Sports Psychology, Peak Performance and Overcoming Fears & Blocks

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Yelling/anger in sports

Yelling/anger in sports

IN THIS ISSUE:

Yelling, anger and sports: Do they really go together? This past Fall there was a short piece in Sports Illustrated about a youth football coach who had gotten so angry at one of his players for throwing an interception that he grabbed the youth and threw him to the ground, breaking both of his arms in the process. The boy was only 10 years old and the incident took place in practice! Why is it that so many youth sport and high school coaches think that yelling, swearing and all manner of anger expression is an effective teaching and motivational technique? Don’t they realize that they are inadvertently turning their athletes off and actually interfering with peak performance? What really happens inside the head of an athlete when he/she has a yeller for a coach? What’s the best way to handle this as a player?  In this issue we’ll explore the pro’s and con’s of yelling. 

ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Help! My coach is a screamer!”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “Yelling & Parents. Where do you fit in?”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Are you really being effective when you yell?”
Dr. G’s Teaching Tales – “Poison”

ATHLETE’S LOCKER

“Help! My coach is a screamer!”     

 Basketball practice wound down and what usually happened, happened once again. Coach lost it for the umpteenth time that week. Stopping practice he began to yell at the top of his lungs, “Stupid, f’en freshman! What an *&%#+#@ idiot! Can’t you get the damn play right!? What is your *%##!!@@@ problem!!? Are you f’en stupid or what!?” The athlete, who actually was a very talented ball player shrunk backwards, turning bright red. His eyes began to water as he fought back tears. Such a heartwarming scene! What do we have here? A coach Bobby Knight wannabe? Let’s use fear, humiliation, emotional abuse and excessive anger to make our points. After all, what better way to motivate an athlete to scale new performance heights than by intimidating that player and making him feel like absolute crap! 


You could see that this freshman was badly shaken up by all this “good” coaching. Unfortunately for him, the coach had been riding him all week. As a matter of fact, the coach had been on his case since the second week of practice. The upper classman had told him, “Aw, just forget about it, that’s just coach. Sooner or later you’ll get used to it.” They had suggested that he block out the yelling and just try to take in the teaching that was camouflaged in the angry outburst. Unfortunately for this kid, that was much easier said than done! It didn’t even help on those rare times when the coach briefly lapsed into a state of humanness by explaining his out-of-control behavior. “Son, I’m on you for your own good. You see you have some potential there and I aim to get it out of you.” I guess the coach felt that (metaphorically speaking) hitting his athlete repeatedly with a heavy two-by-four was the best method of choice for “nurturing” all that potential out. 


So what did this underclassman get from his interactions with his coach? What would you get? The poor kid felt totally worthless as a player. His self-confidence was shot. His concentration was focused on a fear of making mistakes and getting yelled at again. (Now that kind of focus will really improve your athletic performance). On the court he played tight and tentative. His life-long love of the game was nowhere to be found and he was performing like a shell of his former self. I suppose that’s why he wanted to quit the team. What a baby! Right????


After all, from the coach’s perspective he was probably just toughening this kid up. He was making him a much better player. He was doing this all for the kid’s good, I bet. If the kid couldn’t take the heat, then maybe he shouldn’t go near the fire. Maybe he shouldn’t be playing high school ball. Right? C’mon now, you can’t be too easy on these players. If you treat them like wimps, they’ll play that way. Right???I don’t think so!!!! 


Stick 100 athletes in this kind of coaching environment and most will react exactly like this freshman did. They may not necessarily want to quit, but their response to the coach will NOT be to get more motivated and lift the level of their play. A coach who is demeaning hurts far more players than he helps. A coach who uses fear and put-downs as his major teaching tool will only be effective in destroying his athletes’ concentration, killing their confidence and turning his players off.      


 As an athlete, what do you do if you find yourself stuck in this kind of situation? Worse yet, let’s say that the only game in town is run by this kind of coach. What are your options? Well, first and foremost you can always quit. 


 You can completely remove yourself from the situation. After all, why stick around if you’re not having fun, only getting worse and being coached by a guy who regularly beats up on your self-esteem? 

This choice would even be justified. Of course, there are several major problems with this quitting solution. The most obvious one is that you have to give up your sport, (assuming that there are no other teams that you can join), and you won’t be able to do the thing that you love. 


The second problem with this option is that you never really learn how to handle this kind of person in authority. Unfortunately, the likelihood of there being other coaches, teachers or bosses in your life who act like this is quite high. Sooner or later you’ll find that you have to learn how to effectively manage this kind of situation without quitting. Why not start now? 


