There’s a pop song from my teen years in the 60’s that is part of what this post is about. I don’t recall what singer/group sang it but it went… “Try a little tenderness.” When dealing with people (especially teenagers!) in this day and time, using your softer/gentler side, Coach, can go a long way in promoting good will! Good will with your players; good will with their parents; good will toward your school administrators. I’m paraphrasing but… there’s a verse in the Bible from the Book of Proverbs that says: “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Which to me means: stay cool in those stress-filled situations. It’ll promote calm and, in the long run, help you develop more self-control. God knows best!
Thus, leading to my topic today. It sounds like the antithesis of that first paragraph but… hang with me, cuz it’ll all come together in the end!
STRESS. Stress has developed a “bad name” in our culture today. Everybody talks about staying away from stressful situations. Avoiding people who cause you stress. Find ways to ease your stress. Hey, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere”… right??!!! NO!!! Like most anything else, avoidance doesn’t make the problem go away! If you’re going to be involved in a competitive sport like football, there is going to be stress. It’s the nature of the beast. What I’m about to say is a bit radical… but, I think stress is actually a good thing!!!! Wellllllllllll… properly-regulated stress is a good thing. If your body had no stress/no tension, you’d be a slug! Your muscles constantly have some tension. When you call upon your body to react (like when a football play starts), the stress level on your body— that which your muscles and nerves produce— propels you into action. So, NO stress is not a good thing. A football team that has little or no stress before a game is either waaaaaaay over-confident or just doesn’t care. Everyone— every team needs some stress to be able to perform at their peak level. Thus the rub!
How do you, as a coach, KNOW how much stress is just right? Your team is made up of dozens of young men… each with a different personality. Sociologists have discovered, though, that in a group setting the group mind-set takes over. What you get is a “synergy” that transcends individual make-ups. It’s like what those sociologists call “Group Think.” A wise coach studies his team… looking for signs of what the Group Personality is. There are always going to be some “outlyers.” But, for the most part, if a kid is playing a team sport… he’s playing it because he enjoys the interaction with other people. He’s willing to sacrifice some of his individuality for the sake of the group/team. Coaches need to observe their team when they’re together. It could be in a structured situation like when they are in the weight room together. It could (and should) be in a more relaxed setting, too— like when they’re hanging out in the locker room before practice. When I was a head coach, we met in the Team Room before we went on the field for practice. I made announcements; we talked about practice; we might have a scouting session but… the kids knew to meet in the Team Room (ALWAYS!) before we went outside. I would arrive and many times would not start the meeting right away. I’d just observe. Who’ sitting where? Who’s sitting with whom? Where’s the laughter coming from? Who seems subdued today? You begin to get a “feel” for your team’s personality. That will be important as you face the weekly grind of trying to win as many games as you can.
I am “consulting” for a local team. I’ve mentioned them a couple of times in previous posts. I am having a blast… helping install the offense I love and just interacting with the players and coaches. The young head coach and I are forming a good working relationship that is becoming more and more of a “bonding” situation where he knows I’m there to help him. So, he is learning to trust me. I offer my expertise and experience and he is soaking it up. I told him that he has a “teachable spirit” about him. They have their first pre-season scrimmage tonight. I have been pleased with the progress they’ve made in learning to execute the Delaware Wing T. Tonight they get put to the test.
I shared with him what I thought was the best (mental) way to approach tonight’s scrimmage. We’re pretty big into NASCAR racing here in Tidewater, Virginia. I suggested (cuz THAT’S what a consultant does!!!!) that he use a NASCAR analogy for tonight. It’s just a “Test Drive.” We want to see how the “engine” responds when we put it on the track and push the pedal to the metal! Don’t make a big deal about “winning and losing.” Tonight is about EXECUTION. NO turn-overs! NO missed assignments! NO major penalties. It’s only a scrimmage. It will not count in their regular-season record. Down-play it so the… HERE WE GO!!!: their STRESS LEVEL stays low. You don’t need them all hyped up tonight.
I had teams that were soooooooo hyper before a game that I had to find ways to calm them down! Other teams required a very emotional appeal before each game to “wake them up.” Others, we said that they had “Quiet Fire.” There was a high level of intensity but… they did NOT need anyone to “pump them up” before a game. That’s YOUR job, Coach! You’ve got to learn what your Team Temperament is and then, when necessary, ADD a little stress! OR… at other times, try a little tenderness… to calm them down.
I’ll close by sharing one of the most amazing pre-game environments I was ever around in my 31 years as a head football coach! It happened before our State Championship game last fall. We’d gathered to head out on the field for the game to start. I was looking for the “pulse” of the team to see if I needed to pump them up OR… calm them down. (I’ve been known to tell a stupid joke… I love puns! before a game to get a groan. Laughter releases stress!) I looked in those kids’ eyes to try and determine where they were emotionally and psychologically and, guess what I got looking back at me? The most peaceful, yet determined look on faces that I’d EVER seen! I KNEW at that moment that we were going to win that game! I didn’t need to say anything. Our “NASCAR Engine” was finely-tuned! We were ready to fly! And… we did! It was over in the first half! The stress level was perfect-a-mundo!!! I was smart enough to just “leave it alone.” You need to develop this power of observation too.