Sport Performance and Mental Skills Resources

 Shifting Focus
(2/13/2019)
 
 
   

Shifting Focus


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discusses shifting your focus from off season training to competing in season. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Michael Cuddyer is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development blog, and is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.


 Stronger Team Mindset
(2/14/2019)
 
 
   

Stronger Team Mindset


How to get back in the game with a stronger team mindset


All teams face challenges and disappointments, and one of a coach’s most important roles is teaching young athletes how to deal with setbacks and come back stronger. According to Dr. Jim Afremow, PhD, sports psychologist and author of The Champion’s Comeback: How Great Athletes Recover, Reflect, and Reignite, successful comebacks begin with a team’s mindset.

Afremow has identified what he calls the “Seven L’s” for creating a successful comeback:
• Let go
• Look for support
• Love the Game
• Learn, Labor
• Learn optimism
• Lean on your mental game

While you can learn more about all seven in his books, three of particular interest to coaches are: Let Go, Learn Optimism, and Lean on Mental Game.

Let Go

“Ruminating about our mistakes and failures is like holding on to a brick,” says Afremow. Some young athletes benefit from a more literal demonstration, so he recommends bringing an actual brick to practice, discussing the importance of “releasing the brick” and being freed from the weight of past mistakes. Some teams adopt “release the brick” as a mantra and even pantomime dropping a brick as a physical cue following an error.

Coaches have to set a consistent example to reinforce the “let go” attitude, which means not dwelling on setbacks. “Getting over a tough loss or a poor performance is about moving forward,” says Afremow.

Encourage athletes to shake off mistakes and focus on the next play. After a loss, acknowledge what went wrong, but emphasize what went well and what can be improved.

Learn Optimism

“Optimists see success as personal, permanent, and pervasive, whereas failure is situational, short-lived, and specific,” says Afremow. “Optimists are more likely to sustain success and bounce back when knocked down.”

Humans have a natural inclination to be critical and learning to be consistently optimistic can require a great deal of positive reinforcement. Dr. Afremow recommends adhering to a 5 to 1 praise-to-criticism ratio when providing feedback to individuals and whole teams.

Expressing five positives for each negative may not always come easily, but the impact on young minds is worth the effort. It is a good idea for a coach to occasionally track comments (or have an assistant coach do so) to see how well they are actually balancing positive and negative feedback.

Lean on Mental Game

Developing an effective mental toolbox during childhood can help prepare athletes for success throughout their academic, personal, and professional lives. Dr. Afremow reminds coaches of three techniques they can teach to help young athletes develop:

• Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening in the moment,” says Afremow. Find moments during stretching, breaks, or practices for athletes to be quiet and mindful in the moment. Focus on fully experiencing what’s happening now instead of what just happened or is about to happen.
• Visualization: Visualization is doing mentally what you do physically. Effective visualization requires training and practice. Facilitate brief exercises with individual athletes and the team. Guide them through the process of “seeing” and “feeling” themselves executing particular skills and achieving success.
• Body Language: “Body language is nonverbal communication through postures, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements,” says Afremow. When athletes exhibit positivity they invite positivity, even following mistakes.

In all areas of life there will be wins and losses, triumphs and setbacks. Teaching young athletes to lose and come back stronger is as valuable as teaching them to win.

To read more about Dr. Afremow’s Seven L’s and his newest book, The Young Champion’s Mind, look up Gold Medal Mind.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Training and Transfer Part I
(1/31/2019)
 
   

Training and Transfer Part I


Coaching Absolutes
By Dave Turgeon


ARE YOU GUARDING A CONCRETE SLAB?

I start this blog with one of my favorite stories “ARE YOU GUARDING A CONCRETE SLAB?” by Sandras Phiri. I was forwarded this in an email and it went like this: There was an army barracks that had 4 on duty soldiers at all time to guard a concrete slab in front of the barracks. The soldiers changed shifts guarding the slabs for many years. Different commanders came and went, and the tradition continued. After many years, a new commander was assigned to the barracks. Amongst the things he did was he asked why things were done the way they were. When he asked why soldiers were guarding the slab, he was told, “We’ve always done it this way. It’s our tradition. Our former commanders instructed us to do that.” The commander was adamant on finding out why.

