Seize the Opportunity

Every sport has different lineup policies – some dress everyone and only some people play (football, basketball, baseball) and others only dress a certain number but most (if not all) participate (hockey). Each of these sports have players that are regulars in the lineup and contribute every night. They also have players that are on the fringe, maybe getting a few plays a game to make a difference.

Players who are securely in the lineup every night face a certain type of pressure. They are expected to produce and play at a high level every night. Players on the fringe experience a very different type of pressure. Fringe players have the pressure of having to do well in limited minutes or lose their opportunity to play.

Who struggles more with the pressure? I would argue that fringe players have a harder time with the consistent lineup pressure than those playing every night. Any high level athlete has the word “player” as a major part of their self identity. Being in and out of the lineup with limited minutes creates a situation where you are no longer a “player” but someone who sits on the bench. This creates an internal identity crisis for the player – are they good enough to be who they thought they were in their mind?

When these players get in the lineup, they often play “to stay in the lineup” vs “playing to win” – they make safe plays and play in a way that shows they are scared to make a mistake. So how do you handle the pressure, how do you seize your opportunity when you are given a chance to play? Daily attention to detail.

If you’re a fringe player, your practices must become your games. Your attention to detail must be near-perfect. Every repetition you get must be done as well as you can do it. You have to be brilliant at the basics of the game. In hockey, this means finishing your checks, picking up on the backcheck, executing systems with precision, going hard to the net, winning puck battles, etc. You have to do all the little things every single day and hold yourself accountable to those details. Ask yourself – did I do the absolute best that I can today?

These details should be ingrained in every player anyways, but they are especially important for players who are on the bubble. Doing all the little things and executing the details with pride will not only earn you playing time but it will also help you seize your opportunity for success. When you do get into a game, your habits (systems, checks, backchecks, battles, etc) will create opportunities for you and your linemates and keep you in the game on a regular basis. If the easy things aren’t executed, it becomes easy for the coaching staff to take you out of the lineup again.

While this addresses players who are on the fringe, the reality is that this is the key to success at any level and for any activity. Being persistent at the details – never letting little things slide. Preparing and practicing like you want to perform will make your performance a habit. People get nervous for games, performances, presentations, speeches, etc when in reality, all these big “events” are is adding an audience to what you do on a daily basis. If you execute the details daily, you will do them in performance. Nerves come from not being confident in your ability to perform – confidence comes from preparation. Prepare like every day is a performance and you will see your success grow.

Earn the Right to Win – Tom Coughlin

Over the weekend I finished “Earn the Right to Win” by Tom Coughlin. A quick and smooth read and one I would recommend to anyone. In fact, it is one that I will be re-reading (either just chapters or the whole thing) when I need a refresher on what it takes to build a successful organization.

Coughlin has coached in the NCAA and the NFL – including stops at BC, Jacksonville and most recently the NY Giants. He has found success in every stop along the way and learned a lot about himself and what it means to be a successful coach. He includes anecdotes from each of his experiences and how he came to learn and realize the things that have made him successful.

He lays out his roadmap to success in six well-written chapters:

  • Build the Structure
  • The Time of Your Life: Scheduling
  • Success Is in the Details
  • Communication
  • Motivation
  • Hard Work Is Good Practice

It was fascinating to read how each experience made Coughlin a better coach and helped to further reinforce his strategy for success.

Preparation is the bottom line with Coughlin. Prepare every day for every situation and you’ll be successful. The more preparation and attention you put in, the higher your chances of success.

I highly recommend this book for any coach as great pre-season reading. It will get your gears going about improvements and changes you can make to your program to help you be more successful.

The Time is Near…

As a NESCAC Hockey Coach, one of the challenges of my job is the limited amount of time we have with our players. November 1 is the first allowable day of practice for Winter Sports in the NESCAC. It is a day that has seemed to be far off but now we are down to 10 days until liftoff. With such a limited timeline, preparation and execution are key, both for the coaching staff and the players.

As a coach working within a limited schedule, it is imperative that you make the most of your time with the team. Understanding how to convey your message and best reach your team is critical to your success. The question is, How?

One of the best parts of the extended time period prior to the season has been the opportunity to ask questions and learn from other coaches. Calling around and asking questions about processes and systems, as well as teaching methods has been an integral part of my development and learning. Not only has this made me a better coach, but it will make my team better this season. With every coach, I always ask about the nuances of what they are trying to do, as well as how it is taught and delivered to the team.

As we have formulated our systems and methodology for this season, another important process has been asking questions about every thought or idea. The key ones being: Why? What are we trying to accomplish? and How will this help us win? This way, our explanations can be well thought out and sincere, as well as pointed towards our long term goals.

Overall, this period before the season starts has a tendency to drag on and feel extremely long. However, when used correctly by the coaches and players alike, it can set in motion critical learning and preparation for a great season.