What I Hope to Learn this Summer, Part I

In Mental Training by Brock Bourgase

I hope to improve my ability to deal with people and egos, to better motivate student-athletes and demonstrate more empathic leadership. I recently read Competitive Fire by Michael Clarkson and learnt many facts that I hope to apply in the coming year. We often discuss how it seems that teenagers have a “fight or flight” mentality but there is a scientific basis to the argument. Under pressure, the brain releases hormones, such as adrenaline or noradrenaline, that can cause aggressiveness, increase feelings of fear, and inspire the body to perform faster, higher, or stronger.

All people, including athletes, need to manage these feelings. Teenagers at school or on the court may be sensing this stress for the first time. It is up to coaches to transform aggressiveness into confidence and fear and tension into increased focus. Some players need to be reminded of a comfort zone, such as the gym where they had fun as a child. Others need a combination of assurance and encouragement so that they channel their urge to defend their ego in a positive direction. It may be necessary to put the sport or evaluation into perspective so fear of failure is not catastrophic. Mental sets at the beginning of class or practice can help a group of student-athletes develop their ability to focus or one-on-one discussions afterwards can give an individual the boost they need to get through the day. Or it may be necessary to simulate game conditions in practice and help players visualize a successful performance.

The ideal of Tachypsychia is very intriguing. During a competitive situation, the brain releases hormones which allow the person to perceive more information. This creates the impression that time has slowed down, a player can see gaps in the defence, or that the ball has entered the net a moment before it actually does. Inducing that feeling – and handling it in a calm manner – is a challenge for a coach.

Visualizing that a big game is just another pick-up game back home is similar to thinking that the audience for a big PowerPoint presentation is comprised of friends and family. Focusing intently on a foul shot and ignoring distractions is similar to excelling on a final exam. That is why I want to help others handle stress better.

There are so many different strategies to maximize the affects of arousal that a coach may need to treat every player differently or a teacher may need to attempt multiple techniques with different groups of students. Sensing what is appropriate for each occasional is an aptitude that I wish to improve over the next two months. In addition to my own personal reflection, I hope to read Red and Me and The Gold Standard. The former is an account of the unique relationship between a superstar and an elite coach (Bill Russell and Red Auerbach) and the latter is the story of a team comprised of multiple egos under extreme pressure (the 2008 United States “Redeem Team.”