One of the greatest needs of almost every coach, athlete and team, is a drill or mechanism that can enhance the team’s intensity, focus and poise – in short, mental toughness – in a relatively short space of time. Why a relatively short space of time? Because while my work with countless programs across the country has taught me that the programs that put the most time into their mental skills development are the programs that see the most improvement in their performance consistency and clutch performance, I am also a realist who is aware that many programs can only dedicate a limited amount of time to their mental toughness development. Coaches often have to balance individual player development, team offense, team defense, conditioning, speed, agility, quickness and conditioning etc., within a finite amount of allowed practice time and contact hours.
Though this article is not intended to be a full substitute for the mental skills and toughness training development of a team or athlete, the goal of this article is to introduce a mechanism that I use called ‘The Icebox Take Two’ that can help to sharpen any athlete or team’s mental focus and performance consistency in about two minutes.
It has often been said that sometimes things do not fully go according to plan in a given season …… because that plan didn’t fully exist in the first place! The Icebox Take Two provides a daily check list and plan that directs the focus of each athlete toward some of the most important components of the mentally tough athlete. The Take Two should last no more than two minutes and be completed a few minutes before every practice. Following the recording of the athlete’s name, recording the practice (or game) venue and date, the Take Two is divided into three easy to complete parts.
Part 1 – The 3 key reminders
The first part of the Take Two provides a reminder of three important components of mental toughness. These components remind the athlete of the importance of full and absolute commitment to the upcoming practice. Any athlete can be verbally committed to practice. It takes a great deal more to be physically committed, and even more to be mentally and emotionally committed. The next reminder reinforces the importance of this type of all-out commitment with the statement “the pain of not achieving our goals will always be greater than the pain it takes to achieve them.” Finally, the athlete is reminded about the mental routine that should be present in the mind in every athlete in every clutch situation – a routine that regulates emotions. Athletes need to understand that clutch situations require poise and focus, which is very difficult when an athlete is outside of the ideal emotional arousal zone for the particular play at hand. This emotional arousal level will be different for a defensive trap as compared to a clutch free throw. On a scale of 1-10 (with level 1 being very low emotional elicitation and level 10 being super ‘hyped’), a clutch free throw usually demands emotional arousal levels around 2-3, while a clutch drive to the basket in traffic and pull-up jumpshot might need a level 4-5. Again, athletes need to be reminded that each situation requires a unique level of emotional regulation. The greatest clutch performers are also the greatest at controlling their emotions in situations that typically force the average athlete into an emotional rollercoaster of errors and ‘choking’ under pressure.
Part 2 – Self Evaluation
Part 2 contains a self-evaluation that should be filled out in reference to YESTERDAY’s practice or game. The purpose of this section is to provide a written and QUANTIFIABLE record of how the athlete is managing their mistakes (bouncing back well from mistakes is critical for performance consistency), how they are managing their teammates mistakes (critical to foster a supportive team environment and for team chemistry), the consistency of their work ethic and intensity, and their overall attitude / coachability. The evaluation is completed for yesterday’s performance just before the next day’s practice for two reasons. First, practice can be a physical, emotionally charged experience that can result in more subjective and emotionally biased self-evaluation by the athlete if completed too close to the end of that practice. Second, a pre-practice evaluation of the previous day’s practice provides a great reminder of some of TODAY’S goals immediately before the next practice.
Part 3 – The three open ended questions
Finally, three open ended questions are used to create a self-evaluation on other important aspects of the last practice. Self-driven accountability is almost always more powerful than any other form of accountability. The three questions are: 1) How do you feel about yesterday’s performance? 2) If you could play the practice or game over, what would you do differently? 3) If you could play the practice or game over, what would you do the same? Out of these questions emerge one of the most beautiful words in all of sports…..TREND. Athletes are able to keep these daily Take Two’s in a folder and both the coach and athlete will automatically know what the athlete is doing well, and what they are not doing well over a number of many days, weeks and months. It is so much easier to maximize strengths and make adjustments to mental and physical errors and inconsistencies when armed with this important tool.
Start using the Icebox Take Two on a daily basis for two minutes before every practice and enjoy the improvements to your team’s mental focus, performance consistency and overall mental toughness!