I attended the SportInMind Football Psychology Workshop, with Dan Abrahams, partly because I have just started onto the football coaching pathway, but mostly because I am becoming more and more interested in what Dan describes as “human and performance psychology – the internal that drives the external.”
And I have to say that Dan did exactly what he set out to do – challenged (in a good way) my own approach to how I coach.
In the course of a busy three hours, Dan shared a number of simple tools for influencing the psychological outlook of a player, or a team, all of which are relevant in practically any sport, and beyond sport.
Football (all sport) is a game of “mindset”
At the Atletico Madrid academy, young players (12-14) are expected to lead some of their coaching drills, to literally “take ownership” of a session, and of the learning process. The intention is to develop thinking players, players who begin to understand their own development needs, and how they learn, to better equip them to learn more.
For cricket – why not try something similar? At very least, introduce active peer review to your sessions. Have the players provide a critical assessment of how their peers are performing.
I have tried this on a couple of occasions. Responses can start out a little X-factor – “wow”, “awesome” – but with a nudge in the desired direction it was encouraging to see how quickly the analysis became genuinely perceptive and constructive, even with a group of 7 year olds.
By including an element of peer review into each drill session, the development of psychological and social skills can be introduced, even (especially) with younger players. Social (external focus) by asking my players to think about how their peers are performing a particular skill and then having them talk about what they have seen (empathy and communication); psychological (internal) by encouraging a much deeper level of engagement with the session (concentration, if nothing else).
Dan gave me a new word here – meta-cognition (thinking about thinking)…perhaps then this blog post is an example of meta-meta-cognition (thinking about how to think about how players think…).
Create a pro-active “story”
An excellent tip for post-match (or post-training) analysis. The brain has a negativity bias – it tends to remember what went wrong in a game or a drill, and not always what has gone right. So try to switch that focus away from the negatives, and towards what is working.
Dan suggested a simple three-step approach to “teaching” the growth mindset, and then defining future development requirements.
Ask first – what went well today?
Then – what needs to go better tomorrow/at the next session/for the next game?
And finally – is there anything I need to start doing now, so I can deliver the improvements?
It is so important for the player to take this responsibility, to adopt the growth mindset. But rather than the coach simply telling her to do this, the three-step approach leads the player to their own discovery. And if the player has identified their own development, rather than having someone else tell them all about their failings, how much more likely is it that they will work at it until it works?
I have only described a couple of the concepts that Dan outlined – if you want more, then I thoroughly recommend that you read Dan’s books – Soccer Tough and Soccer Brain – or (and) hear him speak.