Mentor the Mentors

Mentor the Mentors photo

The New York Times had an interesting article recently about the value of a younger professional serving as a mentor to an older journalist. Specifically in this story a young social media expert assists an older editor in learning Snapchat.

“My experience with Talya taught me far more than the basics of a new form of video storytelling (which was already asking a lot). Along the way I learned important lessons about the strengths and weaknesses of the middle-aged brain, and how learning new things can keep it in top working order. It also made me realize that organizations and individual workers could do a lot more to bridge the gaps between generations. Each age group has untapped resources that can benefit others at a different stage of life.”

My experience working with assistant coaches and staff half my age has been powerful.  I am sure people expect that I will often be the teacher, but I find I have much to learn as well. This is true of related areas like social media, new technology and popular culture, but it also turns out to be true about the game and training as well.

It makes sense. The game is ever changing and a 25 year old coach had a different training and playing experience than I did.  They are also eager to put their own ideas out into the world and to test the effectiveness of those ideas.  We need to listen to them more, and allow them to mentor, even as we continue to bring the depth of our coaching experience to the table.

Coaching Philosophy- A Key to Successful Coaching

Pete Carroll Coaching Philosophy
Photo by lawdawg1

Geekwire’s Taylor Sopire examines Pete Carroll’s coaching philosophy. He details why Pete Carroll is one of the best coaches working today.

The trajectory of Carroll’s coaching career changed after he read a John Wooden book. The book convinced him that success would be determined by the quality of his plan and the depth of his conviction.

I couldn’t close that book fast enough,” Carroll said at a Seahawks Town Hall event on Wednesday in Seattle. “I was immediately affected by the book. … Once [Wooden] figured out his plan, once he knew exactly what was important to him and he knew how to best represent the core of his being and his coaching, nobody could touch him.”

The article goes on to articulate Carroll’s coaching philosophy, but there’s a bigger point for coaches. Each coach must create her own philosophy and articulate it as clearly as possible to team, staff and all.

The ability to do so can influence the outcome of the game, season or program.

Sopire’s article is a great read to glean more of Carroll’s philosophy.

Another Point of View on Carrol’s Coaching Philosophy

Check out this first hand account from Richard Sherman  at The Player’s Tribune if you want to read a player’s perspective on Carroll.

“Sometimes, when we bring new guys in and they see the way we practice and the way Coach Carroll runs things, they say, “Is it always like this?”

Yes. We have fun at practice. We compete every day. We keep it loose, and when it’s time to go to work, we go to work. All Coach Carroll requires of us is that we do our jobs and be ourselves, because that’s the reason all of us are here — because of who we are as individuals as well as football players.”

 Also, you might enjoy seeing this video which clearly show’s Carrol’s approach to training.

*Practice is Everything Learning How the Seahawks Practices (Youtube)


Coaching Wisdom from Dean Smith

The website The Coaching Assist is a great site full of coaching wisdom. They do a great job of interviewing coaches at a wide variety of levels to get their insights about the game and the profession.

They also provide detailed information on books.

Here they provide an excellent summary of the book  The Carolina Way by the coaching great Dean Smith.

I read this book in the late 90s and loved it.

It was good to be able to review many of the best ideas in this way.

One great example of Dean Smith’s wisdom

“Posted a “Coaches Honor Roll” the day after the game with the stats that the coach found important. Included who was most unselfish, defensive stats, offensive rebounding, deflections, charges, etc.”

Check it out.

Managing Pressure

Here is an interesting take from last May on the NY Yankees approach to managing pressure.

Managing Pressure

Their mental conditioning expert Chris Passarella would like to eradicate the use of the term altogether and thereby reduce the hold that pressure has on all athletes.

In his estimation athletes create pressure for themselves based on their expectation of success.

Passarella says, “Pressure is simply the cognitive measure of your likelihood to meet personal standards of an execution of a skill.”

In other words, we put pressure on ourselves based on our expectations. There is no absolute pressure situation that will be the same for all.

Therefore instead of managing pressure they are attempting to eliminate the concept of pressure.

