An Open Letter to the Athlete We Must Stop Recruiting

An Open Letter - Fearless Coaching

Many high school athletes aspire to earn a spot on the roster of a college team. Often, the athlete, or their parents, make significant mistakes in this process. Often, the athlete doesn’t understand the right – and wrong – priorities.

Becky Carlson is the Head Coach of the NCAA D-I Rugby team at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. Earlier this week, she posted an excellent article about recruiting prospective student athletes for college athletics. It exactly matches comments and stories I hear from a wide variety of other college coaches and that I have observed firsthand. Linked here is her article; read it very carefully! Then come back to this post.

An Open Letter to the Athlete We Must Stop Recruiting

Shocked? Good! She speaks the truth! Get busy!

Or as you read did you think that all these things should be obvious? You just became a top prospect! Call us! Right now! 😉

Below are some additional thoughts and opinions from someone who coaches middle school, high school, college, and adult athletes and teams.

High School Athletes

We want to know about your character. We want to know how you handle adversity. We want to know how you relate with and to others. We want to know how you interact with your teammates and coaches. We want to know what you value and your priorities. We want to know what kind of effort you put forth of your own volition – in sports and in the classroom. We want to know how much or how little you take responsibility for your failures and how you handle your successes.

We want to know about your grades. We want to know about your academic goals. We want to know about your post-college goals and plans.

We want to know what sports means to you. We want to now your goals and dreams and aspirations. We want to know what you are passionate about, in sports and in life. We want to know about your other sports and activities, past and present.

Finally, we want to know about your capabilities in the sport. Yes, that is last. Oh, and if you can’t or won’t tell us your grades or scores early in the recruiting process, we know you don’t own them and that is a red flag. Tell us your grades and scores, how you feel about your them, and what you are doing to improve. Be specific so we know exactly what the grade or GPA score is for, and don’t give us your best practice score – competition is what counts.

Contact the coach during the summer before your junior year of high school. We even get emails from freshmen and sophomores, and email our replies once the NCAA contact-permitted date arrives. Be sure to give your first and last name, year in school and when you expect to graduate, where you live and the name of your school, your club if any, your GPA and any other academic information, and tell about yourself. If you don’t hear back right away, follow up. Be polite yet persistent! (Remember, if they don’t know your year in school, you will get NO response.)

Recruiting rules and dates vary for NCAA Division I, II, and III, so if you don’t hear back right away, keep sending periodic updates with grades, scores, and major competitions where you will be participating. Also, the college coach can email or talk with your coach at any time if you provide their name and contact information.

If you initiate contact, and if you respond to emails and phone calls on a timely basis, that sets you apart. Athletes who can’t be bothered to respond certainly are not showing good character or initiative.

High School Parents

If you make the first contact and/or make most or all of the contacts, you do your child a severe disservice. If you have to make contact on behalf of your child, there is a good chance you are wasting your time. We already know what we need to know. I’m not being harsh. Just stating reality.

Of course, once your child has established contact and we have a dialog underway, we would love to hear from you as well. This is a big decision and you should be informed about the school, coach, and team that will become a huge part of your child’s life. Just don’t dominate the conversation, especially on a visit.

When your child can’t get a word in edgewise, we can’t get to know them. Then we might pass on your child when they otherwise would have been great for us, and us for them, but we could not tell and wouldn’t take the chance.

Also, model appropriate character, especially at games. Be a good fan. Be a good sport parent. Don’t know what that means? Google is your friend! And read this posting:

The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports — Or Any Performance

If you are not a good sport parent, your child doesn’t want you at the game. Neither do their coaches and neither do your child’s teammates. Please don’t be that parent!

High School & Junior Coaches

College coaches really don’t care about our recommendations unless they have gotten to know us well and trust our opinion. It’s nothing personal, it’s just how things work. Too many coaches give glowing recommendations for average athletes. Let your athletes shine for themselves.

