This weeks post is the first in a series of guest posts by our own coaches here at Sparta Performance Science, first up is Phil Brady. Phil is the longest tenured coach at Sparta.
Imagine standing in the locker room right before a game you’ve worked hard preparing for all week. You’ve got nervous butterflies in your stomach, the familiar rush of adrenaline and your heart feels like its going to beat out of your chest. That’s what getting ready to perform at your highest level feels like. Now imagine that you’re playing your sport and all the stars have aligned. The ball is the size of a beach ball when you’re at the plate, the basket is the size of a hula-hoop and the game is slowed down to a snail’s pace so that every cut you make opens up another Grand Canyon-like hole for you to run through. That’s what performing at your highest level feels like.
As performance coaches, we’re all trying to get our athletes to perform at the highest level on game day. If this is true then it goes without saying that we have to approach our coaching performances (training sessions) in the same way our athletes approach game day. At Sparta, we use three key principles to evaluate and improve our coaching; Preparation, “becoming a Sommelier,” and Passion.
Preparation Athletes and teams don’t just go out on the field on game day and and play. They spend countless hours watching film, developing a game plan, practicing each play or each shot thousands of times and going over every possible scenario so that they don’t have to think any more, they can just react. They do this so they can enter into a flow state. A flow state or the “zone” can be described as, The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
We believe a performance staff shouldn’t treat their coaching any different. Your preparation as a coach consists of your continued education, knowing who you are coaching (not just their name but how they should be addressed for maximum output), knowing all the ins and outs of the athletes’ sport to make associations, making sure all other coaches are on the same page for responsibilities of session, making sure the floor is ready to accommodate your athletes and that all technology is up and running. Your preparation allows you to enter into a flow state like athletes do when they’re “on” so you can perform at the highest level.
Become a Sommelier If preparation is foreign to you then the concept of being detail oriented might be too. When I talk about detail I’m not just talking about organizing the training session. I’m talking about every facet of how you coach during that session, your total performance. You must approach your coaching like a Sommelier approaches a glass of wine. A sommelier appreciates all of the subtleties of a wine; the taste, smell, feel of it on his tongue, the color. Just as the sommelier appreciates wine you must appreciate the intricacies of a movement, psychology of an athlete, the cues you choose to give and the management of and preparation for a session. This level of immersion is a fast-track to your highest level performance.
Relating the sommelier approach to flow I think this definition is relevant, A deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions. Orientating yourself completely to the process will allow you to perform at your highest level.
Passion I’m a huge fan of 30 for 30 on ESPN. It seems like every time one of the “greats” talks about playing or coaching on that show they never fail to discuss how much they loved what they did. It was more than a job… it was a passion, an obsession even! That attitude, in my mind, the single biggest difference between the great coaches and athletes, and good coaches and athletes. This idea of flow relates it to passion, A flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is most likely to occur when one is wholeheartedly performing a task or activity for intrinsic purposes.
Passion is the glue that binds the concepts of preparation and becoming a sommelier together. Without passion, you will certainly not take the time to get better at the two previous concepts. Preparation and organization can be learned, passion cannot.
The only way you can expect your athletes to prepare themselves to compete at the highest level is to treat your own preparation the same way. I’m always impressed by our athletes ability to identify coaches who are all talk, who don’t practice what they preach. There is no faster way to lose your athletes trust that to be disingenuous. Take what you do seriously and your athletes will follow.