“MIND GAMES: THEY’RE GETTING OLD”

 

It is more apparent that coaching styles and behaviors in the United States need an overhaul. This may not be necessary for the most successful and experienced coaches that have been around for a long time. It is necessary for the new coaches that are trying to make a name for themselves, and that are teaching the next generation of athletes.

The mindsets of younger athletes are different.

We can even add that the criticism of early “specialization” of younger athletes in any particular sport should also be leveled at the type of mindset  they are being bred to have.

Last Thursday night, the University of Oregon Ducks beat the Duke University Blue Devils during the Men’s NCAA tournament. Much of the media coverage was not about how Oregon was the better team. Instead the focus fell on the post-game altercation between Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Oregon player Dillon Brooks.

Teachable Moments

 Photo Credit: https://sports.vice.com/en_us

Photo Credit: https://sports.vice.com/en_us

Great coaches look for teachable moments. We look for ways to connect our experiences through sport to our daily lives. On Thursday night, Coach Krzyzewski approached Dillon Brooks to deliver a teachable moment, and it probably wasn’t the right time and place.

There was another teachable moment. Duke player, Grayson Allen, was the player that Dillon Brooks scored the now infamous three-pointer over, and Allen refused to shake hands with Brooks at the end of the game.

It really doesn’t matter what side of the situation you happen to fall on. There are lessons to be learned by all sides:

  1. Do not be a “sore loser.”
  2. Do not be a “bad winner,” and run up the score.
  3. Do not coach another coach’s athlete.

“Life Lessons” are Lost

Coach Krzyzewski has already apologized for number #3 because he realized that it was not his place to offer advice to Dillon Brooks at that moment.

I do not blame Coach Krzyzewski for trying to teach Dillon Brooks a valuable lesson. He is a legendary coach, and wants every athlete that he works with to become successful. Unfortunately, he was upset that his team lost, and he wanted to give advice to Brooks about keeping a  level head before Oregon  went on to play Oklahoma.

I would like to offer Coach Krzyzewski and coaches in all sports a piece of advice:

Stop confusing the athletes.

As coaches, we are responsible for the behaviors of the athletes that are on the field, court, river, etc.  It is becoming more and more difficult for athletes to pull real “life lessons” out of their sport because coaches have trained the athletes to focus only on the sport.

In the single moment that Dillon Brooks shot that three-pointer, he was doing his job. He was uncovered, the shot clock was down to “2”, and therefore his job was to shoot the ball. He wasn’t focusing on the score of the game. He was focusing on executing the play.

In the single moment that the game ended, Grayson Allen wasn’t focusing on his respect for Oregon and the game they played. He was focusing on the fact that his season was over, and was trying to re-shift his focus back to being just a student.

I am pretty sure that in the preparation for the game with Oregon, there was not any focus on how to behave if Duke happened to lose. There weren’t any set plays  in which Allen had to practice shaking hands because he was never allowed to be in that “losing” mindset in the first place.

The Sport is the Focus

The sport itself has become the focus.

When younger athletes first play sports on their own, they learn what their strengths are, learn how to be good teammates, and learn to overcome failure. They experience this in the backyard and playground games where the score does does not matter. They have the freedom to fail without being specialized or trained to be in the correct mindset.

As soon as the sport becomes more organized the expectations for the athletes begin to change.  Coaches focus so much on athletes experiencing success that the  pressure at the high school level and collegiate level makes it impossible to extract any takeaways that apply to an athlete’s real life.  It’s a pipe dream that is ready to burst.

What lessons are coaches trying to teach with sports?

I am not sure that coaches even know.

A few weekends ago, one of my athletes won their first race in over a year. She was ecstatic. Apparently, her coach didn’t believe she should enjoy the moment for that long:

“…well, you could have been faster.”

Another athlete received an email from their coach. It indicated that the team needed to look inside themselves:

“…you have to decide how bad you want it.”

At the collegiate level, I was an assistant coach being reprimanded by my head coach after complimenting our team’s first victory:

“…it’s NOT great…they should have won by more.”

Please keep in mind, this is high school and collegiate rowing. I cannot imagine the pressure and stress that goes with playing in the NCAA Tournament. Or even the Super Bowl, as I wrote about Cam Newton a few weeks ago.

Moral of the Story

No More Mind Games

Photo Credit: NCAA and www.sacbee.com

Photo Credit: NCAA and http://www.sacbee.com

Who is the adult here?

I have personally watched coaches destroy  athletes by “bursting their bubble.” It has opened my eyes to how I need to take a step back in parenting my own children.

Protecting your child from disappointment by either training them not to fail or making them feel good about everything is only making them question which behaviors  are “right” or  “wrong.”

