Seven Steps to Less Stressful Coaching

After reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, I found seven themes that will develop a less stressful coaching experience. These themes are probably all things you consider, but as with anything else in basketball it is the execution that matters. Here they are:

1. Exercise

“Nietzsche wrote, ‘All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,’ and his observation is backed up by science; exercise-induced brain chemicals help people think clearly.” – Gretchen Rubin

In addition to the creative and powerful thoughts that result in exercise, it also serves as a mechanism to reduce stress. Jenny Blake also wrote about this in her book pivot.

It is pretty widely accepted that exercise is good. Why write about it? In the heat of the moment, it does get ignored. Film, scouting, planning, player development, fund-raising, communicating with administration, youth and alumni outreach. The responsibilities do not end if you don’t have the discipline to end them. There needs to be a pre-determined plan to establish balance on your own end, which should include physical and mental health.

2. Laugh

“Laughter is more than just a pleasurable activity. It can boost immunity and lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. It increases people’s tolerance for pain. It’s a source of social bonding, and it helps to reduce conflicts and cushion social stress within relationships – at work, in marriage, among strangers.”

I think getting players to see you laugh is essential. There are those practices and times where players will be goofy, and in these instances it is best to maintain focus as coach. After practices is a different story. Bring joy to the game by being joyful. I read a tweet the other day stating that 75% of kids quit sports by age 13. I wonder what percentage of kids hear their coach consistently demonstrate that they are having fun around the team.

3. Sleep

“A bad night’s sleep was one of the top two factors that upset people’s daily moods. Another study suggested that getting one extra hour of sleep each night would do more for a person’s daily happiness than getting $60,000 raise. Nevertheless the average adult sleeps only 6.9 hours during the week, and 7.9 on the weekend – 20 percent less than in 1900. Sleep deprivation impairs memory, weakens the immune system, slows metabolism, and might, some studies suggest, foster weight gain.” – Gretchen Rubin

Take everything that was said in number one about the time that you can take as a coach, and slide it in here as well. Taking care of yourself is the first way to take care of your team. A coach in a bad mood will inevitably result in poor decisions and worse relationships with all stakeholders. When a coach and another team member are both sleep-deprived, look out.

4. Implement something new

“If you do new things – visit a museum for the first time, learn a new game, travel to a new place, meet new people – you’re more apt to feel happy than people who stick to more familiar activities.” – Gretchen Rubin

There are ancillary benefits to doing something new too. It gives you a renewed sense of commitment to learning. When players recognize your desire to grow, you model a commitment to growth for them too.

Implementing something new is also essential to survival. Fundamentals will not change much from practice to practice or year to year. The way that they are taught should be tweaked a little from year to year. A drill can always be tweaked. Selling the key message for the individual players can always be tweaked. When the movie Ratatouille came out, I used to tell shorter players, “Anyone can box out” just like “anyone can cook.” It became something that they repeated to teammates during tense moments of close games. Finding the bridge between the lives of your players and the core skills that you want is an annual challenge because the players and the environment the players live in fluctuates.

5. Stop worrying about your mistakes

“People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think.” – Gretchen Rubin

Mistakes are feedback. Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors in Groundhog Day had the great misfortune of stepping in a puddle of water off the sidewalk every day. Eventually he learned to step over it. That should be the approach anyone uses to manage any mistake. Unfortunately, the ego can be delicate.

If you think you know what is best for your team, trust your instinct. It is often a singular outside voice that is causing hesitation in your mind. Sometimes that voice is legitimate, but more often than not that voice has an agenda that is not putting the team ahead of everything else.

6. Embrace Growth over Results

“I often found myself imagining some happy future: ‘When I sell this proposal…’ or ‘When this book comes out…’ The arrival fallacy is the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you’ll be happy. The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because though you may anticipate great happiness in arrival, arriving rarely makes you as happy as you anticipate. First of all, by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. Also, arrival often brings more work and responsibility.” – Gretchen Rubin

Similar to mistakes, growth is also feedback. In order to persist, we cannot wait for the long term goal to drive effort. That long-term goal might never be met or it might work out long after you set out to capture it. In the meantime, what is the force that is moving you toward that goal? And once you arrive at that goal, is there no desire for further improvement?

7. Deliberately consider how you will be positive on that day.

“Studies show that 85 percent of adult messages to children are negative.” – Gretchen Rubin

Negative feedback has been more memorable in my own athletic experiences as a player. One coach yelled at me a camp for sitting on a ball. “Don’t sit on my life,” he screamed. Point taken. I did not sit on a ball the rest of my life. Other times, negative thoughts are destructive and never result in improvements. I still remember a coach saying, “Our point guards suck.” That came at an age where I was probably too young to turn it into constructive motivation. I also believe the coach’s intent was to vent, not to motivate. Regardless of his intentions, I wonder to this day what it was specifically that made the point guards (my position) suck. That is what coaches should address with negative feedback.

Positive feedback is not as memorable, but players get that one good golf shot feeling from hearing nice things and want to keep playing. And when they have fun, so do you. I still remember in fifth grade when our team had a lead late in a game. I decided not to attack the hoop in transition and instead peeled back to above the three-point arch to burn time off the clock. An assistant coach pulling me to the side during a free throw for a teammate that ensued. He gave me a high five and explained why I had made a great play. The coach in me right now would probably want to tell me the player to take the lay-up.

This sort of perfectionist mindset of a coach is exactly why we need to build in deliberate opportunities for positive feedback.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *