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The Coach’s Role in Maximizing Player Potential

by | Jan 12, 2022

If you’re anything like me, coaching your players is a 24 hour-a-day, 7 days-a-week, 12 months-a-year mental exercise. We put ourselves in the mental torture chamber trying to unlock the greatest mystery that exists in leading and teaching people: How do we help and support our players in their attempt to maximize their God-given, natural abilities? 

Sometimes, we can peek behind the curtain and glimpse what buttons need to be pushed to motivate a player to want more for themselves and work to make that vision a reality. And sometimes, more often than we would like to admit, we as coaches fall short of creating the circumstances under which our players are making genuine progress towards the best selves.

Personally, this is probably the most frustrating aspect of coaching. This question places us in a position where we as coaches can face more frequent and discouraging encounters with our players where our methods do not have a positive impact. We observe a player struggling and we try as many strategies and interventions as we can to get that player to overcome the adversity, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the wall and hoping something will stick. 

Dealing with this frustration throughout my career, it recently occurred to me that I had not really conceptualized a process that players must engage in to attain sustained and repeatable instances when they are in Flow, playing free and focused on the moment. When players enter a Flow State, they enter a mental, emotional, and physical space where they can tap into their potential without fear of failure. This is a time and opportunity when our players maximize and surpass their abilities.

Complete transparency, I was compelled to dedicate some real time and effort to figure this process out because an assistant coach I worked with in recent years made a fairly ignorant and misguided assessment of why a player’s attitude and approach to playing was so toxic to his teammates and coaching staff. In this coach’s judgement, there was no explanation for his behavior and reduced a solution based purely on accountability and coaching the player harder. I was fuming but held my tongue and chose not to respond. In most instances, there is not a simple and easy solution for a complex problem. Sure, accountability and consistency in expectations is an essential tool in effective coaching, but that needs to be used in collaboration with understanding what the root cause of the behavioral roadblocks are, and intervening at the best point in the process so that the player can make changes in their approach that result in reaching a Flow State.

I took my angst from that conversation and attempted to outline what such a process towards maximizing player potential would look like, and where a coach can step in to guide and support our athletes. Based on my experience with and observation of high-level players in practice and game situations, as well prior to, during, and after athletic activities, this is cycle I found in common:

Flowchart by Coach Russell Raypon on maximizing player potential

PREPARATION: The self-evaluation and preparatory routine that athletes use to focus and center themselves on the task at hand.

COMPETITION: The act of using all your physical, emotional, and mental abilities to achieve your goals in that activity.

PERFORMANCE FEEDBACK: The player/athlete’s perception of the feedback he/she is receiving during and after Competition.

ACHIEVING or FAILING TO ACHIEVE OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE: Competing with full effort and focus, in combination with perceiving feedback in a productive way to adjust and improve performance, should result attaining a Flow State where the athlete is completely in the moment, playing free, and making decisions in real time with full focus on the task at hand. If the player struggles competing or taking feedback effectively, he/she will have less success achieving optimal performance.

SUSTAINING a FLOW STATE: Once an athlete can attain Flow, can they maintain it? Can they readily access the steps necessary to reach Flow on command, and sustain it for longer periods of time?

RECOVERY: In order for a player to be ready to access this process again, he/she must be able to be disciplined and take time to physically, mentally, and emotionally recover. This includes replenishment and rest.

PROTECTIVE FACTORS: What does the athlete have in his/her life that can act as a support and aide to help them protect this process. The more protective factors in an athlete’s life, the more energy and time can be dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in a given field.

We’ll take some time over the next several posts to review this process in greater depth, barriers that may impact each stage of the process, and offer possible strategies coaches can use at different points in this process to help our players and team attain optimal performance on a more consistent basis.

Coach Russell would love to hear from you, especially if you have questions about coaching and mentoring, to help him create new content. Click this link to send a message.

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