His name is Dan Abrahams and he is a sports psychologist. Over the last 12 months there is no one that I have retweeted or quoted more frequently. You can follow him for yourself @danabrahams77. He specializes in football (soccer), but his ideas are universal to all forms of competition and most forms of life. This morning I was struck by the following tweet:
“Peak performance is found somwhere in amongst fun, freedom and focus.”
This was an affirmation to me. I believe this, and I believe it deeply. Reading it made me feel like Abrahams had summarized my coaching philosophy in a single tweet. Bravo!
Fun is essential. A few weeks ago Mr. Charm wrote happiness about his experiences returning to Oviedo, and the pervasive sense that the players were not having any fun. I was there as well, and it was palpable. During the five years, I coached at Oviedo we got out of districts once and didn’t get far. Year after year by the season’s end, we went through the motions without any emotion. You cannot win district games with that mindset. The season must be built to a physical, mental and emotional peak at the end of the year. That doesn’t happen without some fun.
Fun is a pressure release. When I was fourteen, I played Pop Warner football. I had played on a mediocre midget team the season before, and was persuaded to play an extra year with the upcoming midgets, who had never lost. Expectations were high to return the organization to glory, but as the preseason started we looked and played like crap. I remember distinctly one practice where my father, who was on the junior midget staff and had coached this team the previous season, came over to the midget team and started talking and teasing the players. Within a few minutes, he had everyone lined up and knocking the holy hell out of the tackling dummy. We eached stepped up in line to make the most spectacular tackle of the inanimate foam dummy. We started talking, laughing, flying to the ball and having fun. We went 13-0.
When I started high school, I had a math teacher who was old, with shoe leather skin, white hair and the gruff voice of a two pack a day smoker. He taught as Socrates did, by posing questions to the students. This was nerve wracking to say the least, and it wasn’t uncommon for students to break down crying. Two thirds of the way through the school year, he told us to put our books away. For the next forty minutes, this tear-inducing curmudgeon talked to us about the importance of a smile. How it spread joy in equal measure to giver and reciever. At the end, he told us he was sick and wouldn’t finish out the year. We all cried.
I make a conscious effort each day to make my players laugh, or at the very least smile. They know the passion I have for winning. Hell anyone in any gym or field I ever coached on can see that, but they know I love a laugh at just about any expense. In sharing that with them, they have fun. They want to be in the gym and with the group. They might not know what I’m gonna say next, but they don’t wanna miss it.