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.