Thursday, March 11, 2010

Continuing from some ideas on the last post -

Your player/teammate just made a bone-headed turn-over on the field. Getting the disc back is imperative: What do you say to them, or in general?

I like:
Let's get this back!
I'm going to get this turn!
I got your back, bro!

I avoid:
Go get it back!
(Name of Player)!!! GRRRRR!!!
Anything derisive.

When I'm playing and a teammate turns it I tell them that I've got their back and that I'm going to get the D. Then I play D as hard as I can. I've found that it's an effective way of slyly (and in a positive manner) guilting them into shaking off the mistake and getting on their horse. Shouting "Go get it back!" will often negatively tighten younger college players who, upon being singled out, only feel their mistake highlighted.

On the other hand, telling him that you're going to get it back has a much different effect. Here he ise, having messed up and obviously knowing it. He expects a backlash, but what he gets is an example of his teammate selflessly offering to right their mistake. He feels his team's support, but more importantly he sees his buddies working to right an error he made. As bad as he might feel about his mistake, a quick and personal mental calculation tells him it's nothing compared to how he will feel if his buddies bust their ass for him and he just lags pissing and moaning. He sets his jaw, he decides he's going to man up for his own error, and we're off, 7 men playing their best D only moments after a turn.

I've had a bunch of these little questions floating around the back of my head this past year as captain of a natties club team and coach of a college champion hopeful. I think next I'm going to write a little about the thin line separating Being Angry from Being Intense, and why it's important to try as much as possible to tap into the latter and avoid the former.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

As an educator and a college coach, the skills necessary to recruit young minds toward the task at hand overlap nicely between my paying profession and my playing one. I work as HS support staff, and in that capacity get to sit and observe many of the teachers at my school. I see how the good teachers engage their students in the process of learning, and watch as lessons become exercises in fun engagement.

I also, sometimes, am in classrooms that struggle with behavior management,  with a teacher lacking patience, tolerance, or understanding. Someone lacking patience can turn a tiny infraction into a momentous occasion, inviting the entire class to sit and witness control of the situation dissolve in a fury of adult opprobrium. Because of this they don't have the students as allies, and when the teacher's patience frays and they try to regain control all the students hear is this:

"You're trying my patience! I need you to blah blah! I need everyone to blah blah! I want this! I need that! I need I need I need I want I want I want!"

And on and on, a list of demands, that the students give exactly what they want (whether she explained it well or not is irrelevant), as if by virtue of the existing power structure and being the Teacher, all students are obliged and do exactly as  Teacher says or get layered with condemnation. When a teacher can't keep their cool, the entire class knows it.

So where's the Ultimate? I'm getting there. You see, these types think that by virtue of their position they should be obeyed, so their interactions with the students rest on this pillar of their pedagogy. But what if, as the students are more than happy to demonstrate, they don't give a shit about what they say? What is going to motivate the students to want to improve then?

At the beginning of the season I made what is, at face value, a very small semantic request. I asked the captains and officers that, whenever addressing the team, be it practice, huddle, or email, that we never use the singular first person. That we never begin with "I need..." or "I want you to..." The frame for what follows requires that the listener be vested in the speaker and his authority, and that they place their own wants and needs below those of the speaker. And that kinda works, sorta. HS students know they need to do their work, and players know they need to work out and practice, so to the extent that they know it necessary they'll follow along. But what if your goal is not to just have them do what is minimally required, but to inspire and motivate them to do their best, every time?

What I asked is that we frame every address to the team in the team's terms. Some players might not like me personally, and I know some Hodags would love to flick a captain or officer in the nuts, hard, if given the chance. But every one of them wants the team to succeed, to win. So we say:

"You need to..."
"The team needs..."
"We have to..."
"Let's all..."

It's a small quibble, maybe just a little something to make a fuss over; a single word change. But I'm convinced it makes a difference, as we repeat it practice after practice, huddle after huddle, one word change become a thousand word choices over a season's time. If you as a coach make it about you, players are invited to take you or leave you. But they're not on the team because you're the coach, or the captain. You ain't that special. They're on the team because they love playing Ultimate, love being on a team, and want to work hard for the team so that they may personally feel more accomplished. If they hear that you need them to try harder, their inner monologue gives you a parenthesized "fuck you". You work harder, bitch.

But listen to the difference. Say instead, "We're slacking. When we showed up at tryouts and went around the circle after making the team, we all promised each other we wouldn't shy from the hard work. We knew there would be hard work, challenges. Here's one, right now. Right fucking now. So we can go back on our promises to ourselves, to each other, or we can sack up and play with some heart. The team is better than this. We are better than this. Right now, we have to work harder."

At my high school it's never about me. When I enforce rules they're never enforced because I want them to be. We do things in my office because the students are there to learn to be winners. They want to be winners, they want to be great. I remind them of this desire they have, this picture of themselves they hold in their head. You want to be a beast. You said you wanted to go to college. This is what it takes. It takes hard work. I'm here to help you not quit on yourself. You need to put your head down and put in the time, for you, right now. I see that person you want to be, poking out from within you; now sit down, focus, and let the beast loose. You deserve it; you owe it to yourself. Do it for you.

