a band of brothers. The players want to play with and for each other. They have each others' backs and support each other. They fight for each other. Now out on the ice, whether they're a first- or fourth-liner, it's personal. And they're all in.
You will probably notice players reiterating these points in their interviews with the media. That shows how deeply Coach Trotz's message runs. Through repetition, example and trust, he encourages the players to make his vision their own. The players will exude more confidence, feel respected and feel like they belong to something great. They will make decisions based on the greater good of the team. This is the mark of true leadership. And it is what is going to make this season unlike any other the Capitals have had. I like what I've seen so far of Coach Trotz. I can't wait to see how it plays out!
For many years, attempts have been made to just do away with the third place game in the World Cup. The players agree they come to the World Cup to win. Anything less, pun intended, is no "consolation." Teams vary as to how they have approached the game in the past. Some have even managed to let loose and have fun. Let's look at this year's contenders and how they approached the game.
Brazil likely wanted to just get it over with. But they had something to prove. To their fans, to themselves, to their country. They saw in this final game an opportunity to prove they were more than the sum total of the goals against them in the semifinal against eventual champions Germany.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, apparently didn't want the hassle of changing their return plane tickets home, so reluctantly agreed to stay and play the game they supposedly love one...more...time. Something like that.
I'm sure the fans who spent the money and took the time to travel great distances to wear the orange (and I do mean orange--see under, "whoa, that is a bright color! We will be seen!) or to "root, root, root" for the home team, appreciate the players' acquiescence. But don't they deserve more? What is it all really about, anyway?
Is it about young men who have loved the game for their lifetimes and dedicated themselves to playing and perfecting their craft? Men who would do anything just to be out there playing?
Is it about the fans, people who may have their differences at home, but who can come together in harmony to share whatever comes as one collective entity, cheering, celebrating, jeering or consoling?
As soon as you hear comments from the players and coaches voicing their disdain for anything less than victory, it makes you wonder. It makes me wonder where along the line the values we try to instill in our young athletes have gone off track. "Winning isn't everything" has become, as Dutch coach Louis van Gaal so bluntly put it, "There's only one prize, one award that counts, and that is becoming champion. This match should never be played. Teams don't want to play for third place." Dutch forward, Arjen Robben added, of the possibility of a third place medal, "They can keep it."
It is disappointing to know now that the team who had some real emotion in playing, some motivation, was left with nothing. Brazil wanted to be professionals, to show their character. It didn't manifest in a win, but I give them credit for their attitude and drive. In the face of semifinal humiliation in front of their home crowd, they took their consolation game as a challenge and opportunity. It will sting for a while, but hopefully they can find a way to be proud of themselves.
These teams on the world stage may not realize it, but they shoulder the burden of being an example to millions of young soccer players around the world. The way they play, the laughable dramatics and showmanship, the incredible skill and athleticism, all are being scrutinized and internalized by these young fans.
As heartwarming as Brazil's David Luiz's show of good sportsmanship toward Colombian player James Rodriguez was, I have to wonder why it stood out so much--I guess these types of moments are few and far between, which is unfortunate. But that image will stay with the next generations and that is the real heartwarming part.
Thank you, Netherlands, for finding it in your hearts to play one last game. Next time, be bigger than your egos. Think about who might be watching, who you can inspire with your play, your attitude, regardless of the outcome. Second loser? Only if you think it so.
Get 'em next time Brazil. Your fans will be behind you as long as you stay true to why you play and how you can inspire.
It's the Olympics, and the US athletes are expected to shine. A whole nation expects them to return next week laden with gold. But so far, expectations have been met with disappointment and questions. "What is going on?" we ask. Surely there is some conspiracy, right? Oh yes, the speedskaters' suits were to blame for Shani Davis and company's disappointing finishes. Or the Cold War is back and it's all on the Russian judges. What about the invisible tripwires on the skating rink? Even Mother Nature is in on it, laughing deviously as she brings summer to the Black Sea resort, turning the ski and sliding courses to slush. Ah, wait, maybe it's all in their heads. Our team, collectively, is losing confidence and mental toughness all at the same time.
Or maybe...maybe it just is what it is. Anyone can win any race or competition on any given day, even at the Olympics. ("Do you believe in miracles?!!!!") These athletes are the best of the best from all over the world. Even with the best physical training and mindset, does any one athlete have complete control over every aspect of competition? Certainly greater conditioning, better strategy, more confidence, an ability to focus, relax and do what they do best can give athletes an edge. An edge. Not a guarantee. With every athlete facing the same external conditions, it comes down to individual performance on that day, at that time.