They begin to doubt themselves.

It is one thing to ask an athlete to fully immerse themselves into the sport. It is another to ask them to focus on the morals outside of the sport.

Wake up coaches; the “mind games” are getting old.

We attempt to impart the wisdom of our own athletic struggles onto younger athletes, but they have no frame of reference. We cannot get them to understand and appreciate what they are experiencing because we never allow them to. Instead we try try use old clichés and stories.

We are not martyrs.

Allowing athletes to experience both satisfaction and disappointment builds the confidence to face more difficult obstacles during their athletic career. At that point, they will go to you for help, and that is the point you really can coach them. Meanwhile:

“Winning is the most important thing…It doesn’t matter if you win or lose…”

“Do it for your teammates…Be better than your teammates…”

“Miles make champions…Train smarter not harder…”

“Don’t be a sore loser…Don’t be a bad winner…”

Photo Credit: www.hngn.com

Photo Credit: http://www.hngn.com

 

 

 

 

 

Ugh, my head is spinning…

For more information on Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or follow me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“LOST” – THE C.R.A.S.H.-B. CONUNDRUM

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“THE C.R.A.S.H.-B. CONUNDRUM”

It happens every year.

Thousands of athletes travel to Boston, MA to rowing’s equivalent of the Super Bowl. Or maybe the Philadelphia “Wing Bowl”, because it truly is a spectacle.

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Photo Credit: greglesher.blogspot.com

Four of my athletes competed last week at the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S, and only one came out successful. I finally realized that this event has always mystified me. In the seven years that I actually competed at the event, I only really did well twice. In my first year, I didn’t know any better, and pulled a personal best time as a lightweight. In 2005, my final year, I just stuck to my race plan, and somehow “won” my heat in exciting fashion.

That’s it.

What is it about the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S?!?

I want to preface this blog by saying I absolutely love  the C.R.A.S.H.-B’s. It is a  great race and event.

However, when writers cover the event, their articles are about the athletes with inspirational stories, the rowing “celebrities” that happen to attend, and the world records that are broken. Meanwhile nothing is ever written about the thousands of other athletes that go there only to have their souls crushed by failure.

C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S is a conundrum. It is the Bermuda Triangle of indoor rowing competitions. You never know how it is going to play out.

LOST

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“And it started out with such promise…”

When you first arrive, you literally forget how you arrived and why you are there.

Like the passengers of Oceanic 6 in the television series LOST  we  convince ourselves that we were brought to the Agganis Arena for a reason. In the end, we realize that even the writers had no idea how the story was going to end.

I have written about “2k Anxiety“, and the fact is that C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S is too overwhelming.  Too stimulating. Too confusing.

High school athletes and parents always ask me for advice on whether it is worth going up to Boston. I look at them and simply say, “You should only go if you know you are going to pull a personal best, or you are going to win.”

Otherwise, just plan on being disappointed.

Even if you could go to Boston with the right mindset, there might be too many distractions there to overwhelm you.

“THE OTHERS”

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“Who ARE these people?”

Maybe it is just because the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S is in a hockey arena.  The atmosphere is much different than a rowing venue. When you are sitting in the stands, it becomes very easy to be engrossed by everything.

Too many tastes, smells, sounds, and other peopleYou can spend your whole afternoon just people watching. The air is thick with drama, and very soon it is time for your event. Even if you are able to tune out everything, you still have to interact with other people.

“Hey bro, are you done using that erg. I need to warm up…”

Not enough ergs. And constantly bumping into other people as you wait in line at the restroom or concession stands. And all the other people want to talk to you…

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“Pay no attention to that carnage behind the curtain…”

“What a feeling,” as you wait in line in agony for your event behind a heavy curtain. Much like the final audition in “Flashdance”.

“The Dharma Initiative”

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“I’ll see you in another life, brother!”

Even if you arrive with a good plan, the plan may unravel. You can map out your whole routine right up until your event, however a single misstep will throw you off. C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S contains too many uncontrollable variables.

It is impossible to predict every scenario, and athletes that are creatures of habit will find themselves uncomfortable. Boston traffic, parking issues, and event delays are all out of the athletes’ control. Therefore the “organized” athlete will be out of their element.

“Your heat has been delayed for another 20 minutes…”

Desmond had to push the button every 108 minutes. Then he was distracted, and then plane came crashing down.

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Photo Credit: Row2k

Are you ready to adapt your plan? Are you able to anticipate the things you do not know know about yet?

Like no toilet paper? (That’s only a joke… 🙂 )

“THE MAN IN BLACK VS. JACOB”

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“I wanted them to know…the difference between right and wrong without me telling them. It’s all useless if I have to make them do anything.”