Here are a three of the ways that they are trying to manage this:

1. Every at bat is essentially the same.  Focus on how hitters perform in all situations not clutch thereby eliminating the idea of more pressure and less pressure.

“This is a player who performs at his best regardless of the situation. For every homer in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, there are many other identical hits that occur throughout the season without the same fuss.”

2.   Train your focus on your own process and ability and not on the external situation surrounding you.

In order to do this the Yankees make use of “trigger” words while training that they can then repeat while performing. An example of this would be “process” indicating that the athlete should focus on the process and nothing else.

The benefit of this training is found in the simplicity. There is no complex method to master.

By repeating these words throughout the tournament, McIlroy was able to place the same emphasis on each shot. His opening tee shot on Thursday meant as much to him as his final putt on Sunday. Passarella points out that it is the simplest techniques that yield the best results, “It wasn’t a complex scheme that he has able to master” he says. “It’s just reverting back to normal and ensuring that those triggers have meaning. It’s so important to express how you’re feeling in any situation because then you can either stay in the zone or revert back to normal.” As previously mentioned, it is often the simplest mental processes that allow for improved performances during pressurised moments.

3. Immediate feedback.  The Yankees also make immediate use of video for feedback with attention to mindset during situations and not just for technical or tactical assessments.


What Athletes Value Most in a Coach

It’s important to think about what athletes value most in a coach. Here’s a nice little article explaining who Ronaldo considers the best coach and why.

“We had an important game in the Champions League and I said, ‘Coach I need to go to see my daddy’ and I was a key player, I was a very important player and he said, ‘Listen, your personal life, your family is the important thing that you have in your life. If you want to go three days, four days, five days you can go’.

“This moment is what I keep for me because it was the most important time in my life and he shared it with me. This is why I respect him and for me he’s the best coach I ever had.”

This is a crucial lesson for us all.

Focus, Language and Performance

In a new post on the USA Volleyball site John Kessel presents a big change in his teaching and feedback. He is adjusting to an external focus when teaching skill to his athletes. What does this mean?

Based on the work of Gabrielle Wulf, the author of a textbook Attention and Motor Skill Learning,  Kessel  has transitioned to using an external focus of attention for the athlete when giving feedback.

He no longer bases his instruction/correction on the movement of the athlete or technical specificity.

“That said, her (Dr Wulf) work is groundbreaking and it has made me change many of my words. The compilation of research across many sports shows that an external focus of attention for feedback – for both the coach and the athlete – is so clearly superior to an internal focus.”


Well, an internal focus is worse for retention primarily, which is the key to whether or not learning has taken place.

Too often as coaches we pay attention to how they are doing when they are working with us in training,  but too little on how they transfer the skill and perform it in a game when the pressure is on. In other words, retention is performance.

He goes further and says that teaching an internal focus is worse than providing “no coaching at all.”

The key he maintains is to move to an external focus, where the coach and athlete turn their concentration to “the effects of movement.”

“In a nutshell, the more you tell the performer, young or old, to focus on something inside their body – especially a body part, but also even the idea of “breathing” – the less effective the learning.  The skill is not only performed less effectively that day; the retention is also inferior.  Internal feedback phrases from the coach often result in a player performing/retaining worse than having no coaching at all.  The research shows this in so many varied sports, that we need a change in volleyball, and I welcome you to share your own change to external feedback phrases from common internal phrases.  The key is to move from an internal focus – concentrating on body movements – to an external focus, or CONCENTRATION ON THE EFFECTS OF MOVEMENT.”

The phrase “worse than having no coaching at all” hits on a gut level.

Kessel goes on to provide examples of the changes in language that he now uses to teach.  He also guides athletes with questions allowing the athlete to develop the language and metaphors for herself in order to deepen retention.

I am currently reading the textbook Attention and Motor Skill Learning to dive deeper into this topic.  In my own training sessions I have been applying these principles. It takes discipline and practice to make this change and I have not been doing it long enough to know its effect. But, I am curious enough to work with it.

Finally one other thing really impresses me.  Kessel provides a model of life long learning and change for every coach out there. Don’t stop evolving.

The entire piece can be found here.