Julia Mancuso, a favorite in the women's downhill, finished eighth. She said of the combined less-than-stellar showing of her team, "...There's really only three spots where you can get a medal, and there's tons of skiers out here who can really step it up and have their best races." Anyone, any day.
Not to say that all of Team USA's performances have been epic failures. In many sports where the difference between medal and empty hands can be hundredths of a second or point, these athletes are faring quite well.
I would be remiss if I did not emphasize, though, that the mental game is a huge component, particularly in situations where external forces beyond individual's control are in play (i.e., weather, course conditions, media intrusion, subjective scoring). All of the athletes need to put everything in perspective. Favorites should try to manage others' expectations in their minds, and not get caught up in the media spectacle. Up-and-comers should remind themselves that every Olympics brings stories of great surprise medal-winning performances. When it comes to the actual performance, though, the focus needs to be solely on the race or the short-program or the game, relying on the comfort that training has provided. The knowledge that they have prepared physically as well as they possibly could, and hopefully have prepared for all of the "what if" scenarios they can't control, so they know how to handle anything that is thrown in their path, should give the athletes peace of mind.
No matter the external conditions, the athlete's ultimate performance in those conditions is completely within their control at this point. They can be assured of performing at their personal best if they can keep the right mindset. Will their best be enough to medal? Again, nothing is for certain. Success is doing what you know how to do, the best way you know how.
When it's their turn to perform, all that is left is to quiet the mind, take a deep breath and just do it. On any given Olympic day, anyone can win.
From Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno's book, Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday:
I love this saying: Reach for the unreachable. When you reach for that branch in the tree and you can touch it - great. That's your goal.
More: that's your destination.
When it's your destination, that changes everything about how you approach the way. An Olympics, for instance--that might be four years away. There are innumerable ways to get there. But those four years are going to speed by amazingly fast. An Olympics lasts seventeen days. The cauldron goes out and it's over. I've arrived--or have I?
Afterward, while I surely remember the Games themselves, I mostly recall the moments on the way. The strength you gain from that is remarkable. You've lived the experience--really lived it, fully.
The process, not the outcome. That has to be what sustains us as athletes, elite or weekend warrior. Every time the Olympic Games come around, we hear announcers say things like, "This is it." "This is what it's all about." "This is the moment." "This is what they've trained for." But really what "This" is cannot just be the Olympic performance. "This" wouldn't be enough to sustain these athletes over four years or more of highs, lows, good training days, bad training days, missteps or injuries, honing skills, practice, practice, practice.
What else besides the thought of "This" do I believe has to be there?
Number One: Passion. Passion for the sport. Passion for the feelings sport participation brings.
Number Two: Desire. Desire to be better than you ever thought you could be. Desire to see what your body and mind are capable of.
Number Three: Enjoyment. There has to be a feeling of joy and fun, or why do it?
Number Four: Reward. Rewards all along the way. One long-term goal of "This" and the thought of a possible reward of a medal of gold is not sustaining. There must be short-term goals and rewards to maintain motivation. Each and every small success should be celebrated.
Number Five: Positive Attitude. See success, feel it, live it before it's even there. Feel like a winner every day.
Number Six: Perspective. Realize when considering international competition, the odds are not exactly in any one person's favor. Pinning one's hopes and the idea of success or failure on one competition (considering there are always some variables outside of your control) is not just foolhardy, it is detrimental. Yes, it is an honor to represent one's country. Yes, the build-up to the Olympic Games is out-of-this-world, over-the-top phenomenal. But maintain perspective. Understand that if you are skilled and fortunate enough to get to that level, you cannot let the results define you as an athlete or as a person. See the bigger picture. Your Olympic experience began the first day of training. Every bit of blood, sweat and tears has been your Olympics all along. Know that, appreciate it, enjoy the whole experience of it.
How does this relate to the weekend warrior? Every time you step onto the field, the rink, the court, the treadmill, the aerobics studio floor, you are training for your personal Olympics. Push yourself, enjoy yourself. Live the experience fully. That is what "This" is. Go for gold, whatever that may be for you.
Here's to enjoying and living "This."
Excerpt from: Ohno, A. (2010) Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday. Atria Books.
This week I wrote an article for coaches on this site about feedback. It addresses the basics, how to give feedback, how much to give, when to give it, how often. As I was writing I reflected upon my own experience with my figure skating coach, Pavel.
