Sunday, 31 January 2016

Fighting Conformity - Ronda Rousey

Sometimes after a game or tournament I ask my players questions about what they think we did well or what they think we can do better as a team.  I like asking because I find their responses interesting and sometimes as a coach I can learn from them as well.  They might see something I didn’t see or confirm that we do have similar thoughts of areas to work on.  When they are a certain age I have witnessed them repeating the answer someone else gave and pretty soon we have gone through the whole group and all I have heard is the same thing repeated about 12 times.  I am not sure whether they fear giving a wrong answer or if this is a way of them fitting in with their teammates.  As they mature and pass that point in adolescence unique answers are given again. 

When I got thinking about this on my drive home after practice one night I realized this is the reason I really like watching Ronda Rousey the MMA fighter.  I am not a big fan of watching UFC I find the sport to be brutal, unforgiving and very aggressive. I find it challenging sitting watching someone pummel someone else for any length of time but this doesn’t mean I don’t respect the process they go through in preparation for their fights.  There is no doubt it takes a lot of time, dedication and discipline to be a master of yourself in any capacity and fighters embody that.  

After reading Ronda Rousey’s book My Fight/Your Fight I realized there were many concepts I really admired about her.  

The number of hours Ronda puts into her training and the coaches that support her in her path to self mastery in the realm of fighting is impressive.  She has multiple coaches that work with her each with their own discipline.  Ronda first fell in love with judo and eventually won a bronze medal at the Olympics.  When you compete at the level she did for such a long time the passion involved is incredible because to be honest the funding for most athletes just really isn’t there in many sports. You have to do it because you love it.  Ronda has said: 

“Achieving greatness is a long and arduous battle that I fight every day.  Fighting is how I succeed.  I don’t just mean inside a 750-square foot cage or within the confines of a 64-square meter mat.  Life is a fight from the minute you take your first breath to the moment you exhale your last.  You have to fight the people who say it can never the be done.  You have to fight the institutions that put up the glass ceilings that must be shattered.  You have to fight your body when it tells you it is tired.  You have to fight systems that are put in place to disrupt you and obstacles that are put in place to discourage you. You have to fight because you can’t count on anyone else fighting for you.  And you have to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves.  To get anything of real value, you have to fight for it.  I learned how to fight and how to win.  Whatever your obstacles whoever or whatever your adversary, there is a way to victory.”

No matter what when an athlete steps on the court, field, ice or into a cage if they do so with passion their ability to succeed increases exponentially.  It makes it fun to watch and really is similar in some cases to striking a match and lighting the fuse. It is very contagious and passion paired with substance is such an exciting thing to see in sports. 

Ability to Dig Deep 
When Ronda was young her dad who had an accident that severely hurt his back. For years he struggled through it. At one point though he found himself in a position where it was disintegrating and so when she was 8 years old he decided it was the end and he committed suicide.  He didn’t want his kids to remember him struggling.  When people go through a loss that catastrophic they tend to be able to dig deep and go really far inside themselves to places that others can’t reach since they haven't experienced the same pain.  Ronda proves that in her fighting.  

Ronda suffered a very public defeat at the hands of Holly Holm and many people questioned her fighting ability after that.  Here is what I know for sure is that I don’t want to pay attention to anyone in that position who hasn’t dealt with some form of adversity.  Life is full of difficult circumstances and those that have lived a charmed life have nothing to give the rest of us when they just win every fight they have ever been in without much effort.  It is in showing people how to get up from the worst circumstances that the strong can teach their best lessons. Living easy is for the people who choose to sit on the sidelines and watch.  This just isn’t how life works in reality.  When life beats you down you have to find a way to dig deep and rise up again no matter what the circumstances.  

Battling Against Conformity 
There is no doubt in my mind there is no one quite like Ronda.  People take the easy way but it is clear she isn’t one of those people.  Being a female fighter there is a negative stigma that can arise because it still isn’t completely socially acceptable for women to participate in these types of events.  She embraces it fully as this is who she is.  While most women would choose to be the ring girl in a bikini that holds up the round cards she is choosing to be the woman in the cage drawing the crowd.  The pressure that comes with being first can be incredibly heavy as well as lonely.  

You see women fight for very different reasons than men do and being willing to tap into that side of who you are isn’t an easy thing to handle. Women fight to defend and protect rather than for dominance and territory.  It’s hard to be different and to be so completely honest with yourself knowing that you may never have the same life as other women because you aren’t built the way they are.  Being that true to who you are deep down no matter what you have uncovered is incredibly challenging and can be unpredictable.  It is this difference that opens up the opportunities for others to see hope in taking down their own personal obstacles.  It is especially hard to fail in front of people when that is exactly what they want to see. Being different is something to embrace and own rather than to hide and conceal.  

