Mindset Matters

Mindset Matters Most.” –  Brian Grasso

The hardest things for a youth athlete to realize is that mindset plays a huge part in their sport.  Our mindset can be shaped by many things from how much we believe in ourselves to whether or not the spectators are supporting you or not.  This past weekend I was able to go watch an athlete of ours play in a tournament.  I don’t get to do that often, but they happened to be playing pretty much across the street from where I live and several of the times were when I was off work, so it worked out great.

I always like to watch our athletes play, even if it is just a recording, although live is much better.  You get to see so many things you normally wouldn’t get to see just observing them in the gym.

One of the biggest things I noticed was how the kids reacted to adversity.  It interesting that they work on so many intricacies of their game, however mindset is rarely worked on.

There were several instances where you could see the athlete was losing their composure when things went wrong or they didn’t perform as they wanted to.

Before I get to things I saw and how I, as a coach, would have handled it, I must first explain that I’m not calling out the coaches in any way.  First it was an all-star tournament, so I don’t believe the coaches get to work with these kids consistently over a length of time, and even if they did, there are so many things a coach is responsible there is no way they will be able to cover everything that could be covered. (This is mainly why we do what we do, because sport coaches can not dedicate time for athlete development, nor do they really have the time to do so).

So one of the things that I observed was a kid who struck out, slam his bat into the dirt while walking back, then hit it against the fence while walking in, then toss it against the fence where the bats were either hanging or laying against, and it just fell to the ground and another kid had to hang it.  Then finally he slammed his helmet on the ground and walked to the back and pouted.

I had football coach in high school who was a tough love kind of coach.  Our football helmets couldn’t touch the ground, unless it was knocked off of us while playing.  If it touched the ground the whole team would be doing belly busters BEFORE practice, which was basically running and doing head first slides in full pads up and down the field until he thought it was enough.  So needless to say the slamming a helmet down would NOT happen.  The reason our coach was strict about this was not because of the helmet, it was the logo on the helmet and what it represented.  That logo is you and your teammates and the school you represented, and we were to show it the respect that it deserves.  All sports are a privilege to play and you really need to show it some respect.

Hitting the bat against the ground I don’t get either.  When I miss a lift, I don’t slam the weights or the bar against the wall.  If you miss a dunk do you try and bend the rim?  Ok, I actually do know some kids who used to do that so they could dunk, but that’s different. ;). What I’m getting at is that it isn’t the equipments fault, it was yours.  Deal with it, learn from it, move on.

One last thing that I didn’t mention above is that several teammates and coaches tried to pick him up and he completely ignored everyone of them.  How many professional coaches do you think you will be allowed to get away with that behavior with?  You probably won’t be playing long if you tried, so why do it now?

Another thing that you can observe in any game is when an ump gets a call wrong.  There were several bad calls in the game, but it’s the coaches job to talk to the ump and let them know they disagree or to try to get another ump to consult.  Too many times I saw the athletes talking about it, sometimes with the coaches.  Athletes need to let go and move on.  Yes bad calls can sometimes go against you, so don’t put the game in the umpires hands.

I had a referee in high school, that before the game came up to us all and said, “I won’t yell at you every time you miss a shot, please don’t yell at me if I miss a call.”  If you do your job, it’s hard for an umpire to rob you of a win.  Ironically one of the blown calls only happened because one of the athletes made a mental mistake and the play would have never happened if he would have not made that mistake.  So sometimes we cause the play that leads to a bad call.  Don’t look for a scapegoat to bail you out of your mistake.

Talking with the athletes about the bad call is usually not a good idea, because it takes their focus from what they are supposed to do, to what someone else is doing.  Let them know, “You guys made a great play, and we think the ump got it wrong.”  And then move on, end of discussion.  Get them focused on their job again.

Lastly, after the game one of the athletes on the team that came up short had called the other team, “over-rated”. A parent and some of the kids heard him and I was impressed that they jumped in quickly and said to him, “come on now, they aren’t over-rated.”  He knew it too and agreed they weren’t, he was just frustrated.  He was talking about how they had something that was basically predicting they were going to sections before the game was even played.  Since the game was over and I didn’t feel I would be overstepping any coaches I said, “If they didn’t believe they could make it, they might as well just not play right?”  What the kid said, really impressed me for his honesty, but also saddened me a bit because you could see it was really weighing on him.  He said, “That’s probably why we lost today, because I didn’t think we could win.”