So what can you really do? First, go ask the experts! Sit down with a few of the seniors and find out what they have been using to keep the coach’s words from hurting them. Don’t re-invent the wheel here. You may learn some valuable coping strategies here that will help you make the best out of a tough situation. Take your teammates’ advice and try to block out the way the message is delivered. To do this, you have to keep the coach’s put downs out of your head. How? By first understanding that the negative things he says to you about your intelligence, potential and future are NOT true. His words are NOT a reflection on YOU. Instead they are a reflection on HIM. After all, no coach is in a position to accurately predict what you’ll accomplish in your life, especially one who is so negative. Only you can determine where you go and what you can achieve. To help you better keep a perspective you must surround yourself with more positive adults (past coaches, teachers) and peers who support your dream, know your talent and use encouragement as a means to motivate you. Talk with them. Get more accurate feedback from these kinds of people.


Another, more difficult option is to set up a time to meet with your coach privately. Use this meeting to let the coach know, in as respectful a manner as possible that while you appreciate him trying to help you become a better athlete, and while you want his feedback and challenges, the way he is going about it with you is not helpful. Help him understand that the yelling and putdowns only serve to distract you and get you playing tighter. Suggest a way for him to handle your mistakes and push you that you can better use. No really good coach wants his athletes to perform poorly. No really good coach is closed to feedback from his players. You may luck out. You may actually get him to listen. 


Finally, try to use the coach’s behavior as a signal to refocus yourself on your game and simply work harder. Don’t do it for him. Don’t do it to prove him wrong. Just simply do it for YOU. There is always something to be learned in these difficult situations. Look for the opportunity in this problem. Also, try not to dwell on the coach. He’s an “uncontrollable.” Don’t waste your energy reviewing in your head all the slights and putdowns. Some coaches are good. Some are bad. Learn what you can from this situation and then try to make the best out of it.


PARENTS’ CORNER

“Coaches, yelling and parents – Where do you fit in?”

There’s an odd belief in parenting and coaching circles today that by somehow raising your voice more, the message that you’re trying to deliver will be better received. You know, the louder you speak, the easier it goes in. Unfortunately, the opposite is more frequently true. Yelling at kids usually distracts them from the game, turns them off to the sport and shuts them down, performance-wise. Parents who yell instructions at their kids during games, deluded by a belief that somehow their children will be able to use their “coaching gems” are mistaken. Coaches who yell at their athletes during games are similarly off base. Contrary to what you may see on TV, yelling is not the best way to motivate your child-athlete to scale new performance heights.

So as a parent, let’s look at the yelling issue from two perspectives: First, your role during practices and games; Second, helping your child handle a coach who is a yeller.

The first is an easy one to tackle. DON’T DO IT! The only things that should pass between your lips during practice or games are innocuous encouragement. For example, “Great shot! Good play! Way to go! Nice effort! Attaboy! Attagirl,” etc. As you’ve heard me say before in previous newsletters, you shouldn’t be yelling instructions. That’s what real coaches do! That’s not your job! Any coaching you do from the sidelines (or before or after the game/practice) will mentally distract your child from the flow of the game and do far more harm than good. 


In addition, you should never yell at the ref’s! Regardless of how terrible you think the call was or how blind the official, it’s not your place to offer on-going evaluations of the officiating. That’s NO one’s job! You also shouldn’t be yelling at your child’s opponents. That’s simply inappropriate and inexcusable! Instead, just sit back and relax. Take a “chill pill!” Enjoy the day, being there for your child and the fact that your son or daughter is out there (hopefully) having fun. Don’t spoil it for your kid or anyone else out there. Your behavior on the sidelines will dramatically affect how much enjoyment your child continues to have.


The second question about handling a coach who is a screamer is a bit more complicated. As I mentioned in the Athlete’s Locker, coaches who yell do far more harm than good. Actually, it’s not just the yelling that’s the problem. It’s more what and how it’s yelled. For example, it is possible for a coach to yell at your child without this yelling having a detrimental effect. If the coach has developed a caring, respectful relationship with your child and his/her teammates, then this coach may very well be able to pull off the yelling thing without negatively affecting the players. 
 However, relationship notwithstanding, the younger the athlete, the less yelling should be going on. Children under 12 should never have to listen to an adult being out of control in this way, especially if that adult is doing it in a demeaning way. 

