As usual I spent my morning catching up on sports scores and watching player and coach press conferences. I like to watch press conferences because a lot can be learned from listening to coaches at the top of their profession - and when there isn't much to be learned, there's always the possibility of being entertained.
As I read the sports pages this morning, it struck me how many great coaching lessons were presented in the stories and interviews covering yesterday's games. Here is just one lesson from this morning's coverage that can have an immediate impact on how we coach our volleyball teams and run our programs.
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
As most readers know, the NFL locked out its regular professional officials amidst a labor dispute and hired replacement officials to work the games. Complaints about the replacement officials have grown each week since. The controversy seemed to have reached a crescendo yesterday in the third week of this "experiment." Last night, the New England Patriots lost a close game to the Baltimore Ravens in what many people think was an extremely poorly officiated game (I watched the game and I agree).
Questionable calls went against both teams, caused delays and some say disrupted the "flow" of the game as well. So I thought it would be interesting to hear what the Patriots coaches and players had to say about losing the game. In the coverage I discovered some great lessons for players and coaches in dealing with adversity and controlling what you can control.
Devin McCourty: (on all of the flags thrown) “It’s a football game and we can’t control that. If a flag is thrown, that’s something that we can’t worry about. It’s a big game and we wanted to get this win. It’s simple, you have to go, and execute, and practice and get better.”
Tom Brady: (on the penalties affecting the game) “I don’t have any control over that, so I just try to do my job.”
Rob Gronkowski: (on all of the controversial calls) “It really doesn’t matter.”
As I read these comments I am again inspired to attain the level of coaching that produces players with this mind-set. Too often our (or our players') dialogue focuses on things outside of our control, i.e., "This or that call cost us the game." As coaches, our role requires us to develop a culture of responsibility that produces a dialogue focused on performance, not excuses. We can control only our own performance and that should be our focus. If we all perform just 2% better we will dramatically reduce the effects of "bad calls," "bad breaks" and randomness in the game.
As Deion Branch stated: (on the number of controversial calls) “It’s not the first time we’ve played in a game with a lot of controversial calls. It was happening on both sides of the ball. I’m sure they were upset about some of those calls too. But honestly, when we’re doing what we do best, we take the game out of the referees’ hands.”
Training in Reality
For so long as football -- or volleyball -- is played there will be bad calls. So what can us coaches do about it? The answer is simple: we can't change the calls but we can limit their impact by training in reality. Coaches should be training players to deal with bad calls in the practice gym. Make some poor calls in your scrimmages. Call balls out that are in, call balls in that are out. Intentionally miss touch calls and even screw up the score every now and then. These practice experiences will give your players valuable opportunities to train in the reality of the game. Sports scientists call this "state dependent learning." I prefer to call it training in reality.