Pressure does funny things to each person, some it turns them into the best player in the game, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Joe Montana and Mariano Rivera just to name a few, thrived under pressure.  But often times pressure makes us doubt ourselves.  When we doubt ourselves one of two things happens most often.  One, we crumble under the pressure and give it a half hearted attempt or we just quit on our team..  The second thing that most often happens is that we try to do too much and this is where the quicksand analogy comes into play.  Instead of letting the game come to us we try and force us in the game.  I believe that is what happened with Harrison Barnes over the finals.  All the talk about the Warriors wanting Durant had him trying to prove something and he just played too tight.  Often times when we are most worried about making a mistake is when we do make the mistake.  The quick sand analogy basically is saying that the more you fight it the faster you will sink.

Again, I not saying the coaches did a bad job at all.  There are so many aspects into an athlete’s development, sport coaches must be sport coaches first and foremost, and if there is any other time left; then therapists, surrogate parents, entertainers, conditioning coaches, taxi drivers and one of many other hats they may have to wear at some point.  There job, I say job but mostly it is a volunteer position that they let take time away from their families to help kids and for the love of the game, so in no way am I disparaging coaches.  These were just observations that I noticed that I feel could help kids and as parents we are their first and longest coach in their lives so maybe we can help all the other coaches your athlete may encounter by instilling in them a respect and a different perspective on how to handle adversity, because as you now know Mindset Matters.



Too many people undervalue what they are and overvalue what they are not.” –  Malcolm Forbes

I had a female athlete in the other day for her training session.  I told her to do as many deadlifts as she can, up to 12, with 95lbs.  I had someone else ask me a question and when I looked up the bar was already on the ground again.  I asked her how many she was able to do consecutively.  She answer “2”.

I looked at her and said, “Why?”  She said, “I don’t know, it was hard, it felt heavy.”

(Side note:  I always ask them “Why?” You can learn a lot from an athlete by just asking them that question.)

This is a pivotal point in an athlete’s training, because depending on what I do or say, or how I say it, I can either help the athlete or completely lose her.  Each athlete is different and you have to know your athlete to know what you can say or how far you can push or question them.  Now I know this athlete pretty well.  She is definitely a hard worker, but really doesn’t want to work hard; which means she will do whatever you have her do and won’t argue with you, but she really doesn’t want to do it.  For some reason I also feel she doesn’t believe in herself as much as she should.  I often tell her, “I can’t wait for the day that you believe in yourself more than I believe in you.”

So back to the deadlift.  I reminded her that hard doesn’t mean can’t and she just has to get comfortable with the struggle a little more.  In other words, I don’t care if you fail, but you have to try harder than you want to, as long as injury isn’t a concern.  So after her rest period was up I told her, you going to do 4 consecutively.  So she starts her set and just as I suspected, she did 3 like it was no biggie.  While she did her fourth rep, I told her to do 2 more, which she also did without any problem.  She did 6 reps, about 3 minutes after 2 reps were all she was able to do.  The only reason that she couldn’t before was the mental obstacle she placed in front of herself.  By standing over her and watching the set and telling her she had to do 4, which was more than she did before but not that much more that she could overthink the likelihood of her completing it.  Adding the 2 extra was also not an issue as she had just done 4 and realized that she was able to do them.

She did another set of 8 reps I believe and I told her that she, “expanded her world of possibilities with that set.”  She looked at me a little puzzled.  I explained that by going from 2 to 8 reps consecutively she expanded what she considered not only possible, but made it a reality as well.

So next set comes up and I add 10’s to each side and told her to give me 2 reps.  I then told her it was physically impossible that she could do 8 reps at 95lbs and not be able to do 2 reps at 115lbs.  I said that to change the internal dialogue from; what the possibility of completing it was to, it’s impossible not to be able to.  So she hit those 2 reps as well.

Next set came up, so I added 10’s to each side again.  Interesting side note, kids cannot do math when it comes to barbells, for some reason they all get themselves mixed up.  So she thinks it’s 125lbs when in reality it is 135lbs, but I don’t correct her.  I never tell an athlete if it weighs more than they think it does when they are their worst enemy.  So I let her believe it was less.  She pulled 1 and then her form got out of whack and she didn’t get the second, but I didn’t care.  I wanted to see how she would respond when it really did get heavy and tried a couple of times to get that second pull, so I was proud of her effort.  She was happy and proud when she found out it was 135lbs and not 125lbs.

So everything turned out pretty good, but I could have really botched that teaching moment up if I didn’t know my athlete.  If I would have pushed her from the start and said, she was going to do 8 or 10 reps in a row without stopping, her mindset would have shifted from “I think I can get 2 more than I did before” to “I can’t do 8 or 10 in a row” and when you are doing something like a deadlift, you don’t want them doubting their abilities because that’s when someone can get hurt.  I want them focusing on what they are supposed to do, not worry about how they are going to do it.  That would have also put her WAY out of her comfort level and could have led to her pushing back at me and training in general.  Training should not be beating an young athlete into submission, it should be helping them find their own way with guidance and in some cases a push in the right direction.