At the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S, athletes are taken out of their element. They are in a unfamiliar place watching athletes and coaches do things differently. Athletes from other programs and countries will prepare for the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S in a different way.

Observing these “bizarre” methods will challenge your core beliefs. Especially when the athlete next to you pulls a personal best time with a rowing style or warm-up method you are not familiar with.

“Why is he pulling the handle over his head?”

Whether you frown upon their rowing technique or wish your own rowing technique was better, you end up questioning yourself, your coach, and why you are even there…

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“I thought headphones weren’t allowed…”

The focus on your original mission has ended; you begin focusing everything that is wrong in the world.

Thank goodness the GOP Debate was a week later…

“THE SMOKE MONSTER”

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“Okay, that thing in the woods, maybe it’s a monster, maybe it’s a p***ed off giraffe, I don’t know. “

You would think that those that thrive on competition, would always do their best at the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S. In many cases they are the only ones that pull a personal best time.

With so much competition around, you begin picking out your targets. It is impossible to hold back your adrenaline because the arena oozes adrenaline.

“I am going to beat my time… I am definitely going to beat that CrossFit dude with no shirt on…”

“Oh WAIT, there’s GRAHAM BENTON!”

BOOM! You go out too fast.

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Photo Credit: Row2k and US Rowing

I would love the opportunity to pick the brain of Graham Benton or even the inspiring 95 year-old, Steve Richardson, who broke the World Record. How do they handle that pressure? Perhaps Mr. Richardson was just there to beat his previous time, and to beat all the other 95 year-olds.

And maybe he was just really p***ed that there wasn’t anyone else to race in his age group.

“MORAL OF THE STORY”

I don’t know…

In the 35 years of existence,  the  C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S has produced some amazing performances. Perhaps that is what makes the event the true World Indoor Rowing Championships, because athletes must rise above all the psychological hurdles – the overwhelming masses, the tempting distractions, the conflicting philosophies, and the unbelievable competition.

The tradition will continue to go on, even with the new threat of virtual regattas like the 2016 World Rowing Indoor Sprints and ROW’D Royalty.

Athletes will continue to compete at this rowing mecca to find their “heart” on this island…

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“What the hell was this?!?”

Or maybe  C.R.A.S.H.-B’S is just a purgatory where we all go to meet before we die…

 

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Oh shut up Jacob…

 

 

For more information on Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

 

“TOO MANY SECRETS” – 5 Mistakes US Rowing Coaches Make

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Coaches in every sport make mistakes.  I am passionate about rowing. As an independent rowing coach and fitness professional the biggest challenge I have in guiding my rowing athletes and clients is dealing with rowing secrets. What are “rowing secrets?”

They are the things rowing coaches won’t share with athletes or other coaches.

Rowing is not a complicated sport. However, training and managing athletes can be complicated. In the United States, the role models for rowing coaches are the high profile coaches of the four major sports – football, basketball, hockey, and baseball. They are role models because they are accessible and analyzed 24-7 on local and national sports networks.

I do not know why high profile rowing coaches are not willing to share the methods and process of their success.

When asked to share their coaching and training secrets, high profile rowing coaches tend to shrug and provide some general guidance. At the  2015 US Rowing Convention, a high profile coach was asked to talk about his recent campaign and I was amazed how packed the room was just to hear him speak. It was definitely out of great respect for what this coach has accomplished in his career, but I wondered if many, like myself, strained to sift out any valuable information from what he presented.

It may be one of the many reasons why rowing coaches in the United States continue to make mistakes in coaching their athletes. I cannot speak for coaches in other countries.

Here are 5 mistakes that US rowing coaches make:

1. “TOO DEMANDING/TOO CONSERVATIVE”

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“Too Demanding”

Rowing coaches can demand too much of their athletes. The sport requires an enormous time for training, and athletes do their best to enjoy and do well at the sport. However, rowing coaches always ask for more. It is important to challenge athletes and encourage them to improve themselves.

Yet, standing between two athletes during a “steady-state” workout, and demanding them to “pull-harder” may be a little overboard. Wait,  is it a steady-state workout or a race? I’m confused.

“Too Conservative”

Rowing is a challenging sport. A coach is asking eight individuals to propel a 90-100 kg craft over a mile and a half, while a 50 to 55 kg person is screaming in their face, as fast as they can. By the way, there are 4 to 6 other crafts next to them that a coach wants them to defeat.

Athletes should not go into an Olympic race feeling tentative. They may get hurt. Not physically because of all the years of training, but mentally if they don’t understand that to win they have to push themselves past their limit.

