Chasing Greatness

5 Keys for Exceptional Coaching

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5 Keys for Exceptional Coaching

By: Kevin Seaman

How To Be The Driving Force That Turns An Athlete Into A Champion

As a coach, you want to be on the cutting edge of your field. You strive to learn and integrate the newest technology in the field of speed, strength and conditioning into your program. You work to develop the very best qualities in your individual athletes and team with the intent to escalate them closer to the avatar of their potential. In addition, you’ve probably invested in, then committed countless hours to study what the best coaches do, their methods, approaches, drills and progressions. You do everything to ensure the very best outcome. Or…do you?

Now, I have a question for you. I ask every athlete and coach this question. In competition, how much of the outcome is attributed to physical skill and how much is attributed to mental aspects? Usually the answer ranges from 50/50 to 80% mental and 20% physical. Then I ask them, as I now ask you, what do you do to train the psychological side? 99% of the time they stare at me, searching for an answer. Here is the answer! If you haven’t tapped into the mental side; you are at best, at 50% of your potential. In reality, this same principle goes way beyond competition and into the improvement of performance in everything we do, including coaching!

The thing is, we really aren’t taught how to effectively apply mental performance tools in college. We studied the finer points of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and exercise science, and we make an effort to understand the strategic approaches and essentials of the sport we coach. But, other than a few psychology classes in college, we simply aren’t exposed to how to apply the base principles, let alone a comprehensive application of mental performance techniques we can actually use in athletics.

Here are just a few of the very best coaching methods I’ve had the great fortune to be exposed to over the past 30+ years as a national and world class athlete, trainer and coach. They are based on my dogmatic need to ask, “That’s great, how can I use this?”

Key #One

You Get What You Focus On
There are only three things that we truly have control over: the things we say to ourselves, the pictures we visualize in our head, and the action we take. In the first key, I will outline the foundational principle of looking where we want to go and asking ourselves what we want, rather than what we don’t want, and the role this has as a crucial point of internal focus for a winning mindset.

Let me illustrate this point. You get into a cab and the driver asks, "Where you going?" At that point you start telling him where you want to go. Then as he takes off you start giving him various conflicting directions sending him to locations totally unrelated to where you first asked him to go. SOUNDS RIDICULOUS, doesn’t it?

Yet, many times we do the same exact things to ourselves. Instead of telling ourselves what we are going to do or what we want, we tell ourselves what we don’t want. When I do consulting work with athletes I always start out asking them what they want, what they would like to concentrate on as a focus when we are working together. I am amazed at how often they will then tell me what they don’t want. In fact, usually they will begin by giving me a list of all the things they are deficient in and don’t want to do or be anymore. The list will sometimes go something like this, I don’t want to choke in the clutch, I don’t want to miss the shot under pressure, I don’t want to let my coach, team, parents, etc. down. I wish I wouldn’t get so nervous when the score gets close, I wish I wasn’t so slow, everybody’s better at _______ than me. Why can’t I perform on the field, court, ice, etc., like I do in practice?

Did you know, that we have the most amazing built in homing device available, that there is only one other animal that has a goal seeking homing device that is as sophisticated and accurate as the one human beings posses? The homing pigeon is the only other being in the animal kingdom that even comes close. There is a part of our brain called the reticular cortex. This small finger size part of our brain is instrumental in filtering information, sort of a like a bouncer at a club that allows only certain clients to enter. This filtering system is known as the Reticular Activating System, a master sorting system that is truly invaluable to us. When you focus on something, your mind looks for every possible way to get it. So, focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want!

Did you also know that research has shown that people talk to themselves nearly 50,000 times per day? In fact, you’re talking to yourself right now. You’re probably saying something like, “That’s amazing! I didn’t know that ” or “How’s that possible?” Just as you talk to yourself, so do your athletes and this “self talk” is many times what directs us in our actions.

So, how can you use this?
What we say to ourselves prior or during competition or for that matter prior or during any situation that demands a high level of performance, is a major key to the success or failure of that performance. Here is strategy for you to test. Ask your athletes what they do best, what their individual key qualities are? Next tell them to focus on those qualities and visualize themselves doing it exceptionally. Ask them to use their inner voice to confirm this over and over.

