Confidence, ability to manage emotions, self-motivation, use of imagery, and the ability to focus. Those are some of the qualities associated with psychologically strong athletes.
As a coach, where do your responsibilities end?
Do you, for example, adhere to that line in your organization’s mission statement about teaching life-lessons? You know, the core value every youth sports organization lists as a priority but seems to forget on the weekend when the score is 1-1.
One of the things about sports that interest me the most is how players develop. There is, of course, a wide variety of ways development occurs, and players take different paths at different ages. There isn’t, and never has been, a blanket approach to the way kids improve in athletics.
I spend a lot of time thinking about development and trying to make it happen with the players I coach. But I am far from an expert in the field. I am, however, fully versed and have expert-level knowledge in one area of player development. And that is how kids developed back in the Good Old Days.
You know what’s interesting? Watch a group of 12- and 13-year-old female soccer players go through a goal-setting session.
There was toughly 50 of them in a conference room which was not built with acoustical quality to match the high-pitch decibel level girls that age can reach. Once they quieted down, there were (mostly) all business.
“It’s a chicken and egg thing.” That’s the way confidence was explained to me once.
Which comes first? Is a particular athlete confident because they played well, or did they play well because they were confident? The answer differs from athlete to athlete, of course. And with young athletes, the level – or the existence – of confidence can differ from day to day.
Does any of this sound familiar?
During training, a player or two seem to be wandering around in a fog. They seem clueless as to what’s going on around them. The ball sneaks up on them, surprising them to the point where you are not sure if that was their first touch or a one-timed shot.
There’s an economic term I’ve been thinking about lately, and the more I think about it, the more parallels I see to athletics and athletic achievement.
The term is “The Greater Fool.” In economics, the Greater Fool theory says, “the price of an object is determined not by its intrinsic value, but rather by irrational beliefs and expectations of market participants.” The Greater Fool buys long and sells short. Economies need Greater Fools in order for others to profit.
There’s this girl who was on one of my teams, good little player, great kid, always happy and ready to play. She’s a bit of a crash-test dummy, though. She goes hard and doesn’t back down and not just on the soccer field. She’s had knee surgery, a broken leg, broken arm, and I’m sure other injuries I don’t know about.
She doesn’t play anymore because she has had multiple concussions. She’s 13. One of the concussions, believe it or not, was suffered while doing homework. She leaned back in her chair, tipped over and hit her head.
So I have this great book that I pull out every once in a while. It’s called Sports Illustrated; Fifty Years of Great Writing.
I picked it up the other day and opened it o an old article about Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher and world-famous malaprop philosopher. Famous quotes attributed to Berra are somewhere between idiotic and genius. “No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded” … “Be careful if you don’t know where your going. You might not get there,” and “The Future ain’t what it used to be.”
The other night, I went to a banquet. It was an induction ceremony for the North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame, and two North Carolina based teams that won national championships were being honored. One was the Greensboro United U15 girls team that won the US Youth Soccer Presidents Cup in 2011. The other was the Duke University 1986 NCAA championship team.