Coaching In A Big Game!
I wanted to share a discussion I had with one of the coaches last weekend. Coach mentioned how the team has been playing well, but when they played a rival team in a crucial game, the players changed their style of play. One of the main takeaways that I wanted to share, is how players change when their emotional levels get too high or low. Especially when the match might mean more to the player (semi-final or championship match, playing a rival team, playing against a great player, or a player that gets under your skin, poor officiating, college coaches in attendance…you get the idea).
Each player has a natural range of emotions that they play with. Some play well when they're emotionless, others fuel themselves with emotion to play their best. There is no correct range, only a correct range for that person. It is important we don’t try to force a “One emotion fits all" approach for players. Encourage the players to recognize their emotional range when they're playing their best. This leads us to the main point of the talk. When players & teams let their emotions get higher or lower than their ideal range, things can fall apart quickly.
The direct effects of letting emotions run outside the player's optimal zone are: • Decreased range of vision • Decreased decision-making abilities in both speed and quality • Increased muscle tension • Fatigue sets in faster • Peaks and valleys become more pronounced
Which leads to the player's and the team’s performance to suffer.
On a coaching level, here are some things you can keep in mind to prepare for these moments and help the players stay within their ideal emotional performance range.
1) Make sure each player knows their role for the match: In bigger games, the players will want to do more. They think the bigger the game, the more I need to do. They lose sight of how they got there and the importance of staying within their “job description” role for the match. Reminding them to stay within their role and not to try and do too much will help bring the players back to the moment and provide a clear purpose.
2) Make sure to remind the players to focus on their immediate task: In these situations, play slips because of the distractions of the higher emotions, the importance of the match/point, consequences of a play start to take the focus away from the immediate task, which is to play the point. Try to emphasize, when the opportunity presents itself, the importance of only focusing on the immediate task prior to the point and during the point. Ex. What’s my role for the point, where do I need to be on the court, is my focus on this point, court awareness, etc?
3) Individual Pre-Point Routines for the players: Each player should have a pre-point routine they do before every point. It should be developed and refined throughout the season. It will include…recognition of the last play, adjustments if needed, a scan of the body, a scan of focus, and a cue that signals the body and mind to be ready for the next play. Routines allow the body and mind to know when it’s time to perform.
In this particular instance, though, routines provide another important role. When pressure is high, things are falling apart, environments are threatening, and new situations are presented; then having a routine provides comfort, familiarity, structure, and a plan to the player/team. The player can put all of their focus on the routine rather than let distractions, self-doubt, or emotions creep into their mind. Rather than thinking, I’m playing in a dome, serving for the match with fifty-college coaches watching…they can think about their pre-point routine, which they’ve done thousands of times and know works.
Reminding the players what their role is, emphasizing focus should be on the immediate task, and using pre-point routines before every point will improve the consistency of play no matter the situation or environment.
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