Young kids should never have to “learn how to handle” emotional abuse from coaches because it will “toughen them up” and “help them later on in life.” There is absolutely no excuse for a child having to regularly endure these kinds of assaults to their self-esteem.

As a parent, your job is to immediately stop this destructive behavior by talking privately with the coach and, if he or she is unresponsive, to immediately pull your son or daughter out of this program and place them with someone who knows how to handle children. If the “best” coach, technique-wise in town is emotionally abusive, don’t sacrifice your child’s self-esteem for the so-called skills that they’ll learn. In the long run, these kinds of coaches do far more damage than good. 


When kids are a bit older they have a few more resources to be able to handle yelling. Also, keep in mind that gender differences affect how yelling is interpreted. Girls tend to have a much more negative response to a coach who yells than boys. Being more relationship motivated, girls tend to get distracted away from the message the coach is trying to deliver when that coach raises his/her voice. Boys are a bit more able to ignore how the message is delivered. 


As a parent you want to monitor how your child is responding to a yeller. If you feel that the situation is doing more harm than good, you need to be prepared to help your child find a different coaching situation. With adolescents, however, you need to be very sensitive to how much you intervene. High school age athletes need to work these relationships out for themselves. Try to be there as a sounding board for your adolescent and to offer him or her a healthy perspective on the situation. 


Remember, sports are NOT larger than life. Winning or losing a game is NOT the end of the world. While a misguided coach may think and act like a major crime has been committed, your job is to help your child keep in mind that a game is something that is played FOR FUN.


COACH’S OFFICE

“Are you really effective when you yell?”

So am I really saying that you can never yell again? Am I telling you that you must only make nice-nice with your athletes? Several of your players consistently goof around and are disruptive during practice. Are we pushing the “new self-esteem” model here, which states that you can’t raise your voice or reprimand these athletes because it might irreparably damage these goof balls’ self-esteem? Absolutely NOT!!! Providing critical feedback and setting appropriate behavioral limits with your athletes are important parts of your job as a coach-educator. You can’t be effective unless you do it.

Some coaches yell quite comfortably. The yelling is part of who they are. They yell during practices. They yell during games. They yell in the locker room. They yell in the supermarket. They yell in their sleep. This is not necessarily a negative thing although I’m not too sure about the aleep thing. The issue isn’t so much yelling, as it is what and how you yell. 

As I’ve already mentioned, I can’t find any constructive use for coaching via demeaning and intimidating behavior. Making your athletes feel stupid in front of their peers or publicly humiliating them may temporarily get you their attention, but it will permanently lose you their respect and the respect of their teammates. Once you’ve lost a player’s respect, you’ve lost that player! Furthermore, your “lesson” will not be lost on the rest of the team. When you put one player down, the rest of the team is immediately worried about you doing this to them.
 

There are numerous ways to successfully motivate athletes. Old school coaches like to inspire fear as a motivational tool. You make athletes afraid of you and then they’ll do anything you ask of them. While this may be true, this is a pretty shortsighted approach. If you coach through intimidation you may get an athlete to fear you, but you can’t make that athlete respect you. Other coaches try to be the athlete’s best friend. They get “buddy-buddy with the player and refuse to ever come down hard on him. Unfortunately, there are times when you need to pull a “hammer” out of your coaching toolbox. When you don’t, this “let’s be friends” motivational stance will give you no leverage to really do your job effectively. You can be my best friend but that won’t guarantee that I’ll respect you. My bias, however, is that the best way to motivate kids is by first building a solid relationship with them, the foundation of which is based on mutual respect. 

There’s a theme here. If you really want to get a point across and want your players to respond to you, then you MUST have their respect. You can’t get this by bullying them. You can’t get this by demeaning them. You can’t get this by scaring them. You can’t get this by having temper tantrums and throwing chairs across the court! You must earn it the old-fashioned way! You must develop a healthy relationship with your athletes. You must show them that you truly care about them as individuals. You must demonstrate in your words and actions that you are genuinely concerned for their learning and welfare. You must make the learning and playing environment physically and emotionally safe. You must walk the talk! That is, you must model the kind of behavior that you expect from them. 

Coaches who yell and put their athletes down in the process inadvertently set up a very interesting dynamic on their teams. Because modeling is one of the most powerful tools in your coaching toolbox, these individuals unknowingly “teach” their athletes that this is how you treat each other. I recently watched a youth basketball game where the bench players yelled at the starters or whoever was on the floor throughout the entire game. They criticized their teammates’ decisions, got upset with their mistakes and yelled angry comments whenever plays weren’t executed properly. 

