The Power And Benefits Of A Goal

IMG_0650Are you helping the athletes you work with set goals? If not you might be missing an important opportunity. A paper from Robert Weinberg at Miami University of Ohio looks at the research surrounding goal setting in sports and some practical ways to do it. It’s worth the read. You can check it out here.

What caught my attention were the benefits he listed.

Players who focus on process or performance goals experience

1. Less anxiety

2. More confidence

3. Greater satisfaction and concentration

4. Improved performance

According to Weinberg the research shows that goals are effective because

1. They direct and focus our attention

2.They help us mobilize effort

3. They enhance our persistence – help us stick to it

4. We develop new learning strategies – we learn to adjust, adapt and make progress

Too often in youth sports we either assume the goals are apparent and that every kid wants the same thing or we just assign them to the players. We’re missing a great opportunity. A goal is really just the aim of an action. It’s easy to generate lots of activity. But without an aim it’s unlikely I’ll hit the target. Helping players set goals empowers them by teaching them how to chose their target, set their sights, take their best shot, and then learn, adjust and stick to it. I think we call those life lessons.

I’ve started taking a deeper dive into the goal setting process with our 15 – 20 year old athletes and here is what I’m finding. What’s good for the players is good for me as a coach.  I experience the same benefits: less anxiety, more confidence, greater satisfaction and focus and I do a better job of helping them meet their goals.  In addition, clear goals are helping me zero in, increase my energy,  be patient with the process and be more creative in adapting to new challenges. That seems good because one of my goals is always to become a better coach.

As the Masters is upon us here is a glimpse into the power of a goal.

Steering A Better Course For Young Athletes

images-4I was having dinner with an old college football friend a few weeks ago. One of his daughters played and is now coaching at the Division 1 level in college. A second daughter is in the middle of the process of making choices about where to continue in her sport after high school. She’s just a sophomore. It’s an intense experience. He shared that when his first one went through it he tried to resist some of the pressure in the process and keep it sane and healthy. In the time between them things have changed, the process is even more intense and he feels more like he’s being pulled along in the wake of some enormous ship doing his best to keep up. The question keeps coming up, who’s got the kid’s best interest at heart?

I came  across an interview with sports performance coach Kristen Dieffenbach in the Frazier Cycling Newsletter last week. It was an insightful and helpful look at the process of athletic development and working with teenage athletes. Dieffenbach who is also a professor at West Virginia University makes  a number of strong points. And, while the interview was about development in the world of junior cycling her conclusions apply to any sport. Here are a few  things that stood out.

1. Our current models of development for junior athletes ( 15 – 20 years old ) too often functions on what she calls, “a faulty adult model of sport that is about dollars/achievement and not about true development, improvement and enjoyment.”

2. As she points out about her own sport of cycling, ” the irony of this is that true talent development actually will foster a system that will also allow for more young riders to do extremely well in racing.” It’s true in any sport whether it’s basketball, soccer or hockey. The guys at Breakaway AAA Hockey in Minnesota are proving this on a regular basis

3. Real development focuses on fostering the total individual psychological, physical and social growth of young men and women in a way that helps them become the best they can be both now and in the future, in whatever they choose to pursue. It’s about the whole person, not just their role as a competitor or athlete.

4.The emphasis in many programs is on immediate outcomes and elite teenage athletes ( which is a bit of an oxymoron as Dieffenbach points out). We look for the next champion or D1 player rather than trying to develop potential.  As she says, ” Trying to find the random talented needle in the junior athlete haystack is a poor and ineffective use of resources ( not to mention a poor indication of adult potential in many cases.)”

Dieffenbach offers some ideas that might help those of us who are coaching or in leadership think differently and change the model.

1. If you are going to coach teenagers ” know that you ARE taking the responsibility to be part of a young person’s holistic development whether you like it or not.”

2. Take the responsibility seriously and learn about the ways a coach can help ( or hurt ) the growth and development of a young person, not only into a good athlete but more into a quality person.

3. As a coach or director skip the self promotion; the “come race, or play or train with us” as the first area of interest. Put the young person first. Ask yourself, ” Are you only interested in those who show “podium” or “elite” potential? Is that your only view of development?”

