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 Why Coaches Should Prioritize their Own Mental Wellness Too
(6/23/2022)
 
 
   

Why Coaches Should Prioritize their Own Mental Wellness Too


A coach who isn’t taking time for his or her own mental health is at a serious disadvantage. Here’s what you need to know.


As a busy coach, you likely haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about your own mental health and wellness. Sure, you’ve told your athletes to seek professional help if they need it, or maybe even spent time doing group activities with your team to promote mental wellness. But how are you doing?

TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman , PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders , believes that a coach who isn’t taking time for his or her own mental health is at a serious disadvantage. Here’s what you need to know.

You’re not invincible—and don’t have to be
“At the end of the day, it’s important for you and your athletes to understand that as a coach, you are not invincible,” says Chapman. “It’s so important to normalize having a range of emotions.”

Checking in with a professional—even before something is ‘wrong’ in your life—is a great idea for anyone. “In our sporting culture, especially for men, it can be hard to show emotion or admit that you need help,” says Chapman. If you know you should talk to someone but are struggling to feel okay with seeking help, he suggests you think about it in a new way: “I reframe treatment as coaching, or mental conditioning, or mental toughness training. That tends to feel better for many coaches."

Chapman adds, “Coaches generally understand that their athletes need to have a growth mindset  and believe that they’re capable of changing and growing. But as adults, we tend to fall into the fixed mindset even if we don’t realize it. And because of that, we actually convince ourselves that we can’t change or be flexible, or that we shouldn’t ’need to’ grow.”

Your mental health impacts your work
"In my experience with coaches, I’ve found that there's even more of a stigma with coaches seeking mental health treatment compared to athletes,” says Chapman. "I've also seen how incredibly impactful this is, because depending on the sport, a coach’s mental health might be critical to overall success, wellness, and safety on the team.” For instance, if you’re going through a tough time, you might struggle to stay on top of tactics in a fast-paced basketball or football game, or potentially even miss warning signs of injury for your athletes.

“Your functioning is impaired when your mental health is not in order,” Chapman explains. “And if your judgment is impaired, then you need to do something about it. You need to enhance your mental health and wellness. You can't be good at your craft in any capacity if your mental health is not taken care of. You can't competently do your job.”

Athletes emulate you—for better or worse
"As a coach goes, so does the team,” says Chapman. Regardless of how many mental health and wellness activities  you do with your athletes, if they sense that you’re struggling or you’re not taking your own advice, they won’t take it either. Athletes will emulate you , rather than doing what you suggest. There’s a reason for the cliche of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ but unfortunately, that cliche doesn’t work.

“Your athletes are learning more from your example, not from what you're saying,” he adds. “No matter how many mental health exercises you lead them through, your athletes are going to follow that example. Ultimately, some coaches have this unrealistic expectation for themselves that they can't show emotion, which trickles down to the team and what we teach our athletes."

Transparency is powerful
“If you can tell your athletes that you are not okay, and that you’re struggling with something, that's going to enhance your rapport with your players ,” says Chapman. You don’t need to overshare and dig into the details, but telling athletes that something is going on will make you more relatable. “Your athletes are going to relate to you better, because everyone goes through something at some point,” he adds. "And you’ll be surprised, too: Athletes are going to rally around you. They’ll appreciate your honesty and find you more relatable as a human, which will make you more effective as a coach and a leader.”

TAKEAWAY: As a coach, you may not think about your own mental health as often as you think about your athlete’s emotional well-being, but you can’t be an effective coach when you’re struggling internally. Protecting your own mental health will make you a better coach and stronger person.


TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Less is More: The Feedback Guidance Hypothesis
(6/29/2022)
 
 
   

Less is More: The Feedback Guidance Hypothesis


Mental Skills
By Andy Bass


Scenario: A coach is in the cage with a player and throwing them batting practice from behind an L screen.

Swing 1: Coach- “Your hands were too low at launch position.”
Swing 2: Coach- “Ok better, but you didn’t stay on your backside long enough.”
Swing 3: Coach- “Make sure you keep your head steady as long as possible.”
Swing 4: Coach- “Try and keep both hands on the bat when you follow through.”
Swing 5: Coach- “Choke up just a bit more.”
Swing 6: Coach- “Narrow your stance to straighten up.”

The intention of this coach, like nearly all coaches, is to help the player. While this example may be somewhat extreme—we have all experienced something akin to this situation either as a player or as a coach… over coaching and using verbal instructions too often. And while we can certainly see how, on the surface, this form of coaching can be unattractive to athletes (the athlete wants time to figure it out on their own, the various forms of verbal feedback are taking their focus too many directions, and rarely do athletes want to be lectured at/spoken too constantly throughout practice). However, the more pressing concern is that when we provide too much feedback, we can hinder learning and performance.

The problem with providing too much feedback is because the athlete is not tasked with ‘solving’ the issue on their own. Feedback has ‘guiding’ properties. This makes sense—we provide feedback because we want to guide athletes toward a movement solution. However, in motor learning there is a concept that builds off the guiding properties of feedback that is, appropriately, called "The Guidance Hypothesis."

