With nationals just around the corner I have been spending more time thinking of a speaker that came to Paideia last year. His topic was mindfulness, and although the focus on was education he also had a sports angle to the discussion. For now we will just leave the definition of mindfulness as being in the moment. I wanted to write about three instances of mindfulness from the past three years and the different impact each of them had on my playing ability. I'll then tie it into coaching and what a coaches role is in a player's mindfulness.
Two years ago was my last year on (and was the last year for) Rival. It had been a long road and I had stepped down as a captain to have more time to spend with my new daughter. The entire season wasn't fun. I liked the people I was playing with, but I never felt like I played well and more importantly I was never really present for any of the games. While my body was there I was always torn with having left my daughter to go to some tournament for the weekend. With my mind split my level of play was low and we lost in the game to go. It was a bummer not going to nationals, but I was happy to be at home with my baby girl.
Last year the time commitment was much lower since I was playing Master's. I suffered some injuries during the season, including a partially torn ligament in my throwing hand. At nationals things went well and we broke seed. In the last pool play game on Friday I injured my other hand (just a bad sprain) and while we were able to win the quarters immediately afterwards the next day was different. Sure, we were playing eventual champs Surly, but given a night to think and worry about another injured hand I wasn't mentally present for the semis the next day. My play wasn't terrible, but was muddled. I was always thinking about my hand and not present in the game happening on the field.
This year I was talked into not retiring late in the season. While I knew physically I wouldn't be in as good a shape as last year (10 months off nursing injuries will do that) my goal was to be more mindful of the game. I did the things that I was taught to do and focused on listening to signals as they came in and not searching for them. While we dropped a game in pool play we had a stellar finals against Tejas. We (the offense) were never broken. When we did turn the disc over we got it back quickly (in one case by me getting a run through Callahan). We have more studs on the offense than last year, but for me the difference was the game felt slower (and not just because I am slower). I was taking things in as they came and able to react quickly and effectively.
For our players to be at their most successful they need to be able to process information and react quickly. This allows them to use their training to the fullest extent. The previous years there was always something else going on in my mind and that slowed my game down. This year my focus was not to ignore those erroneous signals coming in (I still missed being away from my daughter and worried about my body) but do allow them to pass quickly because they are not in the present.
This will be particularly important at nationals this year. We (Reckon) are likely to be seeded 3 or 4 overall, and therefore a 2 seed in our pool. The last game of Thursday will be against the 1 seed and will be tough. Success in that game will require us to play our best and to be in good health and good spirits. Looking forward to that game during the first two rounds will reduce our mindfulness. By thinking of things that will happen in the future we are no longer as in the present and it will have an impact on our performance.
But as coaches we know that we have to think about the day as a whole. How will we manage legs, what strategies are working, and are we getting people enough reps are all things that we coaches consider. I'm not advocating that coaches stop thinking about those things, but rather the players. What a good coach can do is talk to his/her team ahead of time and prepare them to be mindful in the games. This may involve some training of how to be mindful (I've heard rumors of excellent things Tiina used to do with her boys to work on this), but also should involve a discussion where the coach indicates that it is their job to worry about the whole day. If players are used to being un-coached then whole-day management is a concern for them. But with a good coach the burden of the whole-day strategy should fall on the coaches should and that should allow the player to focus on the game at hand.
I know I will be continuing to work on being mindful in Sarasota this year. I can't guarantee that it will mean more wins, but hopefully it will allow me to play better and have more fun. This is the last year I'll be going to Sarasota after all. I might as well have a good time while I am there.