He went to the archives to look for answers and he came across a document that had the explanation. The document was very old. It had instructions written by one of the retired commanders who had even passed away. The new commander learned that over 80 years ago, the barracks wanted to build a platform where events could be performed. When the concrete slab was laid, wild animals walked over it at night before the slab would dry. The soldiers would fix it the next morning but when evening came the same thing would happen. So, the commander ordered that 4 soldiers should guard the concrete slab for 3 weeks to allow it to dry.

The following week the commander was transferred to another post and a new commander was brought in. The new commander found the routine in place and enforced it and every other commander that came did the same. Eighty years later the barracks continued guarding the concrete slab.

This story was impactful to me because one of the things I do as Coordinator of Instruction is look at what we currently do on the field, why we do it, and how we can improve it. Specifically, I am talking about on-field training. On-field training may be the biggest cement slab in the professional baseball industry that is being guarded. In the process of looking at ways to do truth over tradition, I have dug into the science of motor learning (how we acquire skill) and transfer (our ability to let that skill out in games) in order to help players and coaches. This article will hit some basic fundamentals of coaching while diving into some new concepts, but I promise in the end that you will have some new tools with some simple applications on how to improve how we carry our practice into the games effectively to perform.

LOW HANGING FRUIT

There are many simple methods and concepts that are already out there, and you may already be putting them into use, creating great transfer and learning. A great place to start here is AUTONOMY or more simply OWNERSHIP. This idea is not new, as when I started playing baseball 50 years ago, we simply played baseball and learned as we went along. Our swings and deliveries were our own which were shaped by the training and practices which were our own. We figured out what worked and did not work. The coaching we received back then focused on the game’s strategies, the x’s and o’s, and how to beat the other team. As swing and delivery coaches came onto the scene, the pendulum swung in the other direction of techniques of swings and deliveries. With that swing, the player became dependent on a coach for swing or delivery fixes and in-game management went to the coach as well. Turning the game back over to the player starts with collaboration and asking questions to lead them to the answers, opposed to just giving it to them right away. Question asking may be the most effective weapon of learning and ownership we have. As we include the student in the learning, they begin to own it. Once they own their game, the commitment to learning and improvement cannot be higher. Consider how we treat a car rental as opposed to the car we have saved up for and purchased with our own hard work and savings. You are all in on taking care of that car as you worked hard and sacrificed to have it. Same goes for our players. Once we have taught them how to fish, they are now capable of honing their skills as a fisherman. Essentially you want to coach your way out of a job with true ownership.

RESPECT THE REP

The next piece of low hanging fruit brings to mind a story which leads to more easy ways of creating the transfer. This spring, I was coordinating our Extended Spring Training Program and we had a competition day. Kieran Mattison and I had split up the infielders into 2 groups and would come up with one winner from each group to face off in a final competition to declare a defensive champion of the day. We ended up with our 2 guys going head to head in a great final until we had the winner. It was clear what happened in the end. One of the players took a playoff and it cost him. When Kieran and I talked about it he said simply “He didn’t respect that last rep.” Well put! Great focus and intent of our reps lead to transfer and ultimately performing well. Respect the rep became a rallying cry for the remainder of camp and into the Gulf Coast League season where I managed. This begs the question: Can we make players RESPECT THE REP?

The simplest and most straightforward way of making players RESPECT THE REP is to demand it. My favorite example of this comes from Joey Cora, our big league third base coach who is also in charge of infielders. Before any defensive segment, Joey brings the group together and lets them know of the expectation of the session, what it is going to look like, and demands the focus and intent on every rep. The seriousness with which he approaches the group immediately gets their minds right. The work that follows is always quality. Quality work = deeper learning = transfer.

More low hanging fruit is challenging the player in the work. No challenge = no focus which = no learning or transfer. An example of this could be a hitter being prepared to face a tough pitcher with front flips and traditional 50 mph coach pitch in a cage. The work itself does not require game focus as the challenge is simply not enough to bring that out. For the opposite of this example, I will use my hitting coach Kory DeHaan’s game preparation with our hitters. The hitters see a combination of machine high velocity, out of hand velocity (we set the distance to the thrower’s velocity with our conversion software to make it reaction time of 90+ mph) with a 2-pitch mix using a front mat and back mat for more challenge and adjustments. Obviously, Kory’s game preparation will require a game-like focus to the work as well as some decision making in the process. This has turned swing practice into a true “how to hit” practice. We will talk about how to add more layers to this later. The point here is the drill or work itself can provide that auto focus and intent without a coach having to demand it. The training in this case has created an environment of many reps being respected. Challenging training = Respect the Rep = Transfer!