The Guidance Hypothesis suggests that, because feedback from a coach serves to direct athletes to a solution, athletes can become dependent on the feedback to make corrections on their own (Winstein & Lewthwaite, 1994).  For example, if a player is constantly corrected by a coach in practice, and not allowed to struggle and work to find the solution on their own, they will become dependent of the feedback to make corrections. And while the athlete is practicing, this is not a problem—the coach is there to jump in and help. But… the coach is not in the batter’s box in the game. The coach is not on the mound. The coach is not in the infield or outfield. And now the athlete does not possess the skill to be able to adjust in the moment, make decisions—and their performance can greatly suffer because of it.

One way to think of how an abundance of feedback can be detrimental to the athlete in game is to liken it to the ‘bumper lanes’ we used when we were younger and learning to bowl. When the bumper lanes are up, it is impossible to throw a gutter ball. Verbal feedback from a coach can be like those bumper lanes. Constant correction and information from a coach acts like a crutch for the athlete as they never are forced to fail/explore movement on their own. Now what would happen if the bumper lanes were suddenly taken away? How well would that bowler do if they had always practiced with the lanes up? Constant feedback from a coach in practice is like having the bumper lanes up. And in the game the bumper lanes are taken away because the coach cannot instruct in the moment—and the athlete will suffer because of that.

What can we do about this? For one… the first step to solving any problem is knowing that there is one. We can bring a clicker to the field or facility with us, and every time we provide feedback (e.g. good job, stay back, keep it up, get lower, etc.) we can click it. And then at the end of the day we should notice how often we are interjecting ourselves, and the next day work to limit how much we speak. There are also methods of providing feedback we can work to help in mitigating how often we speak:

1) Summary feedback- Only provide feedback after the drill is over, and provide a general form of feedback rather than specific to each rep… a summary

2) Bandwidth feedback- Only provide feedback if the athlete falls out of a certain bandwidth. If we are turning double plays we only provide feedback if the infielders turn the double play slower than five seconds. If we are working with a pitcher only providing feedback if their velocity dips below a certain speed.

3) Self-controlled feedback- Only provide feedback when the athlete requests it. Allow them to self-control when they want instruction from us as the coach.

It is not wrong to provide feedback. Coaches have knowledge to impart to athletes, and there are certainly times and places where verbal feedback is necessary. However, we should work to limit how much we are talking during practice. We should strive for the drill itself to provide the information to the athlete… and not necessarily our words. One hypothetical to ask ourselves as we are designing practice should be “How could I teach this skill if the player and I did not speak the same language?”



Andy Bass is currently a Mental Performance Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bass played college baseball at Davidson College and was drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He received his PhD in Sport Psychology and Motor Behavior from the University of Tennessee.


 Baseball: A Game of Decisions
(6/17/2022)
 
   

Baseball: A Game of Decisions


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a podcast hosted by Luke Gromer, a youth basketball coach from Arkansas. In it, he was discussing how he teaches his team of 11-year-olds the importance of taking good shots in the game. Using a scale of three (for a poor shot that was well-defended or out of range) to nine (wide open or high-percentage shot), players scored points based on the quality of shot, regardless of whether it went into the basket. Coach Gromer was coaching his players about making the right decisions, rather than focusing on getting the best results.

This approach really resonated with me, because when it comes to coaching baserunning specifically, coaches are often blinded by a runner being out or safe instead of determining whether the decision to go for the extra base was a good one. If a guy was safe, it was a good decision; out, then it’s a bad one. That is most definitely not always the case.

For instance, if it takes a perfect throw from the outfielder to get our runner out, that result will generally be on our side because throwing with that kind of arm strength and accuracy isn’t a common skill. It’d be a good decision to go. If we are down by four in the 9th inning when a runner tries to steal second and the throw beats him by a mile but is high or off-line, even though he got the stolen base, that’s not a good decision within the situation of the game and will likely come back to bite us if it happens again.

As our organization’s Minor League Baserunning Coordinator, I often found myself talking to our coaches about coaching the baserunning decision and not the umpire’s call. In a results-oriented game, that’s a really hard thing to do… especially when an out on the bases is a costly one that ends a rally or gives the opponent momentum. As coaches, our emotion regularly kicks in whenever that happens. I know it did for me. But that’s when we must take a step back and look at the play beyond just the outcome.

We often hear baseball as being a game of failure, but when you look under the hood, you can see it is a game of decisions. Every single part of the game has some element of choice. Every pitch. Every play. Decision after decision after decision.

Think about hitting. Are our hitters swinging at the right pitches? Their swing decisions- not just ball or strike, but hot or cold spots within the zone- will directly correlate with their ability to hit the ball hard. A rocket lineout is a good swing decision even when the result wasn’t there. When it comes to pitching, every single pitch is a decision between the pitcher and catcher (and at many amateur levels, the coach, too) as to what pitch to throw the hitter. A bloop single on a bad swing against a perfectly executed pitch does not make it a bad decision to throw that pitch because bad swings on good pitches usually lean heavily in favor of the pitcher.

On defense, infielders must make decisions about how to get a ball and create an easy hop. Outfielders must decide what base to throw the ball to either throw a runner out or keep the double play in order. Those types of decisions are everywhere, all game long.

When our players consistently make good decisions, the positive outcomes we all want tend to follow, so let’s learn how to coach decisions, not results.



Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


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