This past year, I suggested to the head coach of one of the top NCAA rifle teams that she might want to take a look at a certain athlete that I have the pleasure of working with. I didn’t give her a glowing recommendation of the athlete, I just stated that she might want to take a close look. The coach understood me and appreciated that I didn’t do a sell job. Later, I facilitated a meeting at their mutual request to take place after a major competition ended and they took it from there. A year later, the young lady joined that coach’s team… she didn’t need my recommendation, had shined on her own, and earned a spot on the roster!

Encourage your athletes to get their grades, work on their sport, focus on themselves, and on the things they need in life to succeed. Grades, scores, and recruiting will turn out just fine.

College Athletes

Think you’ve got it made? Nope!

Maybe you got lucky in regard to some of the things she wrote about. Don’t take the chance that your time will run out. Your spot is not assured for all 4 years. Did you spot anything in the article that you can improve upon? Yes? Good, get busy! No? OK, hopefully that means you are not delusional and instead are one of those “perfect” athletes. If so, help your teammates become better teammates. Lead by example.

College Parents

This is college. Your child is an adult. (I know that is a shock, and sometimes they still seem to act like a child.) We deal with athletes as young adults. It is part of their development in the college years. Get out of your child’s way and let them be a college athlete. Luckily, most parents understand this.

Sadly, a few don’t. The worst examples: One couple lied to their child about which colleges accepted the student in order to force their child to go to a certain school. The student found out. That didn’t turn out well.

Another athlete was told that if they didn’t make the starting roster they would not be allowed to return to school the next semester. Yup!

You can’t make this stuff up!

Again, luckily, most parents let their child fly from the nest. You know who you are. Your child and the coaches thank you!

We love having you at the games. Remember this is college. Let your child be a young adult. Be a good fan. Be a good sport parent. Don’t know what that means? Google is your friend! And read this posting:

The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports — Or Any Performance

If you are not a good sport parent, your child doesn’t want you at the game. Neither do we and neither do your child’s teammates.

These parents are the very reason their child’s scores – and grades – are dropping. Sadly, we have seen it happen, far too many times. Please don’t be that parent!

I hope this has been an eye-opening and helpful post. Please share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions for improvement, either below or privately, as you prefer.

College sports can be a wonderfully life-changing experience. Enjoy!

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Feel Center!

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Hard Work – Pushing The Envelope

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How is your shooting going these days? Getting any better? Are your competition scores improving? Or are they stagnant? Are your competition scores a lot lower than your practice scores?

Many athletes “try” hard to improve and certainly want to improve. Yet, their progress slows and they spend lots of time on a score plateau. Lots of practice seems to have little effect.

Topic 1: Practice vs. Training

There is a time and a place in your training program for “just shoot” without evaluation, judgement, or “fixing” of problems. This is how you should shoot in a competition. Yet, most practice sessions are constant evaluation, judgment, or “fixing” of problems. Remember, we will do what we are most used to doing when we are under pressure in competition. If we are constantly “fixing” things, we will find ourselves in that mode in a match. And our scores drop.

Training is not just shooting or just fixing. Training is focused activity. Yes, sometimes we do need to evaluate and adjust. Other times, we need to “just shoot” without care or concern for outcome (score) yet with intensity and focus on allowing the shot to unfold – properly. (No controlling!!!)

Topic 2: Staying in our Comfort Zone vs. Stepping outside our Comfort Zone

One of the most important aspects of training is forcing ourselves out of our comfort zone.

We only improve when we force ourselves (or our coaches force us) out of our comfort zone. Our sport is not about shooting at targets. No sport is about doing the actual sport. All sports, and indeed all performance activities (dance, singing, acting, public speaking, etc.), are about learning to thrive and excel under pressure in the spotlight and in the heat of the moment. Sport is about learning about ourselves, growing, and learning how to compete well.

We like to stay in our comfort zone. After all, it is comfortable! Outside that area, it is uncomfortable; who want’s that? However, staying in our comfort zone does not allow us to stretch or grow our capabilities.