Adding to our fruit basket here is competition. So many times, us as coaches’ default to “they just don’t compete well, but they practice well.” If the first time your players have to perform their job in a competitive environment is in the game, then our training is not adequate. If the training never elicits emotions from a player, our training is not adequate. Take the last example of challenging batting practice and add in a point system for executed reps and have something simple as a Gatorade for the winner. I might bring out a couple of Gatorades on ice and you would think they are playing for the Stanley Cup. Emotions begin to spark and flare up. Doing your skills in the fire of competition is what we do at game time, so it makes sense to blend in competition in the workday. Consider competing, just another muscle to build and the more they are put into that competitive environment the stronger it gets. All things equal, the ability to compete well is a separator at any level. Most importantly, the competition makes them respect every rep with game like intent and focus, which will always equate to more transfer!


Turgeon is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is the Coordinator of Instruction for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Turgeon played in the New York Yankees farm system from 1987-1990 under Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter after being drafted out of Davidson College. Before playing for the Baltimore Orioles’ AAA affiliate in 1998 he spent eight years playing abroad. From 2000-2001 Turgeon began coaching in the Cleveland Indians organization before entering the college ranks where he coached with Boston College, the University of Connecticut, Duke University and Virginia Tech.


 The Individuality of Coaching
(1/9/2019)
 
   

The Individuality of Coaching


Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle


As someone who loves psychology and finds the intricacies of human interaction fascinating, it is easy to see why I would be drawn to the topic of the individuality of coaching. Most of us would agree that the psychology of each person is quite fascinating. We might also agree that understanding the unique psychology and communication needed in coaching someone would prove to be important in helping our athletes achieve their fullest potential.

Each of our personalities, along with life experiences and the environment in which we live and learn plays a huge part in how we socialize, communicate and interact with others. The ability to relate to others is a key topic in effective communication and coaching.

- How do effective coaches build relationships and trust with their athletes?

- What are some keys to effective communication?

- How does effective communication help us to teach sport skills and evaluate progress in performance?

3 Keys to Effective Communication
• Cues
• Feedback
• Personal Coaching style

In the world of athletics, one of the most important sport skills is the mental ability to focus one’s attention. Previous research in the field of sport psychology has shown that successful athletes have honed their ability to use visual, verbal and kinesthetic cues to intentionally focus their attention. When distracted or not focused on the task at hand, these athletes also use visual, verbal and kinesthetic cues to refocus their attention. Research conducted with Olympic Medals winners indicates that cue systems were most successful when the cues had been established and used by the coach and the athlete in the weeks and months leading up to the Olympic finals (McGuire, Shadle, Zuleger, & Low, 2014). Both coaches and athletes reported that this type of communication was one of the factors that significantly helped the coach-athlete duo to win an Olympic Medal.

As expected, the actual cues a coach uses with athletes depends on both the coach and athlete and their preferences. It is important to understand the individual’s learning style and tailor your cues to that style. Listed below are some of the benefits, of using cues systems, for athletes as well as for coaches.

Cues from the coach help the athletes to:
1. Focus their attention on specifically what the coach considers to be most important in that exact moment – i.e., cues connect the coach with the athlete and are able to provide immediate guidance and attention to the athlete. Cues tell the athlete what they need to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

2. Immediate feedback, learning, and direction - these cues are especially important during practice because they tell the athlete about their progress. Loaded with information, these cues enable the athlete to make decisions about where to focus their time and effort; e.g., on perfecting technique, or developing strength or how to improve footwork/stance.

3. Feel supported psychologically - cues can give the athlete energy, reassurances, inspiration and have a calming effect.

Cues help the coaches to:
1. Direct the athlete’s focus and attention. By using a cue system coaches can provide specific feedback to athletes during practice as well as during competition in a very efficient and precise manner (Keep cue language short and to the point. Can you say it in 3 words vs. 10?) When a coach needs to communicate with an athlete and time is limited, such as in the heat of competition, a cues system can be especially valuable.

2. Immediate feedback, learning, and direction- these cues are especially important during practice because they enable coaches to teach athletes exactly what to do “next” or when they find themselves in a specific situation. Thus, cues help coaches process the information through their eyes, digest it and then teach athletes what to do next.

3. Provide psychological support to athletes and to maintain own emotional balance and mental fortitude - cues help the coach manage their own energy and composure while also helping to support the energy and composure of their athlete(s).