I know I've written about him before, and his role in my saga from scared-to-death-of-ice to pretty decent skater with a dream or two. He is old school Eastern European, meaning compliments and encouraging words are few and far between. At times it is frustrating, because I wonder why I am paying him when he doesn't say too much. But actually, I know now I am paying him for one big reason--he's good. Really good.
Whether he realizes it or not, his style of providing feedback is right in line with the research which says "less is more." He has an allowable "bandwidth" of movements within which I can perform. If I stray, he is on me immediately to correct what I have done. As I have improved, the bandwidth has narrowed. He allows fewer deviations from proper form than he did when I started. For example, when I was just starting, the focus was on balance and gliding. It didn't matter quite as much at that time whether my knees were bent as much as they should have been, only that they were not perfectly straight. My arms could be out to the side, not necessarily at the perfect angle, but mainly to help me learn how they could help me maintain balance and direction. Now, however, I have noticed that if my knees are not bent enough, I am corrected quickly. He has given me more specific detail about where my arms should be, which way I should be looking, keeping my shoulders square to the short wall. With each new skill, the bandwidth for that movement is widened at first, then narrowed appropriately.
I complained to him once that he wasn't giving me enough detail about how to perform a movement, what I should be feeling, which muscles to tighten or relax. I am a "thinking person" and like to have as much detail as possible. He is opposed to thinking while skating, but will indulge me if I ask. That is the key. He is holding out, waiting for me to internalize the movement, to get the feel of it myself, to experiment, adjust, and finally learn how to do it all on my own. He notices the adjustments I am making. If he doesn't see any improvement, he will offer suggestions. But mostly, he waits until I ask, which is usually when I haven't been able to figure it out by myself. The learning taking place internally for me, is vital to my success in skating.
So the other day at my lesson I mentioned to him how good he is, how his style matches what research suggests brings the most success. He smiled sheepishly and said, "I know this already." Well, he certainly knows it is reflected in his pairs skating team, who recently qualified for Sochi to compete for Estonia! His lessons with me, I'm sure, bring him back down to Earth and check any ego fluctuations.
How many of us "know this already" about how to get the most out of our performance? When I talk with people about what I do as a sport psychology consultant, I get a lot of comments such as, "Right! That makes so much sense!" It should. It is, as my mentor from Penn State, Dr. David Collins, used to say, "Common sense not commonly applied." I help people discover what they already have at their disposal, their brilliant and strong minds, and offer ways they can apply mental skills to improve physical performance.
We are constantly adjusting to one another, Pavel and I. He gives me a few more "very goods" to keep me happy, and I ask more pointed questions when I need them but not all the time. I am learning, internalizing, and that is the point. Pavel offers a successful learning environment. I apply the mental skills I have learned over the years, and it really helps me improve day to day.
Oh, and I have fun, too.
My gym has done the unthinkable. It has challenged us, the members, to go where we never dared before. We've seen the infomercials for the DVD, frowned or cringed at the carnage on the screen and promptly turned the channel, shaking our heads and thinking, "those people are insane. If I did that DVD, I'd definitely have a finger on the pause button. Often." Now suddenly we are being beckoned, dared to be "those people." Like rubberneckers at the scene of a bad accident, an overflow crowd of us had to check it out. Up close. For no other reason than to be able to tell the tale, "Guess what I saw today!" Trouble was, getting close meant having to participate. I quickly found myself justifying it in my head--"Couldn't be that bad. They wouldn't offer it here if it was really that bad. Right?" The music began. Pleasant enough. The instructor, I think her name was Sergeant something; at least that's what I came to call her, flashed a big smile and invited us to march with her. "This is your workout," she entreated us in a sing-song voice. "Go at your pace. But push yourself, even just a little, and you'll get something out of the class." No problem. "Today we'll focus on form," Sergeant Sweet continued, "Use proper form even if it's slow. Just have fun." Not so bad at all. This is going to be fun, she just said that! Happily marching, several of my fellow rubberneckers and I chatted excitedly about how we had been so worried. Silly of us.
Then suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped from someplace very far below the Earth, Sergeant Sweet began to change. Not a subtle change, but a head-turning-360-degrees change. "FASTER! You need to PUSH IT! I do NOT want any of you coming to me after class saying you didn't even SWEAT! DON'T waste your time! Come on! Show me MORE! Jump! JUMP!" Our chatter ended. The fact that oxygen was now at a premium was probably a factor in that. 30 seconds of this move, 30 seconds of that move, suck in air, towel off the sweat. At last it was over. Oh, that was just the warm-up.
