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Getting Everyone on the Same Page: Coach Ralph Munger Talks About

by: Jared Wood
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Preparing for the mental and emotional challenges of football can be confusing. How are coaches to know what works and what doesn’t? One way would be to ask successful coaches about how they prepare their teams. Another would be to learn about research in sport psychology. This article attempts to help you do both. Parts of my interview with my high school football coach, Ralph Munger, Head Coach of the Rockford High School Rams (2004 and 2005 Division 1 State Champions in Michigan), are presented here along with information about research-based theory in sport psychology. By presenting perspectives from coaching and psychology, I hope to get us all, “On the same page,” as Coach Munger often says.

The Research on Confidence
Most coaches agree that confidence is an important component of the mental (i.e. what players think) and emotional (i.e. what players feel) aspects of football. In sport psychology research, confidence (called self-efficacy in the research literature) typically is seen as having four sources: 1) mastery experiences, 2) modeling, 3) verbal persuasion, and 4) physical states that encourage confidence. In football, mastery experiences are past performances. Simply put, players gain confidence in their ability to perform certain skills by correctly executing those skills in practices and games. As players master more difficult challenges, their confidence increases. Modeling includes helping a player understand what you want him to do buy showing him the correct technique of another player (either in person or on film), showing him his own correct performance (on film), or getting him to imagine or visualize his own correct performance. Verbal persuasion includes everything spoken to a player to boost his confidence, encourage him, or make his attitude more positive. Finally, certain physical states, or feelings that accompany physical states, encourage confidence. For example, feelings of strength, energy, trust, happiness, and love (passion) tend to produce physical reactions that promote confidence. In contrast, confusion, surprise, anxiety, and fear tend to produce tense or uneasy physical states that promote a lack of confidence.

I’ve included parts of my interview with Coach Munger to illustrate the four sources of confidence and point out some great techniques he uses in his program. Within the interview transcript, I’ve inserted notes to help you recognize each of the four sources of confidence.

JW: Coach, what is your philosophy on the mental side of the game?
RM: The first thing that comes to mind is to instill confidence and remove barriers. I want to create a deep sense of oneness. Athletes have to set aside their egos and buy into our team approach.
Note: Although it’s not one of the four sources of confidence, teams with a sense of oneness, chemistry, or unity tend to have higher confidence. This is likely related to their greater collective use of the four sources of confidence.

JW: How do you build confidence?
RM: If my guys hear it once, they hear it a thousand times: “Trust your technique, trust your coaching.” We also try to get everyone on the same page in everything we do, even down to the effort given in practice. Everything is built in the week of preparation, but spirit, passion, and intensity are important. You’ll get beat without it.
Note: This response hits on all four sources of confidence. First, Coach’s answer gets to the issue of mastery. If you trust your technique, it is because you have performed it so many times it can be executed automatically. Mastery is also referred to by, “Everything is built in the week of preparation.” Second, “Getting everyone on the page in everything we do,” implies that members of the team lead by example. In other words, they provide good role models for each other’s effort and behavior. Third, verbal persuasion is implied when Coach mentions that he tells the players to, “Trust your technique, trust your coaching.” Finally, trust, spirit, passion, and intensity, all are words that describe players’ experience of confident physical states.

JW: Coach, talk about building game performance in the week of preparation.
RM: To be at the top of our game, we have to play within ourselves. We have to prepare the best we can with what we have and what we think is the best game plan. I always make sure the guys are prepared, so nothing is surprising. I don’t want them thinking about it. Anything that diverts their attention from the task at hand reduces their effort, so I take away as much guesswork as possible. For example, we’ve even filmed field conditions and other aspects of visiting stadiums so that our players know exactly what they are getting into and are confident about it. No surprises. We want to know all of our playing conditions as well as we know our opponents.
Note: Playing within oneself is another way of saying that players will perform well if they stick with what they have practiced over and over – that’s mastery, the primary source of confidence. Much of the rest of the answer deals with eliminating surprises or confusion, which are detrimental to confidence. As coach discusses, taking the guesswork and surprise out of a game builds confidence through a positive physical and mental state. Knowing coach, I am sure this also entails verbal persuasion in the form of telling or reminding the players they can handle anything that happens. Finally, filming playing conditions helps players visualize themselves in those conditions. This is a vicarious source of modeling that can build confidence.

JW: Coach, how do you build confidence when it’s low?
RM: I always try to set challenges for the kids so that they are always experiencing opportunities to grow. Also, if a kid has a big challenge in a game, I’ll let him know that we’ll get him some help. I’ll tell him, “You’ve got a big challenge this week. But you can do it. I’ve got a plan to help you out.” Then I’ll show him how we’re going to help him get the job done.
Note: Constantly increasing the challenge after one is met is a way to make sure that players are always increasing their confidence through mastery. Coach also mentions explicitly showing and telling a player how he is going to help him play well in a given week. Showing a player how he will play well, through film or visualization, is a form of modeling. Telling him how he will play well is verbal persuasion.

Putting the Sources of Confidence to Work in Your Program
How do you put this information to use in your program?
First, understand the four sources of confidence so that you recognize them in your own program. This will help you fine-tune your use of confidence building techniques. Analyze what you are doing to see if it measures up to the research-based sources of confidence. Second, know the sources so that you can recognize sound confidence building techniques from other coaches or leaders in other fields. If they have a strong, research-based technique, it might be worth implementing in your own program. Finally, if you stick with the four sources of confidence, you will help insure that your players’ confidence is based on a solid foundation. For example, there is a difference between confidence gained through a coach’s verbal persuasion and confidence gained through reading a newspaper clipping from an overly enthusiastic journalist – one is a good source of confidence, the other is not. By sticking with what is proven to work, you will help your players avoid complacency due to unjustified overconfidence.

Jared Wood is a psychologist in Oakland County, MI. He specializes in athletic performance consulting. He may be reached by email at or by phone at (248) 535-5358. Ralph Munger is the Head Coach of the Rockford High School Rams, 2004 and 2005 State Champions in Michigan’s Division 1 (Michigan’s highest enrollment division).


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