Effective ways to establish and use cues:
Use results from the individual communication style and preferences inventory to create a mutually acceptable plan for improving the efficacy of communication between the coach and the athletes.

How to give cues:
Cue from the ground up: verb body part direction
(Example: Lift your elbow up).

Feedback:
We know for an athlete to learn a skill, the skill must first be performed and programmed into their body’s motor learning. Skill is defined as, “the capability to bring about some desired end result with maximum certainty and minimum time and energy,” (Schmidt and Lee, 2014). A few of the different components involved in the process of learning and performing a skill are the perceptual or sensory processes, along with decision making, and finally the movement. Taking the time to explain why you are doing something and connecting it to the end goal for the athlete helps to strengthen not only trust with the athlete but also understanding the learning that is occurring.

When giving feedback, it might feel like you are saying the same thing over and over. This is part of the learning process. When you teach, you often repeat the same thing, but it helps to vary how you say the same thing until the athlete gets it. This is when you know a cue works. A cue that works for one athlete might not make sense to another and vice versa. The great John Wooden has a book entitled, You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices. This is a great book to further dive in and learn more about the individuality of coaching individuals as well as a team.

How much feedback is too much?
It has been found with a group of elite Olympic athletes that one correction was enough for the athlete when learning a new skill. Coaches must prioritize, from their own coaching style, what is most important. This will help guide which corrections are most important and need to be made first. Some athletes can handle two corrections but for most one correction was enough when learning a new skill. Once the athlete has mastered and made the first correction, you can move on to another.

The issue we often see is that coaches give too much information with their feedback which can often overwhelm the athlete (it is also too much information for the brain to process-thus why the athlete feels overwhelmed). It is best to take it slow when coaching/teaching new skills or correcting/breaking bad habits. Some athletes will adapt and learn quicker, others are less flexible and thus take more time to learn new skills. This is where the psychology of the individual comes into play and understanding how your athlete learns and the style in which they best absorb the information being communicated.

One final note: I would caution learning a new skill or changing the way an athlete does something too close to championship competitions. We want the athlete to feel confident going into major competitions. If this is a new skill you are working on and it is early in the season, I would say go ahead and work at that new skill. Be sure to communicate that information and the learning process to your athlete. For example, “I know we are working on this new batting stance. I want you to stick with this during the next game.”


Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.


 Agility Drills
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Agility Drills


A comprehensive list of agility drills to work into your program


Agility drills incorporate speed and quickness, muscular endurance and balance, and spatial awareness. A good agility program will challenge your nervous system and equilibrium, improving gross movement skills, reaction time and foot speed.

When starting a new agility drill, it is very important to begin slowly. Master the footwork and balance required by the drill before you increase the tempo of the drill.

All agility drills must be performed under total control. You should never get hurt during training; stay in control at all times. Make sure the surface you are using is smooth and clean. If you are doing your agilities on grass, wear your spikes. Perform a complete warm-up prior to starting your agility program.

BALL DROPS

Done with a partner and 2 baseballs

• Start facing your partner
• Partner 1 (P1) on a line with the two baseballs in hand.
• Partner 2 (P2) will begin to backpedal.
• P1 with an arm held straight out will drop the ball.
• As soon as P2 sees the ball drop, sprint to P1, pick up the ball, hand it to P1 and start to backpedal again.
• P1 drop the ball at different times making P2 react to short and long delays.
• Perform 2-3 sets of 10 drops

Note: When Partner 2 is changing direction, rotate the hips to the left or right and plant with an open foot. Alternate the plant foot on each rep.

BALL PICK-UPS

Done with a partner and 2 baseballs

• Start facing your partner, 5-10 yards apart
• Partner 1 (P1) on a line with the two baseballs in hand.
• Partner 2 (P2) will begin to shuffle side to side in fielding position
• P1 will roll the ball to the left never more than 5-6 yards on either side of P2
• As soon as P2 sees the ball, side shuffle to the ball, field it and softly toss it back to P1
• As soon as P2 tosses the ball back to P1, P2 should get back to the middle for the next ball.
• P1 should mix up the direction of the rolls to force P2 to react to the ball
• P1, be sure P2 can reach each roll, make it challenging but possible
• Perform 2-3 sets of 10 drops

Note: Absolutely NO Diving for balls! If Partner 2 cannot reach a ball, let it go!