Monday, October 13, 2008

Feeling Fear, and Acting on It

As long as a team is winning, everything is great, right? Who wants to change a system or work on player dynamics or adjust defensive assignments when the squad is rolling? But then, somehow, the team loses. Bad luck? Too cocky? Not focused? Just a bad night? Whatever the case, there may be some blaming -- especially if the unit isn't truly tight. Sometimes, negativity subtly breathes underneath winning -- and then, when the moment seems right for it to pop its head out -- whoop. There it is.

The pointed finger, the belligerent, "I told you so", the "Why wasn't my number called?"... and suddenly, all of those wins don't mean too much. According to an article in the New York Times, people want to change things at the first itch of a downward spiral.
“With negative emotions we tend to have a desire to change the situation,” said Ellen Peters, a senior scientist at Decision Research in Eugene, Ore. But “when things are good there is not much desire to change.”

This quote actually references the recent fearful outcomes of the stock market and state of the economy. People are scared, and the accompanying anxious feelings make them run -- as in the flight part of the famous fight or flight theory. Bad times straight ahead? Well then... sell. Bad night of ball? Simple answer... the offense stinks. Throw out the playbook.

When the Chicago Bulls won all of those championships, programs wanted to run the Triangle Offense. Now, what do coaches at all levels want to learn? The Dribble Drive Motion -- because if Memphis can get to the NCAA final using it, then it is the best thing since sliced bread. I suppose more coaches would be knocking on Pete Carril's door for his Princeton sets -- if he lived adjacent to John Calipari's estate.

The point -- when wins (and money) accumulate, it's working and it's all good. Lose? Many immediately run.

From the same NYT:

Scientists who have studied the brain function have found that the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear, responds faster than the parts of the brain that handle cognitive functions...

If cerebral matter senses trepidation, "See ya!" Human instinct forces panic. Fortunately -- or unfortunately -- it is how one deals with that emotion that can overpower him or make him stronger.

Stay in there. Believe in the team and the system. Support each other. Physical talent doesn't always get it done (remember Pippen's Portland Trail Blazers?). And, if one is mentally tough enough, fear can act as a catapult for awareness and development rather than a degenerative factor that leads to worry and breakup.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Goal is to Have a Goal, and a Good One

In my experience, one of the most trendy items to cover in the preseason is the topic of goals. I do not know the percentage of coaches that ask their players and teams to set them, but I would venture to say goal setting is one of the strongest correlated variables in sports preparation. Some come up with goals the right way, while for others, creating realistic challenges is quite a conundrum.

Sport psychology literature warrants that goal setting is a very effective performance technique, particularly when goals are specific, measurable, reachable, and process oriented. Many people, though, do not know how to lay out the laws, nor stick with them, throughout the course of a lengthy season -- even a drawn-out week. More often than not, I have worked with an athlete who attempted (or was forced) to write down his goals, submit them to his coach, and then forgot what he wrote because he never saw the list again. Or it was not reflected on or reviewed in a structured manner. Sound familiar to anyone?

Goals are good. They help to motivate. They can keep one focused. They influence one's confidence -- hopefully in a good way. They may even be good for team building if discussed, criticized, and reworked among peers, coaches, or teammates.

And if they are personal but can still aid the team in its overall philosophy, then being able to construct goals is a true asset -- even a talent. Muss cited Andrew Bynum's goal to get 20 and 10 each game this season. Nice, though Coach Jackson doesn't believe the 20 can happen within his system. I wonder if Phil told his young big his thoughts or if Bynum had to read about them as we did? And I wonder if the budding star explained to his coach why he thought he was going to average an astounding double-double? Did he actually plan his outcome goals with performance goals this past summer? Was there time to pre-meditate before presenting a potentially enlightening moment to his philosophical coach? Hoopscoach reports Michael Curry sacrificed free time to stay in prime shape and work on his game consistently in order to prove to himself and others that he deserved what he dreamed. I hope Bynum put in the mental and physical work, too.

A player and a coach can talk the talk. But each has to write the talk (and have support provided along the way). At the very least, structure the talk that leads to the walk... otherwise, the goals are empty -- as the hoops will be without any follow through.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Program Refreshers

It has been a hectic, yet exciting time for me in this unprecedented move to Pasadena. I've been constantly thinking about the basketball program and the vision -- what to do, what not to do, what to expect, what not to expect.

From a psychological standpoint, a newly tapped energy is injected into an athletics team when a new staff takes over. People -- students, faculty, staff, administration -- are pumped. Questions arise everyday as university community members want to know about the upcoming season, the philosophy of the team, the outlook for the future. It's quite an experience -- especially considering I'm walking around a campus that is home to an Einstein getaway and 16 Nobel Prize Winners in science and medicine!

During the past week, I've jumped into every phase of the program, from relationship building to recruitment to alumni relations. Brief moments in the otherwise exhilarating activities have allowed me to explore what other coaches are doing (or could be doing) with their programs as they prepare for their first 2008-09 tip-off:

Thanks to HoopsCoach, we know what the Boston Celtics are talking about: discipline.

The Cross Over Movement brings up the question: do traditional training methods mean they have to last forever?

In the Coach's Network, when is the tough approach the one to utilize?

Musselman explains what 10 team are emphasizing -- everything from running to moving the ball to playing defense to creating chemistry.

Ah ha -- statistical analysis -- to use or not to use?

Positivity is great. Negativity not so great. Perhaps the priority is to be just plain real.

It's best not to reinvest, from a mental processing point of view -- otherwise, one chokes. (see previous post on pushing fast forward on the moment).

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