I don't know if it works or not, I'm just convinced it does. At least, I'm pretty popular with the kids these days.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


I'm at the airport in the Minnie getting ready to board the flight out to SFO for the "Stanford Invite." There are ten of us here and we're all anxious to get out to the West Coast and bring our best against the best. Let's bro.

The Fear of Failure - Over-training, Mental Fortitude, and Confidence

Yesterday was the first day in nearly 4 months that I felt tired. It wasn’t the kind of tired that my legs feel, or the kind that leaves me gasping for breath. It was a mental fatigue, leaving my motivation and conviction on the wayside, begging the question, “What’s the point?” It was the first day since Club Nationals, in the doldrums of the off-season, that my awareness finally mumbled, “Enough.” I might have asked my legs to push again, but my heart wasn’t in it. I slowed down, stopped, and within minutes found myself puking out everything in my system; maybe half a cup of water. As I dragged myself from the gym I couldn’t shake a specific memory. It was the last weekend of October in Sarasota and my body was melting in the heat. It sucked my energy, ate away at my leg strength, and collapsed my breathes. I couldn’t beat it, I hadn’t trained properly.

That was the first realization I recalled on the plane ride home – I had been neither mentally nor physically prepared. I thought back in anger of my off-season. Four months of crutches, two months of biking & calf raises, and then just the last four months of scattered practices, countless skipped drills and usually just one cleat on. On that plane ride home, I thought only of time evaporated and opportunities missed. At Nationals, I had over 400 touches, but probably played one of the least memorable tournaments of my life. The frustration and regret consumed me and I decided to remedy that mistake this season.

Confidence is one fickle fellow.
When you have it - nothing can stop you.
When you lose it - it's impossible to find again.

I've always been cocky, confident, and sure of my ability.
Any competition brought out the best in me.
Losing was not an option and I believed in myself unconditionally.
I could accomplish anything I set my mind to and I attacked every challenge with this attitude.
I never gave myself a chance to doubt my talent or physical abilities because deep down, I wholeheartedly believed in myself.

And then, for perhaps the first time in my life - I lost confidence on Thursday October 29, 2009. A week prior to Club Nationals, I majorly tweaked my back in the weight room dead lifting. I was barely cleared to play after seeing a chiropractor 7 days in a row, and entered Nationals without a workout or throw to my name for a whole week. Highly uncharacteristic. I hid every ounce of weakness and pain from all but a few of my closest confidants. I didn't want any excuses.
As Madison prepared for Sockeye, I quickly realized two things: 1) my change of direction was hampered, and 2) my throws were not perfect. As a primary handler -- these are pretty big problems. I discarded these concerns and played the best I could. With the score tied 7-7, I finally flinched, throwing 2 poor turnovers, allowing Seattle to steal half.

It was a like a fire extinguished. I lost confidence in myself. Unlike the hundreds of times before, where my 10 second memory simple erased the outcome, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had let down my teammates. I couldn't recover -- I had lost confidence in myself. It is almost an impossible feeling to describe. With the inner coals barely flickering, it was very difficult to... feel right again. I knew how I was supposed to recover, but I was finding no path to that outcome.

After one week of swine flu post-Nationals, I began training with a new found tenacity – to make up for lost time. I decided the best way to fight my demons would be to kill it as hard as possible. I pieced together a three month workout routine correctly named “Kick Me in the Face.” Over the next 84 days, I practiced/trained/lifted/sprinted for 144 hours. The rest of my time was spread thin between work, Bella, Hodags, and high school wrestling. My tactic of choice was fully committing to my best effort for every exercise of each practice session, and if needed, to recall the pain of under-performing last season. It was all I ever needed to remember. I battled countless workouts and buckets of sweat, clinging to a couple of motivational lines hot on my mind, “Be the change I want to see in myself. Give my best effort! Eagerly accept the hard work and pain – visualizing my desired result.” The reaffirmation of my goals worked and I trained onward.

The one motivation that always keeps me pushing is the fear of failure. Once I set a goal – it is mine to achieve. Nothing can stop me, except for… me. And for the first time in four months, I slowed my pace and eventually waited, pondering any excuse good enough to stop. I tested my muscles, but found my body felt the strongest it’s ever been. I tested my fortitude to continue, but found only stale disappointment and doubt for my certainty. Motivation was blurring just as the end-goal was blurring. Frustration at my weakness, disappointment in myself, and the corresponding lack of willpower all swept into the most powerful emotion I could understand – the fear of failure. Would it be easier to quit than to attempt and ultimately fail?

Instead of giving up, I resorted to the internet to answer my questions about over-training and rest cycles. I read sentences screaming weakness and fluffy-soft excuses, as if written for mid-30’s house wives. Their symptoms of over-training seem normal for anyone working out seriously. They don’t convince me to stop. Instead I tracked down individual stories – legends of Dan Gable and Apollo Ohno who train up to five or eight hours a day for their athletic goals. I ask myself what makes them so strong? If they can do it, why can’t I? I was coming closer to the answer I needed.

If I really want it, neither physical nor mental roadblocks should stop me. The fear of failure – should only make me push harder. The disappointment from last year should only fuel my fire and drive my hunger to be better than that. Here is to the off-season and to learning from my mistakes.