In addition, they complained about the ref’s calls and the rough play of the opponent. Where was the coach through all of this? Doing exactly the very same things himself! 
There is no question that self-esteem is one of the most critical factors in performance. When an athlete (honestly) feels good about himself, his play will reflect this inner feeling. If you feel good about yourself you’ll perform to your potential. However, when a player has low self-esteem, he/she will consistently underachieve. As a coach, you have direct access to and influence over your athletes’ self-esteem. If you really want your players to be peak performers, then you had better be aware of what you say to your athletes and how you package it. If you can yell at them and in the process get the message across that you care about them, believe that they can do better, and expect this extra effort from them, then go ahead and yell. If you have a solid coach-player relationship that can sustain your anger and yelling, then go ahead and yell. Otherwise, figure out a new way to get your messages across. 

Understand one thing! Sometimes, when an athlete or team makes the same mistake over and over again, the problem doesn’t lie in that athlete or team’s ineptitude. Sometimes the issue isn’t their “learning disability” or stupidity. Sometimes the issue is more of a “teaching” or “coaching disability.” In other words, if your athletes aren’t getting it, try changing how you package your message instead of letting your frustration and emotions run away with you. All of us, as part of the human condition, get incredibly stupid when we let our emotions do our talking. Emotions are fine as long as you’re on top of them. Think before you speak. Ask yourself what do you want your athletes to learn from this interaction and what you’re about to say/do.

Dr. G’s Teaching Tales

“Poison”  (The following is taken from www.inspirational stories.com

A long time ago, a girl named Li-Li got married and went to live with her husband and mother-in-law. In a very short time, Li-Li found that she couldn't get along with her mother-in-law at all. Their personalities were very different, and Li-Li was angered by many of her mother-in-law's habits. In addition, she criticized Li-Li constantly. 

Days passed days, and weeks passed weeks. Li-Li and her mother-in-law never stopped arguing and fighting. But what made the situation even worse was that, according to ancient Chinese tradition, Li-Li had to bow to her mother-in-law and obey her every wish. All the anger and unhappiness in the house was causing the poor husband great distress. 


Finally, Li-Li could not stand her mother-in-law's bad temper and dictatorship any longer, and she decided to do something about it. Li-Li went to see her father's good friend, Mr. Huang, who sold herbs. She told him the situation and asked if he would give her some poison so that she could solve the problem once and for all. Mr. Huang thought for a while, and finally said, Li-Li, I will help you solve your problem, but you must listen to me and obey what I tell you. Li-Li said, "Yes, Mr. Huang, I will do whatever you tell me to do." Mr. Huang went into the back room, and returned in a few minutes with a package of herbs. He told Li-Li, "You can't use a quick-acting poison to get rid of your mother-in-law, because that would cause people to become suspicious. Therefore, I have given you a number of herbs that will slowly build up poison in her body. Every other day prepare some pork or chicken and put a little of these herbs in her serving. Now, in order to make sure that nobody suspects you when she dies, you must be very careful to act very friendly towards her. 
 Don't argue with her, obey her every wish, and treat her like a queen." Li-Li was so happy. She thanked Mr. Huang and hurried home to start her plot of murdering her mother-in-law. 
Weeks went by, and months went by, and every other day, Li-Li served the specially treated food to her mother-in-law. She remembered what Mr. Huang had said about avoiding suspicion, so she controlled her temper, obeyed her mother-in-law, and treated her like her own mother. After six months had passed, the whole household had changed. Li-Li had practiced controlling her temper so much that she found that she almost never got mad or upset. She hadn't had an argument in six months with her mother-in-law, who now seemed much kinder and easier to get along with. 

The mother-in-law's attitude toward Li-Li changed, and she began to love Li-Li like her own daughter. She kept telling friends and relatives that Li-Li was the best daughter-in-law one could ever find. Li-Li and her mother-in-law were now treating each other like a real mother and daughter. Li-Li's husband was very happy to see what was happening. 


One day, Li-Li came to see Mr. Huang and asked for his help again. She said, "Dear Mr. Huang, please help me to keep the poison from killing my mother-in-law! She's changed into such a nice woman, and I love her like my own mother. I do not want her to die because of the poison I gave her." Mr. Huang smiled and nodded his head. "Li-Li, there's nothing to worry about. I never gave you any poison. The herbs I gave you were vitamins to improve her health. The only poison was in your mind and your attitude toward her, but that has been all washed away by the love which you gave to her."

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Dr. Goldberg is a noted sports psychology expert Read more about Dr. G