"Let's GO! MOVE! MOVE! I'm watching YOU!" Sergeant Torture bellowed. During the precious few 30-second breaks, no one dared even glance at one another, lest we be held as an accessory to what was happening. The prosecutor would no doubt ask, "Why did you do nothing to stop it?" I'll plead lack of oxygen, extreme dehydration.
After 50 minutes, we were mere shells of our former selves. Broken and really really sweaty, we stood stunned, realizing the music had stopped. Sergeant Sweet was back, the doors were open--we were free to go! Well, once we could actually move, that is. We shrieked at our good fortune. We survived! "So what did you think? Did you love Insanity?" Sergeant Sweet asked. One woman replied, "I think you should change the name of the class to 'Don't Go'!" We all laughed nervously. Please, Sarge, don't hold that against us next time. Did I say next time? Heck yeah, we're coming back. We feel invincible! We have been pushed to the brink and survived! We are still a little out-of-it, oxygen deprived, dehydrated, beaten and nearly broken. OK, not thinking straight, either. And yet, we all have an unspoken agreement to meet here again next week. To endure together. Share our misery. Enjoy our company, no matter how insane. Better than suffering alone to a DVD. And yet...do they make a "pause" button for real-life? I think I'll look into that before next week.
I recently started a profile on LinkedIn. I hadn't done it earlier because I guess I didn't quite get it. You make all of these "connections," hoping for--what? It's not like Facebook where these people are your friends and you post pictures of your adorable kid's latest exploits or your vacation to the Grand Canyon. It's really more of an online resume crossed with an opportunity to proudly display work accomplishments and subtly put feelers out for future employment opportunities. It's our "other" persona, beyond family life. It's that identity that most of us use to define ourselves. Go to any Happy Hour and you will hear over and over, "So what do you do?" Who we are and what we do are often one and the same in our minds.
I was hesitant for a long time to put myself out there on LinkedIn. Probably because before Personal Best Sports, I couldn't really define who I was--at least not through a particular profession. But now, I'm in. And it's actually been fun and exciting. Who accepted my invitation today? My network grows, people all over the world view my profile and find me interesting or worthy of potential assistance enough to "Accept."
It got me thinking about the power of connection. And it is a powerful thing. Humans are social creatures. We thrive with company. We like to interact and share. We are boosted when we receive praise, as well as when we give it.
Sports enables us to have connections. We are fans who celebrate together the thrill of victory, or join in suffering the agony of defeat. We are teammates who share the struggles of vigorous practice drills and swell with pride holding the trophies. It's all better when we do it together.
For any endeavor to be successful, a key component is connection. Take starting a fitness or diet program, for example. Numerous studies have shown the people who enjoy the most success have someone to work out with, or to be accountable to. Knowing someone is counting on us makes us more determined to continue. "Going public" by sharing our goals with someone almost guarantees adherence to the plan.
Connections can also breed healthy competition. LinkedIn is a constant reminder of what great accomplishments my network has achieved. It makes me determined to keep up my end of the bargain. I will not let my network down. I will let them know I am contributing to our collective strength as well. Strength in numbers, right? Silly? Maybe, but think about it. Have you ever felt any motivation to produce for others? Colleagues, bosses, teammates, coaches? Where did that come from? Your singular desire to do your best? Or maybe in some small way you wanted to prove something to others?
So what is my take-home message? First, consider your personal "profile." Who are you now? What are your skills, abilities, accomplishments? Go beyond work. Get personal. Raised three healthy kids? Organized a family reunion? Built a tree house? Lost 50 pounds? Who helped you get there? Can you pay it forward somehow? Where do you want to be? What do you want to be able to add to your profile in the future?
Second, get linked in. Not capital "L" linked, necessarily. Just make connections that can help you achieve the goals you desire. Connections can be professionals who would be a source of information or assistance for you. Family or friends with whom you share your goals and who keep you accountable. Or friends, colleagues, teammates, who are willing to actually get in the trenches with you.
Anything you put your mind to is possible. Remember that. And more minds can make the journey to possible that much easier. Invite connection. Accept invitations to connect. You'll be amazed by what you can accomplish.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Personal Best Sports
The sports world is filled with stories of perseverance, failure and success, personal struggles and public triumph. Each story provides insight into the mental side of sport and activity.