Mental Preparation Responsible Coaches Game Plan For Mental Preparation

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Sport Speed Development, Training Tips
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“I need to have a good week of preparation,” says New Orleans SaintsDrew Brees. ”The bigger the games get, you fall back more on your routine and preparation, the things that got you here,” according to San Francisco 49ersAlex Smith.  “We prepare during the week for these kinds of circumstances,” comments Denver Broncos’ Coach John Fox.  “We’re trying to prepare well and play well on Saturday. That’s our goal,” reports New England Patriots’ Coach Belichick.  Throughout this month as the NFL Playoffs have progressed, we all hear it: preparation.  It’s all about preparation.

But is there such a thing as Responsible Sports preparation? Yes!

For both professional and youth sport coaches, preparation starts at practice.  But practice isn’t just about skills and drills.  For Responsible Coaches, it’s far more.  Here are 11 steps to a successful practice:

1.   Coaches Preparation

        “Mental preparation is especially important for volunteer coaches who often come to practice from work.  If we’ve had a good day at work, it might be relatively easy to start practice in an upbeat mood.  But if it hasn’t been a good day at work, or if we’ve had to leave important tasks undone, we can easily let the negative feelings linger and affect the attitudes of our players.” Take a few minutes to leave the day behind you and bring your excitement and your A game to your team.

2. Objective & Priorities

        What do you want your players to have mastered by the end of practice?  (Remember: Responsible Coaches use a Mastery Approach).  Write down one to three objectives for your practice (it’s hard to accomplish any more than that), and put them in order to ensure you get to the most important items before you run out of time.

3. Opening Ritual

        Responsible Coaches set the tone right away with an Opening Ritual.  Want to know what one looks like?  Watch a youth volleyball coach lead her team in their Opening Ritual.  You’ll see that her Opening Ritual directly tells her athletes: leave school behind, focus on volleyball and your teammates, and be excited about practice.

4. Instruction / Skills and Drills

        Every practice includes instruction.  Our favorite piece of advice from the experts at PCA?  Teach new skills in the ‘whole-part-whole’ method.  “If you want to teach players a new play that involves different intricacies for each player, it’s a good idea to show them how the play is supposed to work at first.  Walk them completely through it, briefly pointing out things that each player needs to do to make it all work, and assure players that you’ll break it down for them so that they’ll be able to practice their parts later.  Then after each player learns their part, put the whole thing together again.”

5. Conditioning

        It’s critical.  And as Responsible Coaches, we know that.  But we also know that sometimes this part of the practice can be a drag for kids.  Make it fun!  Change the place you run each practice.  Have mini-competitions to see who can complete one segment of the run the fastest.  Pair up kids and have them talk to each other about a topic as they run, then discuss it when you circle back up.

6. Fun Activities

        Sports are supposed to be fun, remember?  Try to find ways to infuse fun into all aspects of the practice – from conditioning to Rituals and everything in between.

7. Scrimmaging

        Kids love playing in simulated game conditions.  (Don’t we all?)  But a Responsible Coach also considers what a proper scrimmage looks like.  Our friends at USA Hockey advocate cross-ice games.  Our friends at AYSO promote cross-field scrimmages.  Why?  Both of these organizations know that when kids get to touch the ball or puck more, they develop skills more quickly and have fun with the game.  Who wants to stands on a regulation size field on defense while all the action happens well away from you and you never get to put a foot on the ball?  No kid does.

8. Team Meetings as Conversation

          Teams come together when they gel.  When they participate with each other.  When they dialog with each other.  Legendary NBA Coach

Phil Jackson

        talks about allowing players to have the first word.  Head Coach Doc Rivers talks about quiet drills to reinforce the power of communicating as a team. According to Jim Thompson, “When a coach engages players in conversation, she is treating them like equals.  She is saying, ‘I am interested in what you think about this. This is a big tank filler, which contributes to better performance.”

9. Adding the Life Lessons Question

        Responsible Coaches seek to win both on and off the field; in sport and in life.  While the life lesson from practice might be obvious to you, it might not be so obvious to your athletes.  So talk about it.  Bring it up in your team meeting.  Let your athletes talk about it and engage with the topic.

10. Closing Ritual

        Just as the Opening Ritual set the tone for practice, the Closing Ritual helps set the tone for kids to take the positive experience of practice into their everyday lives.  Fill tanks.  We all need that in the face of occasionally harsh realities.  Kids especially need it!

11. Assessment

    Assessment happens both with your team and afterwards in a self-reflective manner.  How did practice go today?  What was your favorite part and why?  Is there something you got better at?  And as the coach: what did I learn about my athletes during this practice that can help me get better as their coach?  A Mastery Approach holds true for both athletes and coaches alike!

Preparation is certainly about making sure you know the playbook before the big game.  But preparation is also about how you master that playbook.  And how we as youth sport coaches teach athletes how to prepare for challenges – whether that challenge is a sport challenge, or a life challenge.

Want to learn how NFL greats have prepared?  Listen in to Jim interviewing NFL Hall-of-Famers Steve Young, Tony Dorsett, and Ronnie Lott, and former NFL coach Jim Mora, Jr.  Each one talks about the preparation they took in their own careers, as well as how their coaches prepared and how today they help the youth athletes in their life prepare.

Want to learn more?  Consider reading Jim Thompson’s book, The Double-Goal Coach. Or visit our Ask The Expert panel, where PCA experts can answer your specific questions on preparation.  And then join us on Facebook to share with us what things you do as a Responsible Coach to both prepare yourself and prepare your athletes for success on and off the field.

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