This post was published in SkipShot magazine by www.usawaterpolo.org
A team throughout a season must adopt the mindset of continuous growth and learning in order to arrive at the end of their season as champions. The pressure of a team’s expectations can interfere with their ability to maintain a consistent concentration on improvement. As the team earns positive and negative results, it’s easy for their identity to start to become established in the form of self-fulfilling prophecies. What we might see is a team underperforming because their effort isn’t directed in a specific way with the right objectives. Without a specific concentration in practices and games, the team and the players can fall into the “talent trap”.
The “talent trap” is a fixation on results from the past which equals a limited potential for future growth. In order to break out of the mindset that talent is going to win games for teams, coaching staffs and the players need to buy-in to the importance of process focused improvement through the details of the game. This is very different from how the team looks in the eyes of others as well as how their ranking and previous wins and losses should dictate the outcome of a future game. The best team doesn’t always win, however the team that plays the best in a game will!
In order to emphasize a constant improvement emphasis, teams and athletes need to practice becoming more self-aware and team aware. It’s perhaps helpful to list all the skill sets needed to play at a high level and then rate the team on where they are now compared to where they would want to be through a simple 1-10 rating scale. Individual players should also practice creating a self-rating skill set dashboard for things such as passing, transition, shooting, shot-blocking, driving, and tactics or fundamentals. The point is that it gives them a starting point and they can then take that skill rating dashboard with them to focus on key aspects they want to improve.
A mental self-rating dashboard could include the following (and more!):
Confidence during close game moments: 1-10
Focus pre-game: 1-10
Energy regulation pre-game: 1-10
Nerves regulation pre-game: 1-10
Nerves during the game: 1-10
Use of pre-game routines: 1-10
In-game emotional control: 1-10
In-game attention control: 1-10
Using mental skills (i.e. breathing, self-talk, imagery) pre-game: 1-10
Using mental skills (i.e. breathing, self-talk, imagery) in-game: 1-10
Resilience after setbacks or mistakes: 1-10
Communication with teammates on defense: 1-10
Communication with teammates on offense: 1-10
Making plays in clutch moments: 1-10
Working with pressure: 1-10
This isn’t an exhaustive list but it shows some of the areas to work on and improve depending on their relative rating. Teams and athletes could make their own list of physical and mental skills to self-rate and then define them by identifying actual plays and actions for evidence.
The ultimate purpose of creating a mental and physical self-rating dashboard is to track progress toward improved behavior change. Too often, athletes and teams are hoping to see improvement without adding enough structure to the actual improvement they would like to see. Skill improvement is essentially behavior change in actions in a positive direction toward achieving the outcome goals set by the team and athletes. Working to put more structure around the improvement takes more luckout of the equation and increases a sense of control in the eyes of the athletes. Their belief that their effort is helping them improve is what really matters.