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Pre-Game Preparation

Performing a proper pre-game warm up is a common event for athletes engaged in competition.  It is often overlooked as a key factor in whether or not the team and athlete are going to be successful.  A proper pre-game warm up is a key factor in limiting the risk of injury. However, that isn’t the only important thing that should be analyzed when reviewing this topic.  The performance of an athlete is a key way to not only stand out but also ensures every possible opportunity is taken to maximize the level of competition.  Even the most mediocre teams have a warm up in terms of taking shots and doing some stretches. There are ways to get the best out of the warm-up. Here's how:

Arrive Early (Not Just On Time)- This is probably the most important factor that is the most often overlooked.  When athletes arrive early they can get their mind into game mode and be ready to play.  There are VERY FEW athletes that can hop out of the car and be good to start the game with limited warm up.  Parents often make the assumption that this isn’t necessary.  I can tell you a high level of certainty that this matters a lot.  Even if your athlete can be ready without a warm up they shouldn’t because it is about the team getting prepared so they should be helping their teammates to get into their optimal performance level. It isn't just about the individual performance .  Not warming up properly is a huge risk in terms of injuries.  

Improve the Mental Edge - The warm up is meant to focus on the physical body by getting the muscles loose and ready for the game.  Many athletes make the mistake thinking that it starts and ends there. This is probably the second most overlooked item because the mental side of the game is in some aspects is where the biggest edge against the competition comes from.  If you can get into the right intensity level and the right mental preparation level than the game becomes much more manageable.  Athletes need to prepare their mind for battle by getting into the proper state of being. It is about competition and taking yourself to the point of your optimal game state. The movements the physical body goes through help to dictate the mental level of the athlete.  The more game like it is the better.   

Learn and Reinforce Your Routine - Many professional athletes are extremely selfish about what it takes for them to get into their optimal mindset.  This may entail what they eat, how much rest they get or what they do to prepare for the game.  The pregame routine is methodical and extremely well thought out and can be tweaked or remain the exact same for years. Some players need space for quiet reflection and others need teammates to get them pumped up.  Prior to the warm-up athletes should do what they need to do whether listening to music or joking around with their friends.  Regardless of what their habits are once the warm-up itself starts it should be all about the team in order to get the best performance for the entire group.   

Great Teams Stand Out - When a team comes in with a plan of exactly what they are going to execute the warm up it shows.  This often carries over into exactly what they plan to execute on the court when the game starts.  When a team is just shooting around and not taking it seriously comes up against a team that had an intense warm up and is ready to go the outcome of the game can very quickly take shape.  I am not saying that the team that warms up the best wins but it definitely provides an edge that influences the outcome of the game at the highest level.  Teams that warm up well and are on point can be very intimidating as well as impressive.  It can be a form of psychological warfare.  

My college coach once told our team he knew what kind of game it was going to be by how well and intense we warmed up.  At first I thought “How is that possible?  It is only the warm-up.  The game hasn’t even started yet.” It took me a long time to realize he was right.  Games can be won and lost in the first couple minutes of the game if one team gets off to a good start over the other.  It can be the difference between being in the driver's seat the whole game or playing catch up.  Even if your team's warm up isn’t that bad why wouldn't you put your maximum effort in to try to put the right pieces in place to stack the deck in your favour?

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Important Lessons from the Great John Wooden - Part I

John Wooden is one of the most famous basketball coaches and unfortunately I didn’t learn about him until I was done university. Since becoming a coach I often read his books for guidance about how to be a leader.  I thought I would share some of the gems I have picked up from him over the years because they are so useful in so many aspects not just when it comes to basketball.     

Coach Wooden is most well known for his role in multiple championships at UCLA in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Prior to that Wooden started his coaching career at Indiana State.   Above all John Wooden was a teacher who had an affinity for English and of course teaching the game of basketball.  Some of his most famous players included both Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Walton.    

John Wooden and his UCLA team won 10 Championships in 12 years including an unprecedented 7 Championships in a row.  There are many lessons that John Wooden was responsible for teaching over his very long and successful career.  Here are some of my favourites:

1. Never Flinch at Failure - Wooden taught his players not to fear making mistakes as long as it was the right kind of mistake.  By this he meant that if you aren’t making any mistakes this simply means you aren’t doing anything.  Wooden said in order to win you have to work on making things happen.  In his view he could see that there were good mistakes and bad mistakes and he tried to emphasize minimizing the bad ones. Failure is part of getting better so he really supported his players during that process.    