IMG_3016I found the interview helpful and I encourage you to read it here. It’s short and well worth a few minutes of your time. An athletes’ development is an unfolding process circling around regularly to the fundamentals and basics. A coach’s development isn’t any different. It’s good to reminded of what’s important and challenged to look at how we’re applying it. Just like my friend it’s easy to get pulled along by the current. Dieffenbach’s thoughts might help us get our paddle in the water and steer a different course.

Trust The Players And The Process

I found myself frustrated at the end of a training session last week. The session didn’t go the way I had planned it. The players were struggling to learn new movements.The energy level was low and their focus was a little off. I couldn’t fault the effort but the results weren’t what I was expecting.

The group came back at the next session and it was completely different. Technique and mechanics started to come together. Energy was high, and the things we had worked on for a few sessions started to seem like second nature

IMG_0710Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.- Emerson

The process of planning is essential… andpeople are always bigger than the plans we make for them.  An athlete’s development is a natural process not a mechanical one. It’s about unfolding and growth, not construction. I was reminded again last week that when I find myself frustrated by the pace of things, or because they aren’t working according to my plan it’s good to pause, allow a little space and be patient. We create the environment, provide the stimulus and trust the process and the player. New growth happens when the time is right not because we put it in the schedule.


Eight Things I Learned This Year

calendarI’ve been working on a lot of professional development over the past year; attending more conferences and clinics,  doing more reading and taking part in a lot of webinars. It’s been great to hear the really big names and leaders in the field speak and in a few cases even sit down for an hour or two over coffee and pick their brain. The old adage holds true: The more I learn the more I realize how little I know.   A few things have emerged as consistent themes.

One – Keep it simple. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough.” Working with the younger athletes constantly challenges me to get to the essence of the movement. Having to explain it simply to a 9 year old makes me a better coach with a high school or college player.

Two – It’s about how you move. It’s not about the exercise or drill or program. Can you start and stop, change speeds and directions? Can you push and pull, squat and lunge?  Can you jump and land? How long can you do those things efficiently and effectively in the environment you compete in.

Three – There is a hierachy to skills. Physical skills precede sports skills – always. Just like a pianist is limited if they can’t play their scales so is an athlete who can’t move well. The problem with your daughters jump shot may be that she can’t jump not that she can’t shoot. That doesn’t mean the young athlete shouldn’t shoot the ball anymore than the young musician shouldn’t play songs until they’ve mastered every scale. But, we can only build sports skills as far as physical skills allow.

Four – Work with the whole person.  I’m not coaching speed, or strength or agility or fitness. I am coaching a person who is trying to develop those characteristics and qualities to play or peform or stay healthy doing something they love to do. That person comes as a whole, not in pieces or parts. Mental, physical, spiritual, social, and I need to be aware of and pay attention to the whole. As one of the experts said, “If  you just broke up with your girlfriend it may not be the best day to throw at Nationals.”

Five – Everyone is a unique individual with their own optimal way of moving. Vern Gambetta calls it a movement fingerprint. Shawn Myszka calls it movement signature. Dan John says the same thing in another way when he says ” We were not all born to squat deep.”  When you realize we’re working with unique individuals who are each at a unique point in their development and unique moment in life – you see that one size can’t fit all.

Six – Make it athlete centered. The athlete is in charge of their own development even that 9 year old hockey player. They make the choices, do the work and get the results. As a coach I am a servant not a manager. I need to manage my choices actions and plans – and create an environment that’s both challenging and safe. An empowered athlete at any level makes intrinsic adjustments that expand their capacity to do more.

Seven – Have a framework. While they didn’t say it, I observed it. They all had a framework that they had developed over time that allowed them to focus their work with an athlete. They were not moving from trend to trend or fad to fad. And, both their humility and their curiosity keep those frameworks flexible and open. They are alive and evolving not fixed and set.

Eight – Be generous, humble and curious.  “I wonder what I’m not seeing that I don’t even know I’m not seeing”, one of them said to me. This coach has a Ph. D.  over  forty years of experience, consults internationally and is a former national coach of the year. His latest project was trying to shadow a physical therapist or a few months to see what he could learn about movement from that perspective.It’s comforting and inspiring to know that we’re all still learning and we’re all in it together.

I’m grateful for all the learning this past year and eager to discover more. I’m also eager to  build on it in our coaching as we go forward. Ain’t it great to be a work in progress.

