Coaches do it to their athletes and athletes do it to themselves. Even parents sometimes get in on the act and do it to their child-athlete right before or during a performance. All involved think they’re being really helpful. They’re NOT!
What they are all doing is setting that athlete up to fail.
What is “it?” “It” is the fine art of over-coaching: That is, providing the athlete with too much technical, mechanical and/or tactical information right before or during a game. The athlete then begins to think about what he/she needs to do in order to perform well. Thinking and peak performance are always mutually exclusive. That is, if you’re doing the former in your head, then you certainly won’t be doing the latter out on the field.
Over-thinking is always hazardous to an athlete’s performance health. Whether you’re thinking about where you need to be, what you need to do execution-wise, what your opponent may be doing or the outcome of this at-bat, shot or swing doesn’t really matter. If you are up at the plate, on the field, course or court coaching yourself, then you are unknowingly distracting yourself from the flow of the game/match and, as a consequence, sabotaging yourself.
The problem is caused by the athlete being in the Front, thinking part of his/her brain. This part of the brain is great for breaking things down into small pieces and evaluating stuff. It relies on conscious thought and logic. It’s perfect if you’re working on changing technique, learning new skills or analyzing past performances in practice. However, this thinking part of your brain is totally incompetent when it comes to actual game performance. The main reason for this is our Front Brain processes information much too slowly to be able to keep up with the speed and complexity of athletic performance.
Our Hind Brain is the keeper of our unconscious mind and our muscle memory. It is the athletic genius within us all. When you perform at your best, you are not thinking at all. Instead, you’re reflexively reacting to the performance demands as they come at you and change in the moment. When athletes say, “I played out of my mind” or “She was totally unconscious” they are referring to their Hind Brain.
Far too many coaches and parents don’t understand this concept and think that the more conscious technical, mechanical and strategic information that they can cram into the athlete’s head before and during the competition, the better. What they inadvertently do in the process is push the athlete into his/her thinking brain and the result is predictable: The athlete totally blows it!
If you’re a coach or a parent the message I have for you is simple: LESS IS ALWAYS MORE! Let your athletes play without micro-managing every little thing that they are doing. Coaches who are micro-managers and insist on commenting on everything that goes on technique and strategy-wise during the game hurt their athletes. The coach who offers technical suggestions to the batter while he/she is up at the plate is NOT being an effective coach. On the contrary! Similarly, the “helpful” parents on the sidelines who offer up their own brand of coaching to their athletic offspring while the performance is taking place insure that their child will not only be distracted from the flow of the game, but will also get too caught up in their own thoughts.
The same holds true for the athlete himself. Do NOT coach yourself through the performance. Do not think about what you should have or shouldn’t have done while the competition is going on. Drop the technical, mechanical and tactical suggestions while you’re playing. Instead, try to keep your focus of concentration in the moment, on what you are doing.
The way to “not think” while you play is NOT by telling yourself, “DON’T THINK!” That silly instruction is just more thinking. Instead, try to control your focus of concentration and keep it in the game on what’s important. The same holds true for coaches. Work on keeping your instructions simple and making sure that you get your athletes concentrating on what they are doing, while they are doing it, one play at a time.