2. Be Concerned but Don’t Worry - Coach Wooden taught that there is a very big difference between being concerned and being worried.  He said that worry doesn’t actually accomplish anything concern on the other hand leads to finding solutions.  The emphasis was on not wasting time being worried but spending time being concerned because being concerned means you are working out solutions.  It is the working out of these solutions that leads to results.  He emphasized taking the time to analyze and figure things out instead of wasting time fretting. Fretting was just worrying which in his mind was a complete waste of time.  

3. Do Your Very Best - Perhaps this is the most well known lesson Coach Wooden taught was his interest in each player working on achieving their own personal greatness.  His emphasis was on  doing your own personal best and focusing on controlling that.  The most important thing in his view was the deep satisfaction that came from giving your best effort.  He really focused on giving his players the tools to play at their highest level.  Coach Wooden was was quoted saying:
"Although I could rarely sleep much right after a game, I slept very well the night before our team played - even before a national championship game.  By then I had made sure that my work was essentially complete. You may not believe me, but this is absolutely true: Knowing I had done all I could as a teacher, coach and leader provided me greater fulfillment - peace of mind- than outscoring an opponent. (Of course when both occurred together it made me feel particularly good.) Subsequently, I slept well, comfortable in the knowledge that I had done the best of which I was capable. This knowledge is a very soft pillow on which to sleep.” 

There are some incredibly talented coaches who were masters in the game of basketball.  John Wooden is one of these coaches but he also is one of the most unique leaders I have studied.  The way he looked at the game and helped his players accomplish such amazing things is really something.  These are just a few of his incredible lessons.  I will definitely put together some other ones for you.  

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Edge

There are a couple of really big things that separate exceptional and elite level athletes from average and mediocre athletes.  After coaching for about 15 years it can be said that there are a few really distinct common characteristics when it comes to looking at athletes who achieve at the highest levels versus athletes that settle for less than their best.  This is the way their find their competitive edge and their willingness to keep improving.  

Of course there are many athletes that have a distinct advantage in terms of genetic and mental abilities.  There is nothing a small athlete can do about getting bigger because every athlete has some type of limitation no matter how good they are.  However, this list speaks to the common threads witnessed in many athletes who work on being the best possible player they can be over the course of their career. 

1. Ability to Change and Be Coached 
The best athletes that perform at the highest level can take criticism, comments and coaching then apply it instantly to their game to make themselves better.  They recognize the person working with them is trying to make them better and they take their feedback in the spirit in which it was intended (no matter the tone).  These athletes have a way of making the words the coach has used come alive.  They also take it a step further and ask follow up questions if they need further clarification on what is needed.  They don’t get defensive, they don’t get their back up, and if the coach is wrong they accept it and move on.  Once they have put the new skill into practice they then commit it to memory and it quickly becomes part of their game.  

2. Desire to Compete 
This one is probably the most obvious in terms of taking a look at athletes and seeing them stand out from a far.  Athletes that have the edge do whatever they can to win and if they lose they are still doing their best and giving it their all. In short they come to compete.  They simply refuse to quit and inspire others on their team to rise up as well by making them better.  This can be done through a great pass or holding them accountable by making a comment at the right time.  Every single coach wants an athlete that can compete and even when they are down these players consistently continue to fight back until they have nothing left.    

3. Attention to Details 
Exceptional athletes have the ability to learn while taking into consideration the details involved in the instruction they are receiving.  They don’t cut corners and can be compulsive in terms of the way they learn.  They have the ability to take what the coach says and put it directly into practice with a very high degree of precision.  They remember what the coach has said even from one session to the next and due to this they get better faster.  They also see what their teammates are doing and help put that standard measurement into practice on a consistent basis. All of these items are used to their advantage to separate themselves.    

4. Willingness to Make Sacrifices 
The road to greatness definitely has its obstacles and challenges.  There is a desire to be available and be part of the process.  In order to achieve their personal best there are often a lot of sacrifices that need to be made over a long period of time.  To be an elite athlete you have to get your priorities straight and this may include everything from not spending as much time with family and friends to missing out on vacation and other important events.  It takes time, effort and the willingness to make sacrifices in order to continue to get better but they understand it is just part of their process to get where they are going long term.  

6. Work Smart not just Hard 
Elite athletes understand that time is limited.  They don’t waste time doing silly things when they are putting in work.  They make a plan and execute the steps within that plan.  They don’t lull themselves into the false sense of security thinking because they showed up to put in work it means they are better off than those that didn’t come. These individuals are striving to achieve their personal greatness and as such they are using their time and resources wisely.  Attendance simply isn’t enough to indicate that enough was done.  In their minds the results and the precision in which they executed while they were putting in the work is what matters most to them.  If they show up to a gym they don't just show to put in time.  They have a plan in terms of what they want to work on.    

