Note: This is the third post in a series on the “superpowers” coaches can add to level up in the coaching profession. Previous entries:
In the video game world, an adept player earns “superpowers” which help them advance to higher levels in the game. Perhaps, through skillful play and experience, the character in the game earns x-ray vision or some form of advanced weaponry. Those are the superpowers that give the character an advantage over their foes and help them reach deeper levels of the game. Play the game well and the character earns enough superpowers to be near invincible.
In the coaching world there are superpowers – earned skills a coach needs to become a master level player in the coaching game. This series will be about those superpowers. The key word here is earned, and earning involves making mistakes, correcting and learning until the superpowers become yours.
Success will come to those who are physically and mentally strong enough to withstand the cauldron of competition. As coaches we want not only athletically gifted players, but also players who are “mentally tough” enough to do what it takes to win.
There is also the assumption that coaches are mentally tough enough to win, they just need more players who are. This, of course, is false. Coaches, being human beings and all, display many of the same mental toughness shortfalls as players do.
A few years ago I read a book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, by psychotherapist Amy Morin. Morin spent years studying mental strength and through some compelling events in her own life, had a chance to apply her own lessons. Her book defines what mental strength actually is better than anything I have found. And she provides tips for maintaining your mental strength.
As the title suggest, Morin lays out a list based on her observations and research of habits mentally strong people avoid. She tells you what the mentally strong don’t do. Myths are dispelled and lots of the machismo surrounding “mental toughness” is challenged. We won’t tackle all 13 of the bullet points here, but we will address three that are pertinent to coaching.
Mentally strong people don’t:
Waste time feeling sorry for themselves – There are plenty of coaches who tend to think their problems are worse than anyone else’s. The job they have comes with “unique issues” that hold them back and their competition is coaching in a paradise. They feel cursed with “bad luck” and feel that no one else truly understands how difficult their coaching job is. They feel that things aren’t fair or that the system is rigged against them. These are traits of the mentally weak and the truly mentally strong waste no time thinking this way.
Fear taking calculated risks – By and large, coaches are a risk averse lot. Flying in the face of too much risk is stupid, but many coaches avoid taking risks that could lead to real breakthroughs because they are afraid. Many struggle to make important decisions. Many coaches spend hours daydreaming about the team they’d like to have instead of taking the necessary actions to have it. When faced with a decision bearing some risk, many coaches only think of the the worst case scenario and choose not to take the chance. Coaching is not for the foolish, but it is also not for the faint of heart.
Expect immediate results – Sports are a results driven business where the winner gets the glory, but winning rarely is the result of a quick fix. Coaches looking for the magic offense or the perfect drill to solve their problems are hunting for immediate results. The mentally strong know this is not how it works. If you want things done NOW, seek out shortcuts so you don’t have to expend as much energy to get what you want or give up when you don’t see results fast enough you are not displaying mental strength. So many coaches tend to underestimate how long it will take for their programs to reach their goals. Also, when immediate wins don’t come, too many coaches presume their plan “isn’t working” when they simply have not given it enough time to take hold.
Morin details these three habits in more detail and explores ten other habits the mentally strong avoid. Her book allows leaders to spot these subversive habits in their players and in themselves and stamp them out.
Can we be perfect? Of course not. Lapses in mental strength are common which in and of itself dispels the myth that the mentally tough are mentally tough all the time. Instead, make a conscious effort to avoid the habits the mentally strong avoid.
Continue the conversation:
Suggested reading and listening: Amy Morin’s book list which includes the “13 Things” discussed here as well as “13 Things” for mentally strong parents and women. Also, check out the Mentally Strong Podcast Morin hosts.
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