Friday, April 01, 2005

Mental Toughness

I’ve often said I wish I could convince Sockeye to wear EPIG jerseys the next time we (Chain) play them. It’s amazing how much better Chain plays against teams that we think we should beat as compared to how we play against teams we don’t think we should beat. Obviously, some of this can be explained simply by the fact that the teams that we don’t think we can beat are simply better than the teams that we think we can beat. I think there’s more to it than that though. I think our game against Pike is a perfect example – we’ve always beaten Pike and so we just assumed that we’re better than they are and so we go out there and find away to beat them at nationals. Then they turn around and make semifinals, showing that they were pretty much capable of beating anyone. I think Chain is also capable of beating anyone if we don’t play scared. Since I’ve been coaching I’ve run into similar problems with Emory. When we play teams that we know are good we make mental errors that we don’t make against teams that we know aren’t as good.

I’ve really been at a loss as to how to develop mental toughness. When I was growing up and playing basketball, the coaches would do different things to put us in pressure situations. For instance, at the end of practice when we’re all about to pass out from exhaustion, he’d put someone on the free throw line and tell them they had to make both free throws or the rest of the team had to run 10 more suicides while the shooter sat on the bench and watched. On the one hand, it was somewhat effective – I can honestly say I never felt nearly as much pressure in a game as I did when it was my turn to shoot free throws at the end of practice. On the other hand, it seems kind of tyrannical and frankly just mean. I don’t think I could bring myself to do that to my kids.

I talked to Baccarini about this for a while a couple of weeks ago. He said that Amherst has really started to take the mental toughness thing seriously in the last couple of years. Apparently there is sports psychologist that works with their frisbee team. Here is a link to his book - http://www.competitivedge.com/slump.html . Honestly, some of it seems kind of hokey to me, but this guy’s big thing is to block out what happened in the past and block out worrying about the future and just really focus on the moment. Don’t worry about what the score is, worry about completing this pass etc. One of the training techniques they use is that they concentrate on the number 1 for as long as they can until something distracts them – maybe they hear someone yell or something and their mind focuses on something other than the number one, when that happens they start thinking about the number 2 and so on and so forth until 3 minutes has elapsed. The goal is to keep thinking about the same thing for as long as you can. Like I said, seems kind of hokey, but it’s interesting. In any event, I don’t really have any good answers in this department, but it’s something that I think is interesting so I thought I’d throw it out there and see if anyone else has some ideas.

7 comments:

Ewald said...

I have pretty decent mental toughness. Ironically it comes from playing the french horn. I think I've told this story before.. but anyway.. when you're a decent player you often have to play solos, usually in front of an incredibly large audience. For something like playing an instrument, your state of mind, body temperature, tenseness and everything really cant f up the solo. I was a wreck before I went to a conservatory in 93 or so that made every player play in front of the conservatory on a friday. Everyone screwed up... but by the end everyone pretty much sounded good. The thing is, I disagree that its mean, like in your basketball analogy its preparing you for the pressure of a game. I think if the training is successfull, then over time it becomes fun, and if stressfull spotlight situations are fun you have a much better chance at performing at game time. Some people just arent cut out for pressure, and if after x number of times to try to get up in front of everyone and perform.. they still choke.. maybe they arent cut out for this type of competition. I think if you explain why you are doing a particular drill and why each player is getting singled out.. it takes the embarrassment out of it.

Ewald said...

Ok.. I have more to say on this. I think the most dangerous player is a great player with poor mental toughness. Here you have someone you absolutely want in every game winning situation but simply cant perform there. I think that teams with that dynamic, teams with great players that cant win, will never win under their leadership. Ultimate still seems like a "throw the best players together and win" mentality sport. Even if the club scene is now more high risk/reward play.. does that really mean those are the best teams that can be right now? Or is one team successfull and everyone else joining em rather than trying to beat em.

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