Coach to Coach: Turning Up the Heat – Eight Suggestions for Creating Your Best Summer Everby: Jared Wood
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While often a challenge, the elements of summer (extreme heat, players not being in school, having too much free time, not having transportation to activities) provide a great opportunity to create a mentally and physically stronger team. Mental toughness is only built when conditions are difficult, and extreme weather, such as summer heat, creates a great opportunity to build mental toughness. Here are some tips for creating strong minds, bodies, and team chemistry this summer.
Set Motivational Expectations
Going into the summer is a great time for individual meetings. Feel free to spread the responsibility among position coaches. Start with an open ended conversation about a player’s own goals before honestly sharing your own expectations for him. If you set goals for him that are higher or different from what he set himself, that’s not a problem at all. Simply explain why you have high expectations and believe he can reach them.
Set Individual Goals
Individuals must have challenging goals to work toward and ensure improvement over the summer. Record, graph, and publicly post progress toward speed, strength, and conditioning goals for each player. Create some reward systems for tremendous individual improvement, and have daily competitions for players to compete against each other and against their own previous bests. T-shirts, wrist-bands, hats, arm sleeves, and other relatively inexpensive rewards often work exceptionally well.
Set Position Unit Goals
One of the difficulties of summer activities is getting players to participate. Create a system to make players accountable for each other in small groups. Position units tend to work well for this purpose and help build positon unit pride and communication. If numbers are unequal, just tweak them by splitting or combining until you get about 5-10 players in each unit. Create award systems that reward the most improved and most accountable groups.
Set Team Goals
After creating individual and small group competitions, make sure the team pulls together as a whole too. Have your team set records as an entire team and compete against standards, such as the performance and participation of previous teams.
Fuel and Hydrate Properly
During hot summer workouts, player safety is the number one priority. Proper nutritional fuel and water aren’t just important for the body, they are essential for the brain as well. Therefore, proper fuel and hydration are essential for peak mental performance. At practice, make sure players have adequate hydration breaks, and be sure to emphasize hydrating before and after practice as well. Even if you have excellent water stations available, request that each individual player bring his own bottle of water or sports drink. Take a few minutes before and after practice to hydrate. You can do this very effectively while double dipping on an important mental skill: imagery. Call the team together and walk them through a team visualization of success on the field. Before and after the imagery, give them a simple command to hydrate. They will likely be thirsty and will drink on their own, but a command helps ensure it.
Condition an Attitude to Beat the Elements
Attitudes are part thought and part feeling, and contrary to popular opinion, we don’t choose them in the moment. We condition them over time. Think of attitudes more like fitness than a workout. You can work out in the moment, but it takes time to condition fitness. Likewise, we condition attitudes over time.
With player safety ensured through fuel, hydration, and proper physicals, it’s time to get to hard work, and summer is a great time to work hard both physically and mentally. My high school football coach, Ralph Munger (now of Rockford High School in Michigan) used to condition attitudes in us by helping us feel great about beating the elements. He’d always yell things like, “Hey, it’s only too hot on one sideline!” Later in the season, he’d start working on our attitudes for other elements. “It’s only cold on one sideline!” or “It only rains on one sideline!” These sayings helped us form positive attitudes toward any type of weather. We knew with the power of mind over matter we had a competitive advantage over other teams who had negative attitudes about extreme weather. Help your players by conditioning positive attitudes toward playing in all types of weather. The more they love the heat and other teams hate it, the more they will gain a competitive advantage when playing and practicing in the heat. The summer provides a great opportunity to start mentally overcoming the weather. Don’t just beat the summer heat. Embrace it and thrive in it.
Build Great Communication Habits
Demand that players talk during summer drills, especially any conditioning drills. One of the best things players can do to build mental toughness is to speak or shout encouragement when it’s difficult to breathe. This does a couple of things. First, it lifts the encouraging player’s mind out of his own misery and to his teammates who need his encouragement. Second, it lifts the minds of any teammates who hear him as well. Now, rather than being focused on their own misery, players are focused on picking up each other with encouragement. This is a simple yet difficult thing to do, but when it’s done well it pays huge dividends. The power of encouragement when the going gets tough cannot be underestimated. Furthermore, in my experience, this type of communication habit carries over to communicating other types of needed information, such as checks and other adjustments.
Build Team Cohesion
There are two elements to team chemistry: task cohesion and social cohesion. Task cohesion has to do with commitment to common goals, and the summer is a great time to work on task cohesion by making sure goals are big enough to be properly motivating (nobody is excited to be average), clear enough to be understood and remembered by everyone on the team, and team oriented. But the summer is probably best for developing social cohesion, which has to do with how well players get along and respect one another. The summer is a great time to schedule a team trip, charity work, team building activities, or other events that help players get to know one another and bond together for a cause or just plain fun.
About the Author: Dr. Jared Wood has been an educator for the past 19 years and a sport psychology coach for the past 14 years. He co-founded Champion Mindset Group (champmindset.com), the premiere sport psychology coaching firm in Southeast Michigan, in 2011. He recently completed and published a sport psychology training manual for players and coaches called “It’s Only Cold On One Sideline”. Visit his website, 1sideline.com, to find free articles and training plans or to purchase the manual and other training materials. You can contact Dr. Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-535-5358. Follow him on Twitter: @1sideline & @woodjared.