Intensity training – that is, training where the athlete cares about the outcome – is required in order to 1) learn how to thrive under pressure, 2) prevent choking, and 3) set the stage for entering flow state (the so-called “zone”).

The more time an athlete spends in intensity training, the faster they learn to thrive and the more confident they become in their abilities. This allows them to trust their training and “just shoot” without control. The results are amazing.

Topic 3: Putting The Concept To Work

A little over a week ago, I ran an advanced weekend training camp for a group of pistol athletes. Their ages were 19, two were 16, two were 14, three were 13, and two were 12. Their experience in target shooting ranged from a few months to a few years. We had six athletes from the Blocton (AL) Bullets and four girls from Georgia, including three from the Paulding County team. Both are excellent programs with great coaches and very motivated athletes.

We spent very little time in the mode to “tweak” or “fix” details about their position (angle to target, shoulder up or down, free arm position, etc.), area of aim (center, six, thin white, down in the white), trigger technique (lots of variations possible, though only some are helpful), or other physical and technical aspects of their shooting, since they and their coaches can work on these items at their own training sessions. We did talk about a few concepts, but left it at that for this camp.

Yes, those items are critical to success and there is a time and place to make adjustments. (But not constant tweaking and fixing. That destroys performance.) However, for this camp, we did not want to change the athletes’ setup, unless absolutely required, because we wanted them shooting the way they are currently familiar with. This is very important for what was to follow.

Instead, we focused on the mental and emotional aspects of high performance under pressure.

What holds us back from top scores? Once we handle the physical and technical topics (which is, paradoxically, where we spend most of our time and effort!), the entire rest of the game is mental and emotional.

It starts with ego. We want to be in control. We want to be inside our comfort zone. We want to “guarantee” the outcome. We want, we want, we want. And we look outside ourselves for the answers – and the excuses.

The very best performances come from deep inside ourselves. They come to us when we “let go” of control, trust ourselves and our training, and allow the shot process – or the dance, or the song, or the acting – to unfold, seemingly on its own. How do we learn to do this?

First, we must understand the concepts.

Understanding the dynamic of outcome (results, score, place rank, not finishing last, looking good, not messing up, etc.) vs. doing (just doing the activity, experiencing the moment, etc.) is the single most critical element in learning how to thrive and excel under pressure. Make the move about the move, not about the outcome. Make the shot about just doing the shot, not about the outcome – or about the last outcome. Not controlling the shot; just doing the shot.

Outcome, in its many forms, is in the past and the future. We have no control over the past and future! None! That’s right, it is critical to understand that we have no DIRECT control over our own score! We wish we did! If someone claims otherwise, ask them why they don’t shoot perfect scores. Is it because they are lazy or incompetent? Of course not! We do NOT have direct control of the outcome. We just wish we did.

The only thing we can control is ourselves. What we do, what we think, how we approach the doing. When we learn to manage ourselves properly – that is, in a manner that is conducive to top performance – then the desired outcome is much more likely. When we focus on the outcome itself, or control the doing, the desired outcome is much more unlikely. Yes, it is a paradox. Overcoming that seemingly “illogical” concept is paramount. Funny thing is, once it is understood, it is perfectly logical!

We have been training our deeper mind to shoot. We just don’t realize that. Have you ever had the gun come down on target, arrive on the area of aim and instantly the shot is released, seemingly by itself, and get a really deep 10? And you were surprised or scared because you were not ready? The surprise is because the active thought part of the mind was distracted allowing the deeper part to shoot. The active part of the mind, and our visual system, are too slow for this sport, as they are for many other activities. The deeper mind, when trained and then ALLOWED to just “run the program” without interference, can produce stunningly good results on an otherwise unbelievably consistent basis.

Second, we must spend time in training to experience different modes and then do a lot of intensity training. Forget about the comfort zone!