Accomplishing Results and Growing Capacity

SCOREBOARDWe love the scoreboard, the standings, the stats. They’re easy to see.  They help us measure what we’ve accomplished. They serve as a way to mark our progress and measure ourselves against our competition. They’re important. They’re just not the most important thing when we’re developing young athletes.

The most important thing, and the context for considering those accomplishments, is creating capacity. How has the process of accomplishing those results, whether its on the scoreboard or in training, helped the young athlete grow their capacity to take the next step, to accomplish even more in the future? Reframing the process this way puts things in a larger context and helps us think about what we want to emphasize and how much competition or training is too much. How does the next  tournament, the next practice, the next training session fit into the larger purpose of helping young athletes discover and develop their potential and enjoy the process of development as much as accomplishing the results? It’s a good question to struggle with. Thinking

Being In The Moment

118_118We started the high school girls warm up in silence this week. No talking for the first 10 minutes of training – just time to focus in, get connected to yourself and the moment. Warm up does many things but it really serves one purpose and that is to prepare and transition into training or competition. Often we focus on the physical dimensions of that transition, activating the nervous system, warming up the tissue, getting blood flowing, activating energy systems etc … Warm up serves as a time to make a mental transition as well, to bring our attention and focus to what we are about to do and what we are doing.  So, we tried something different this week and did our warm up in silence.

It was a challenge for sure and the girls responded well. They held the silence and stayed with the process. Afterward I asked what they noticed as they were quiet. One of them shared that she realized, ” how busy my brain is. I have all these thoughts going through my head and usually I just say them. This was hard.”

Hard and good. Lest you think its just a gimmick, the goal here is really to begin to help young athletes develop an awareness and bring mind and body together. Ellen Langer, Harvard Psychologist said in a talk, ” Mind and body are just words and if we put them back together then wherever we put the mind we’re necessarily putting the body.” We want to put the body in the training session so, this week we experimented with a little silence as  a way to put the mind there first. Only one opportunity to success concept


New Beginnings and Next Steps

New groups and new athletes are getting started this week. It’s an exciting time. New players coming in and returning players ready to take the next step.  Winter sports athletes who are just a week or two from the start of practice are wrapping up their latest cycle. Lots of comings and goings .

iStock_000004316057MediumWe launch a new training group for U15-U17 Girls Soccer players this week. High school wrapped up a few weeks ago and the club season doesn’t get rolling full steam for a while. We’ve got a full group of players with a nice mix of experienced older girls and incoming U15s. We’re also adding a new coach to the mix. Davis Bates will join us this November. I’ve worked with Davis in the Breakaway Hockey dry land program for almost two years. He’s going to be a great addition to the team.

iStock_000011469617MediumOur middle school boys and girls start up again this week. A lot of the basketball kids are off to practice and in their season now so most of our kids here will be kids who play soccer, lacrosse  and football. Our goal is always to help them get results but, more importantly to expand their capacity to accomplish more as they develop. Movement skills, strength and repeating and building on the basics as they move through these years. There’s a lot of change and growth taking place and the key is to stay with them as they grow more and more into the athletes they can be. It’s crucial to take the long view here.

Hockey Player Turning on Ice Our hockey players are wrapping up. High school tryouts start a week from today! They’re chomping at the bit to get going. They’ve worked hard since way back last spring – patiently and persistently taking it step by step. Stronger, faster, fit and healthy. Just the way we want to send them off. They’ve been a perfect example of the holistic, integrated approach we like to see young players take. Working to enhance the connections between physical, technical, tactical and mental skills development. Working on each area and the relationships and connection between them is the key. We gotta keep the  racehorses in the barn for one more week before they’re turned loose. It will be fun to see what happens on the ice this season.

10703589_809219992434582_2475629147460294872_nA word of congratulations to two of our senior soccer players who closed out their high school careers with a third place finish in the State High School Tournament. I’ve been privileged to work with Nate and Shay for the last four years. It doesn’t seem like it can be that long and we still laugh at where they started when they came in as freshmen. To watch them blossom and see them accomplish what they have for themselves and with their team is a blessing. We can never know for sure where the journey will take us and it’s been a great journey. Congratulations. 10710964_809220049101243_1939075816997532939_n

So, it’s gonna be busy during the overlap this week. But, these weeks are also a lot of fun, new beginnings and next steps and a little time to celebrate the accomplishments.