Coaches often find themselves lost working to find the right words to encourage their athletes to develop a productive mindset. A lot of coaches will find themselves labeling their talented yet disconnected athletes as “challenged” or “in need of mental focus”. Part of the coach’s struggle can be supported by understanding how to help their athletes develop as people and athletes through a set of proven qualities they build into their programs. Winning cultures produce winning teams. Coaches need to start from the inside out by identifying and learning to communicate what it takes to create a winning culture.
The following are example conversations coaches can have with athletes and teams:
As a coach, you know that improvement requires a number of qualities but often it’s a reflection of how committed your athletes are when they feel challenged or that they have reached their limits. Start by asking, “How will you add to the legacy of this team by the end of the season?” You can provide snippets of the legacy others have left before them in the program including some of the legends who have passed through. The idea of legacy connects to athletes in a way that ensures their effort and work will be remembered for generations to come. Encourage them to think outside of themselves as their actions will serve a purpose larger than their own.
Next ask them a serious question, “Where does the magic happen?” After asking this question sit in silence as they ponder all the possible answers they can imagine. It might produce a few laughs but as was said before, this is a serious question. The truth is that the magic in training and performance happens when people are willing to move outside their comfort zones to push a little more every day. In fact, their nervous systems will send them warning signs when the mind and body thinks it is being pushed in ways to its fitness threshold. They might think “I can’t focus any longer” or “I can’t work more or harder” but there is usually more to give in those moments. The main reason people think they can’t is because they haven’t done it before. Once they become comfortable outside of their comfort zone, the magical path of improvement will progress rapidly. Results will follow the process of training and competing in the unknown and uncomfortable zone.
Positive Culture Characteristics
Finally, help them understand what it takes every moment of every day to deliberately practice in a winning culture. Coaches may want to use key characteristics to start building their culture.
- Ownership – every individual competing needs to hold themselves and each other accountable for their progress. Coaches aren’t the athletes so reinforcing a culture of ownership empowers athletes with the choices they need to excel.
- Vulnerability – the cornerstone of growth in a group setting is allowing egos to be set aside enough to welcome learning moments in. This takes courage and humility which can also be thought of as heart and selflessness. Coaches can really model the behavior of being vulnerable especially as they make mistakes or enter situations they haven’t experienced before. Enter side by side with the athletes and enhance the unity of the team.
- Trust and Respect – building trust takes a really long time but can break in an instant. It’s fragile but extremely necessary in a culture of excellence. Trust exists between people when there is respect shared and acted upon. A culture without trust and respect cannot be successful. Think of all the ways your athletes can trust and respect, you, each other, as well as themselves to perform.
Sharing conversations around these topics helps athletes and coaches learn and develop a common language. This common language creates a special meaning to their success and a unique identity of the team. Athletes will remember all the lessons learned and memories made, and that will improve the chances of their continued life-long success. The connection made to winning the mental game and establishing a culture of winning depends on how each team and athlete wants to be remembered and the amount of work they are willing to commit. Building a positive environment creates a positive experience. To learn more about sport psychology check out this article about goal planning and this article about planning for success.
About the author: Brian Alexander is a mental skills coach who combines eight years of experience as an Olympic level water polo athlete, a master's degree in sport psychology, and business leadership training and coaching from The Ken Blanchard Companies to partner with athletes and performers of all ages and levels. "My passion is to empower others to succeed in life, athletics, performance, and daily activities. My personal mission statement is to be a genuine and honest leader who collaborates with and learns from others in order to find a mutual personal level of excellence physically, mentally, and spiritually."
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