After an initial discussion, we started the camp’s shooting activities with some shooting on black paper. (For air pistol, we use 9×12 inch black construction paper.) The athletes were not used to this “target” so they were introduced to shooting with no aiming reference and no outcome. Disoriented at first, they soon discovered that they could “let go” and “just shoot” each shot. Thus, they could experience the “mysterious” mode of letting go and just shooting the shot that we so often hear about yet do not fully grasp. Experiential learning is the best form of learning, so we like to do training exercises that maximize the experiential aspect of learning.

The idea is to set up a properly optimized combination of position, balance, and natural point of aim. Then trust and recreate that feel for each shot. In essence, one’s body becomes the sights. This is very disorienting at first, and eventually the ego has to “let go” of attempted control. And the athlete shoots freely. One of the 13 year old athletes, when first introduced to the black card several months ago at the age of 12, at that time described the feeling as “unconstrained” shooting.

Then we did some “traditional” shooting to let them feel comfortable about their baseline shooting. They were reminded of the “black card feel” and encouraged to dare to “let go” of their desire to control the shot and instead allow it to unfold. Shooting without “taking control” did get them a bit out of their comfort zone, but not very much. That was fine since this was a warm-up for what was to follow.

Then the real “fun” can begin! We use many different intensity drills or games. Some coaches and athletes see or hear of us doing these “games” and dismiss them as frivolous. Yet they are the key to high performance.

With a group of athletes of varying skill and experience levels, we chose to use a modified version of a classic drill called “First to Five Tens” which is a race to see who can be first get five shots that score 10 points. Go too slowly, in order to control the outcome or make it perfect, and you lose. Go too quickly, thus shooting sloppily, and you lose. The athlete must go quickly, with trust and no “controlling” of the shot, in order to win. This favors athletes who have a robust shot process, who trust it, and who allow it to run without interference or checking.

To run the drill, after a prep and sighting period, athletes are instructed to load, have guns down, and then “Go!” on command. After that, they shoot at their own pace. Each time they shoot a shot resulting in 10 points, they loudly call out how many tens they have: “One!” and so forth. It is interesting to see someone get all the way to “Four!” and then lose to someone who later catches them because they couldn’t get that fifth 10 point result.

This drill allows us to “handicap” different athletes so that mixed groups may participate together. Some of the athletes only could count tens, others tens and nines, and still others (the two 12 year old athletes who had limited experience in the standing position) tens, nines, and eights. This allows us to balance their perception of the difficulty of the challenge with their perception of their capabilities to meet the challenge. (This is also a critical component of high level performance and of entering the flow state, so we are already setting the stage for greater things later in their development.)

We ran this drill for four hours! Not continuously, of course; rest breaks are critical for health, injury prevention, and to allow mental recovery so they are fresh and “hungry” to go again. All afternoon the kids, including the youngest ones, asked “Can we do it again?” So we did!

With such a long dose of intensity, the athletes felt all the usual competition emotions. Joy, sadness, elation, despair, frustration, you name it. Emotions ran high at times. We validated the normalcy of those emotions under pressure and explained how to work through the feelings. They really challenged themselves and kept coming back for more.

As we kept going, the athletes improved. They realized they could shoot well when they found an optimal rhythm (not too slow and controlling, not too fast and sloppy), gave up the perceived “control” they craved, and just shot. They were able to do this because their deeper mind was completely familiar with everything (position, balance, grip, trigger, sights, process, etc.) and the athletes could take advantage of that deeper knowledge, which they had not previously understood. Note that if we had changed many of these variables, the deeper familiarity would have been upset and they would not have been able to benefit from the intensity training until several training sessions later.

As the day went on, many of the athletes wanted to raise their handicap level to make the drill harder. When the 12 year old athletes started consistently beating everyone, they asked me to raise their lower limit from eight to nine. Eventually, those same two wanted their limit raised to ten, to match where we eventually had all the older kids. The very next round after giving everyone no handicap advantage, one of the 12 year old athletes won the drill in short order against all the more experienced and older athletes. I’m not sure who was more surprised; her or the others. You should have seen the smile on her face! (And the belief in herself that it indicated!!!)

