“Fear is the reason today is like yesterday.”—Leadership Freak
That quotation sucker punched me! Our goal as coaches is to create an atmosphere where our athletes feel comfortable taking risks and are brave in the face of fear. Those who aren’t involved in athletics may scoff, but the fear is real when the bases are loaded and coach doesn’t have another pitcher warming up. The fear is real when it’s game point and the server is walking back to the endline in volleyball. And the fear is real when the fourth runner in a relay receives the baton at the same time as an opponent.
Here are three things we can do right now to crush fear on our teams:
- Stop saying crunch time is the same as the beginning of a competition. One of the reasons we believe certain players are “clutch” is that they execute late in the game, in pressure filled situations. Yet we, as coaches, continue to say things like: the scoreboard doesn’t matter. Yet…it does! Our players are watching time tick away and their heartrates are increasing. Our players are watching the opponent create a bigger and bigger gap in the score…and it’s starting to feel like the game is getting away from them. I think it’s better to acknowledge that pressure and not be afraid of it, but welcome it and give your athletes tools to handle what the scoreboard is saying to them.
- Celebrate effort. Each day we have an opportunity to fill our athlete’s reserves with success. I know Yoda says, “do or do not, there is no try”, but I believe in applauding the process, not necessarily the result. So if a player hustles to close a block or dig a ball—even if they aren’t successful in their attempt—I’m going to get fired up about the effort. It’s risky to go all out (what if they fail?), so we need to cheer those players who are willing to flop…because they believe they’ll eventually succeed.
- Be intentional about making our yesterdays. Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. What are you going to do today to put your athletes in a position to draw on their bravery reserves? Decide what your focus of the day/week/month is going to be and make it happen! If your focus is tangible (we need to convert more turnovers into points), then devote the majority of practice time to it. If your focus is intangible (your team needs to be teamier), then design drills that bring that skill to the forefront.
I can’t think of a sport that doesn’t require its athletes to be willing to take risks. Those risks could be failing in front of their friends and family, it could be letting their teammates down…but it could also be succeeding when they weren’t entirely confident they would. There’s a saying that says, “fortune favors the brave”. Sure, our athletes could fail, but they certainly won’t succeed if they’re unwilling to be brave and take a risk.
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