2. “TOO EMOTIONAL/TOO WITHDRAWN”

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“Too Emotional”

There has been change in American society. Parents want their children to feel happy and safe all the time. I am a parent myself, so I understand this. However, making sure everyone is happy may not be the best thing.

Athletes have to learn how to fail in order to accept defeat in life. Rowing coaches are teachers and should teach athletes how to both fail and succeed. That means telling them when they are doing something wrong even if the athletes and parents do not like it.

“Too Withdrawn”

Yet, we need to connect to our athletes.  Rowing coaches are  teaching a very intense sport. If coaches focus only on the sport and not on their athletes they may find the athletes will never put forth the same effort that the coaches as rowers were asked to give.

Rowing is emotional. A rower wears their heart on their sleeve with every stroke. Either it is broken in defeat or it will propel an entire boat to victory with the trust created in the team culture. If needed, a coach must be able to access their own emotional side for the sake of their athletes.

3. “TOO CONSISTENT/TOO IMPATIENT”

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“Too Consistent”

I believe you have to be consistent. However, building a program without any effort or ability to modify the structure to the type of athletes may hurt a coach in the end. Coaches should be adaptable, because as great planners they should be able to plan around all unforeseen obstacles.

Coaches that do the same thing year after year may become stale. Athletes and team culture will always  change, therefore the coach needs to be able to change with it. Otherwise they may find themselves “out-of-date” or out of a job.

“Too Impatient”

On the other hand, a coach cannot be erratic. Athletes are children or in some cases “child-like”. They depend on their coach which means the coach needs to provide some kind of structure for them to follow. Coaches that are constantly “shaking things up”  are putting the athletes on edge.

Erratic means 2k tests on the Monday after a regatta. Do coaches really expect everyone to pull a personal best right after they raced? Do they enjoy watching their athletes’ potential failure? Are they really trying to make their athletes tougher?

4. “TOO PRECISE/TOO REBELLIOUS”

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“Too Precise”

Rowing demands precision. Every rower is striving for that perfect stroke and perfect race every single day they are on the water. However, there are some things rowers and coaches cannot control. In their quest for perfection they may stumble.

A coach may be able to handle a setback,  but their athletes may not. The pressures of perfection may be too much to handle. Athletes already need to be perfect in all other aspects of their life. Perhaps rowing could be the sport where they are not perfect but simply successful.

“Too Rebellious”

At the same time, successful rowing coaches and trainers do have a formula for success. Advanced training concepts are more accessible, rowing equipment is cutting edge, and there are more genetically-gifted athletes. Rowing coaches continue to strive in thinking outside the box and introduce new ideas to the sport.

Yet, coaches that drive their athletes to stay ahead of the curve with physiology, technology, and recruiting may be going down an unnecessary road. It has been proven over and over that the sport really hasn’t changed that much in over the last 100 years. Perhaps the real key to a coach’s success may simply be learning how to connect to their athletes and peers better.

MORAL OF THE STORY

As a collegiate rower, I never knew what the workout would be day to day. My coaches would only inform the team session to session.  My only job was to show up and “push/pull” as hard as I could. As  a post-grad this lack of knowledge and understanding caught up with me. My performances began to steadily decline because I had no sense of how hard I was supposed to be working, and I found myself very over-trained.

As a young coach, I achieved early success because I was motivated and willing to work hard. However, eventually mistakes do catch up with you, and you find yourself looking for guidance. It became apparent that true coaching mentors in the sport of rowing are difficult to find. Mostly because the masters do not want to be outshone by their students.

This script has not changed.

5. “TOO MANY SECRETS”

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I understand that sometimes revealing  too much information is not a good thing.

If  a coach hands out their entire training program  the athletes could become overwhelmed or anxious about what they have been given.

If a coach reveals all their coaching secrets, they may find themselves losing to their former assistant coaches the following year.

Isn’t the goal to set our athletes and coaches up for success?

If the United States wants to develop as a rowing nation, it mean understanding what each athlete and coach needs to be successful. In some cases, that means opening up to give them guidance on what they are about to do, and setting the right expectations.

I just watched the movie Pride the other night. Two coaches, Terrence Howard and Tom Arnold get into an argument after a meet:

ARNOLD: “You want respect in this game, then you’re gonna have to earn it…”

HOWARD: “Why don’t you teach your kids something?”

ARNOLD: “Yeah, he made a bonehead move…it didn’t affect the outcome.”

HOWARD: “You want respect, you give it.”

ARNOLD: “…You EARN it.”

Are we waiting for our athletes and coaches to earn our respect before we teach or tell them anything of value?

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We may find that we leave this sport and this earth without leaving any kind of legacy.

And so the cycle continues…

For more information on Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.