6. Ability to Find Solutions Instead of Excuses 

So many average and mediocre athletes really find a way to make excuses and explain away why they were unable to succeed.  The best athletes find a way to take challenging and sometimes impossible circumstances and turn them around.  Their team is down and the special athlete lights the match to spark the team to go in the right direction and change the tide of the game.  They don’t make excuses for themselves and when they encounter defeat they find a way to learn the lessons to keep moving forward.  When it happens it is such and exciting thing to see. That is what makes them special.  

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Habit and System Goal Setting

There is no doubt that this time of year has a lot of people setting New Year’s Resolutions or planning goals for 2016.  I have really never gotten into the fad of doing the whole New Year’s resolution thing because so many people only do that once a year and their goals are often short lived.   Within a couple of weeks they have failed on their goal so they put an end to their plans. Feeling defeated they may not reevaluate or re-group to find where they went wrong and just give up without much of a fight.  New Year’s Resolutions never really caught on for me as well because I really like being able to evolve, change and adjust my goals multiple times throughout the year if I need to. I don’t want to just be confined by a very narrow time line of setting goals or be stuck to an estimation when I don’t know what elements are involved in its achievement yet.  I would prefer the freedom to course correction over time if needed.  

This brings me to the next stage, for a long time I was a fan of setting goals.  I would use the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time Specific) goals model and often I would reach the goals I set. One year I set a goal to read 52 books (one book a week) for the year.  By the end of that timeframe I shattered that goal!  I ended up reading 78 books.  It was amazing and I was really happy. However, where this goal setting model fell down for me, and perhaps for many other people as well, is that when I reached that goal I didn’t get my reading back on track to a sustainable pace for a long time afterwards.  I spent so much time focusing on powering through the books that there were some of them that I maybe didn’t enjoy as much as I probably could have.  It was about quantity and volume.  I still read quite a bit now but it isn’t about the number of books its about something more for me now.    

I can see that those that set weight goals may experience the same thing. Instead of focusing on the shape their body is taking as they get stronger and shed the fat they focus on the numbers on the scale and what that means to them.  I have had friends go to saunas or sweat out water content thinking they are making big strides because they “weigh” less.  I now think there are better ways to set goals.  

Last summer I had the opportunity to see a speaker by the name of James Clear. James is a speaker and writer that studies how to become more efficient, enjoy life and live it to the fullest in so many ways.  If you are interested in finding out more about him his website is  One of the things I learned from him had to do with creating habits that support the success you are looking to achieve.

In his messages he talks a lot about the process and system which is something as a coach I can get behind.  When a goal is set often there is a lot of passion and excitement around that goal however, as time wears on the spark can fade away.  What James recommends is instead of setting goals you build habits that are simply executed.  

For example his goal was to be a writer so he made a habit of writing. He had a schedule that he would maintain of the times that he would sit down to write.  The articles he would compose were shared on his blog twice a week.  It became automatic in that he didn’t write when he felt like it. It wasn’t an optional thing and at the end of the timeframe when he looked at his outcome he had written the equivalent of 2 books. He said himself that he would have never set the goal to write 2 books in one year but with the number of articles he had created he could have.  Sometimes we don't know what is possible for ourselves until we start down the path. We look for our goals to propel us put sometimes we are limited by them.     

I wanted to share one of the items in one of his articles that I really liked.  He said 
“Goals suggest that you can control things that you have no control over.
You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.) But every time we set a goal, we try to do it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.”

The point no matter what your goal is the work has to be done in order to achieve it.  If you want to be a good shooter you have to put the time in and get shots.  If you want to be in shape you have to go to the gym and eat right.  If you want to become more knowledgeable in a subject you need to make the time to learn it.  The process, system and habits you have in place will determine the success in being able to reach the goal you are looking to achieve.  

The one thing I will say is that starting a New Year helps start the timeline of reflecting back and remembering the highlights as well as things you want to improve upon going forward.  It is nice to take some time to start thinking about future directions and if you like where your life is going. Goals help to plot the desired course and give you an awareness that time is of the essence. Writing them down and posting them in a place you see them makes them exponentially more achievable.    

The thing I like about SMART goals is that it provides a timeline, accountability and tracking.  So in order to use the system that James Clear talks about I add in tracking so I can see exactly how I am following through on my goals using tools to follow up on my progress. My calendar is where I show this so I can see how many workouts I have done and the time I have committed to my goals.  It makes it easy in terms of seeing my progress and keeping me on course.  Also, sometimes it is helpful to have other people holding you accountable as well to continue to be motivated.  Do whatever it takes to keep yourself on the right track to success.