Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Maximizing Mental Performance

Posted by admin June - 26 - 2017 - Monday

I read an article in our local paper, The Virginian-Pilot, over the weekend that had some excellent information. The article happened to be about baseball but I felt it was so pertinent to my “Little Things” list that I want to share some of the key ideas here as they apply to football. All the credit has to go to Charlie Mayer, the Director of Psychological Services for the Cleveland Indians. Mayer states in the article that, “we want them (baseball players) to stay in their 3-foot world.” For a baseball player (but, again, for an athlete in any sport) it means focusing on the pitcher’s rubber or the batter’s box. I think that football players’ “3 foot world” pertains to the man across the line from you… whether you’re a lineman or a corner on an island covering a wide receiver.

A key point that Maher makes in the article is that the pursuit of “maximizing mental performance” takes time. *I think of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 reps theory!

We often talk about “slowing the game down” so our athletes can better process information necessary to succeed at their position. It’s why I’ve always had players walk through a play before running it. In fact, walking it numerous times before going full speed. I use something (check earlier blog titles) called “Bird Dogging and Bird Walking” when installing a play. It’s a significant part of the learning process.

The article continues… “Maher uses an acronym: M A C. The “M” is for MINDFULNESS. “It’s learning how to center yourself,” Maher says. It’s that moment when everything is starting in motion. A player needs to be able to block everything else out and zero in on what his job is.

The “A” follows. It’s for ACCEPTANCE. (I think this is KEY!) “As they compete, things happen during the game,” Maher says. A quarterback could be moving his offense efficiently down the field with several nice completions… when all of a sudden, the defense blitzes and he’s hit! The ball goes awry and it’s intercepted for a “pick 6.” You’ve got the ball back and here comes the QB trotting out on the field for the next series. As the song in Frozen says, he’s got to “Let It Go!”

Finally the “C” stands for COMMIT. Commit to the next play. Stay in the moment. Don’t dwell on the last play. Relax. Get the job done.

Soooooooooooooo… how do you help players learn to apply these steps? Maher recommends one of the oldest tricks in the book: “Count to 10!” But, apply deep breathing exercises to your count! Maher says, “What that does for them, it centers them. It slows things down for them.”

I know from experience that deep breathing works! When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we/she decided she wanted to do natural childbirth. We went to all of the lamaze classes to learn how this takes place. One of the first things that our instructor taught her/us was “take a cleansing breath” and then focus on an object 4-6 feet away. My wife was then taught to take deep breathes and stay focused on that object for 60 seconds (about the length of a contraction.) My job as “coach” was to apply pressure to her thigh just above her knee cap. I love my wife to death but she is a wimp! I knew if I squeezed just a little bit, she’d scream at me and break her concentration. “Ha! Easy,” I thought. wellllllllllllllll… not so much! I started squeezing moderately and… nothing! Huh? So I squeezed a little harder. “THIS will get her!” Nothing. I swear to you that, out of frustration, I squeezed her leg with as much pressure as I could and… she just kept on breathing and stayed focused on the little Teddy bear we’d set up in front of her!!! I was amazed! When the 60 seconds was over, I asked her, “How could you not react to my squeezing the heck out of your leg, Sweetie??!!!” Her response? “I didn’t even feel it, Lew!!!”

Practice deep breathing for 10 seconds with your team at different times during practice each day. It will pay dividends when it’s game time and the pressure is on!!!

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