Here’s an example: I used this with a Mixed Martial Arts Pro, “Nobody can stand with me, I can out strike them, and I know I am in better cardiovascular shape. They may be in as good of shape as me, but will never be in better shape. I can use my unique qualities (length, leverage, range and speed) to my advantage every moment I am in the cage. I will use these qualities to press my opponent constantly, throwing him into the defensive. I am in control of this fight.” Now, these are qualities this individual knows he possesses, as he focuses on them they become more real for him. He focuses on what he has, not on what he doesn’t have. The outcome…at 20 years old, he is 10-0 as a Pro with nobody ever going the distance with him.

Key #Two

If you don’t like the answer, ask a better question.
Our minds are formulated to seek exactly what we ask ourselves for. If you ask yourself, why can’t I do this? Your mind will find information to support all the different reasons why you in fact, can’t do it. For example as a pitcher, if you ask, “Why can’t I strike this guy out?” Your mind will support your conviction as to why, providing you with all the reasons you can’t, because that is what you asked for. The profound reality is, we get what we ask for. Instead of, what’s the matter with me? A better question would be, how can I improve these circumstances or how would someone else approach this, modeling someone you hold in high regard as a problem solver in that field or area?

Questions are extremely powerful tools for changing our mindsets. Asking questions can do three things. It canchange what we focus on, it can change what we delete, and it can give us access to different resources (who, what, where, how, when) to help achieve our desired ends. Questions can also help gain access to feelings oremotional states very quickly, and as such, you will want to become adept at asking excellent ones.

OK, now how can you use this one?

Let’s put this to work from the perspective of a sports offense. If you ask yourself, “Why can’t I get past this guy?” your mind is problem focused. It becomes stuck in a loop of reasons “Why?” If however you ask, “How can I get past this guy?” your mind makes a dramatic switch in it’s distinction and now becomes solution oriented, looking for the ways it can solve the problem (question). Now, we’ve all been told spend 10% of our energy on the problem, and 90% on the solution. Search for the possibilities by asking possibility questions. If I were him how would I get around him, what are his strengths and weaknesses? What is he thinking? Who knows more about this (or this guy) than I do? What would Emmitt Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Gretzky, or any icon champion in my sport do? What am I missing in my approach? Will I drive past this guy in my first attempt, 2nd or 3rd? In order to accomplish this how do I have to think? What do I have to say to myself? How do I have to move? Who do I have to become?

Key# Three

Raise The Standards
What got you here to this point will not get you to where you want to go. What do I mean by this? As a player, team, or coach, you are in a constant league of competitive improvement and evolution. You cannot play at the level that got you to the state championships, when you are in the nationals. You cannot play or think at the level you were at as an amateur playing as a Professional. You cannot make it to the Superbowl playing at the same level as in 12th place. What got you here will not get you where you want to be. Now, this not to say you should change your approach, if it works for you on the levels you are now playing at then, it is sound in concept and principle. The KEY Component to focus on is the elevation of the standards you and your players hold for themselves.

That’s Great, but how can I use this?

Ask yourself, am I a World Class Coach? If the answer is not absolutely affirmative, there is an issue with your self-concept. If the answer is yes, then how does a World Class coach act? Think? Dress? Stand? Speak? Interact? Are your standards as high as possible? Do you expect more from yourself than anyone else possibly could? If you are honest, you are thinking, “I have some work to do.” And how about your players? Do they emit the energy of a team of Champions? Do they practice at the highest standards, play their very best, walk, talk and act with the confidence, style and charisma of a champion? Are they 100% ON when they practice, train and play? Do they play with the intent, desire and passion as if no one could possibly expect more out of them than themselves?

“When it’s all said and done, there’s a lot more said than done!”
-Lou Holtz-World Class Coach

Key# Four

Improve The Self-Concept
This key also ties in with all the keys to transforming an athlete into a champion. It is our self-concept, our idea of who we are, or can be that makes up a large part of our personal identity. How we perceive ourselves, our concept of ourselves has a tremendous effect on the decisions that we make on a day to day basis. The term self-concept refers to those beliefs you have acquired that relate directly to you. Your self-concept determines the way you behave, and the way you perform at every activity. I have personally never witnessed an athlete whose performance could exceed his self-concept. The other major component is self-image, the mental picture you have of yourself. Your self-image sets the boundaries of your individual accomplishment. It defines what you can and cannot be. If you expand the self-image, you expand the area of “the possible.“ The development of an adequate, realistic self-image will seem to permeate the individual with new capabilities, new talents, and literally turn failure into success. Remember, you are who you think you are!

How can I use this?
In order for us to have a clear distinction of our capability, aptitude and indeed our potential, we need to consider what our areas of strengths and weaknesses may be. When we have that critical combination of attributes, necessary to succeed in our chosen field of endeavor developed to a level outstanding to that of our competition, we increase our chances for success beyond what we would have ever believed possible! Our attributes can be both psychological and physical in nature and can be naturally adopted skills and traits, or specifically learned and cultivated.

Make a list of each area that your athlete has, as a strength and that which needs improvement, both physically and psychologically. Discuss the list with them to be sure it is accurate. Then, define the critical success factors (CFS) this individual needs for their optimal performance in their sport or role. As the athlete reviews the CFS’, define the strength this person has and show them how this makes them unique as an individual. This helps them to focus on the qualities they possess and defines them as an important asset as a player/member, elevating their self-concept and self-image.

Key# Five

Belief In Outcome
This key is really the Master Key for all the previous four. Belief is a feeling of certainty. There is no maybe, just certainty. So, how do we develop our beliefs? They happen and are proven to us by our references. These references come in the form of first hand (it actually happened), second hand (others told us, news, TV, etc.) and imagined. For some, what others believe is most powerful. For others it is based on real events. For many, it is what they imagine will happen that governs what they choose to believe. The bottom line is “What we believe becomes our reality, and we don’t live in reality, we live within our personal representation of reality.” This is why some people will play at levels that astound us at times, then fold when they are put in a position that is incongruent with who they believe they are and the level they believe they can perform at. As a coach, you’ve seen it over and over.

You have a player with amazing potential and you find yourself wondering, “He’s a great player, I’m just not surewho’s going to show up when he gets here!” So, what can you do to change someone’s belief? If it’s that powerful and controlling, can you really change it? Both very good questions.

Let’s look at how we can use this one.

In order to change a belief we must adjust our references. Let’s go back to Key# One, you get what you focus on. This is what distinguishes the difference between a champion and everyone else. A champion focuses on the references they have in relation to excellence, they think about the positive references that relate to the their personal experiences, what others have accomplished, said positively about them, etc., and most of all they imagine success. They see it, feel it hear it and taste it. That is what they focus on and that is what they become. They make those images big, bright and bold in their mind’s eye constantly, and so it becomes. They push their thoughts and visions about their losses, failures and undesirable outcomes way back in the darkest file room, making them a small, unimportant learned test, that has expired in it’s value, no longer part of the future. When I look to find an athlete’s “sticking point”, I always find it is in some way related to what they believe to be true. Is it always reality?…it’s always their reality.

These keys are but a few ways to unlock the potential of your future champions. Being positive is important, but to accomplish anything it is the action that is the golden key to success.

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About The Author:

Kevin Seam is a three-time Martial Arts Hall of Fame inductee, being inducted into the ZDK, AMA and World Martial Arts Hall of Fame’s. In 2001, he was honored for a Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award in Atlantic City, at the largest Black Tie event of its kind ever, in the history of the martial arts.

Kevin developed the Winning Mind SetTM System for optimal success, with his student and friend Jim Brault of Rochester, NY. The Winning Mind Set System has since grown to encompass, a College course (est. 2003), a consulting service, various workshops, seminars, speaking engagements, The Winning Mind Set Web Site, the Weekly E-Letter/The Winning Mind Set Tip of the Week , The Winner’s Circle Monthly E-Magazine and the soon to be released book: The Winning Mind Set-Unleashing The Power Of Your Mind!

To learn more about Kevin Seam or to contact him go




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