On that same note, two of the more experienced athletes, including a medalist from the recent PPP national championship, decided to have a one-on-one challenge. They raised their lower limit to 10.4 in order to count. It took them awhile, but they got their five count!

Another famous intensity drill is called 5 and 0 or 3 and 0. This is a pairs game for two evenly matched athletes. The score starts tied at 0-0 and someone is always at 0. After prep and sighters, the two athletes each shoot a shot. Whoever earns the higher score wins the shot and gets a point. (You can score by whole numbers, or by tenths if on electronic targets. You can also set a rule that in order to count at all, the shot must be at least a certain value.) The score is now 1-0. They each shoot again. If the person with the lead again earns the higher score on that shot, the game score now goes to 2-0. Conversely if the person in the lead has the lower score on the second shot, they lose their point and the game score goes back to 0-0. Remember, someone must always be at zero! First one to reach 5 (or 3) wins.

When Jamie (Beyerle) Gray and Matt Emmons were in college, they would play this game together. Frequently. Sometimes, they would have to interrupt one game – which had already been going on for 2 or 3 hours – to go have dinner, and then come back to finish. That is how evenly matched they were. Imagine that: hours of intensity training where EVERY shot counts in a big way. This is just one of the many reasons those two are such great competitors.

This is training – not practice.

Games like these almost make competitions sound easy. Almost.

Feel Center!

 

Educational Notes

When the younger and/or less experienced athletes saw that we believed they could shoot well, and that we believed they were already good shooting athletes, they rose quite a bit. It has been proven that individuals and groups often can and will rise to the levels expected of them, as long as the expectations are fairly realistic and if the athletes know it is OK to make mistakes. We encourage all athletes, regardless of level, to think of themselves as better than they think they currently are and to believe that they will improve. After all, that is where they are striving to be, and we want them looking in that direction.

Throughout the entire weekend, we alternated between active shooting and round-table discussion. I asked lots of questions to get the athletes thinking and sharing experiences. Again, this maximizes their learning. Explain, experience, reflect together and share. It is a powerful teaching/learning methodology. It doesn’t matter what the coaches know; it matters what the athlete learns, experiences, understands, and internalizes.

Teenagers, even young middle school athletes, when treated as young adults, when effectively trained, and when positively inspired, are capable of far more then they and many adults think possible. As coaches and parents, we must be careful to be sure expectations are set appropriately, not too high or too low, be realistic, make the learning and sport about the journey of learning and self-discovery, not about the outcome, demonstrate that mistakes are a positive part of the learning experience, not bad things to be avoided, and keep the atmosphere positive, supportive, and friendly. Then step back and prepare to be amazed!

Top: Blocton Bullets and Paulding County pistol girls

Above, Katelyn Abeln training at the University of North Georgia

Below: OK, now to blow off a little steam. They have earned it!

Your comments and responses are always welcome.

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Get Back Up

Try Again Sweetie

We fail and fall often as we learn our sport and push ourselves to ever higher levels of performance.

Champions fail and fall a lot. They always, always get back up. Always.

Video: Mom Teaches Us To Always Get Back Up

Music on the video is: Primavera, by Ludovico Einaudi

Thank you, Maggie, for the reference!

Involved or Committed?

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Are you committed to your goals and plans or only involved in them?

Are you committed to your work and effort or only involved and therefore merely going through the motions?

Are you committed to your self-improvement or only involved?

It is easy to say we want to achieve something or that we want to do something. That which has value also has a cost. How often do we make the investment needed? Do we do the work and make the effort or do we just go through the motions? After all, most people will not go to those extremes, and they ridicule us if we do. That not allows them to feel better about themselves, because we are not excelling past them, yet it is at our expense because it holds us back from what we truly want to achieve. Do we want to fit in or do we want to stick out and excel?

Too often, we are involved in doing something yet do not fully commit. What is the difference between involvement and commitment?

Consider the bacon and eggs breakfast. The chicken is only involved. The pig, on the other hand, is committed.

Happily, we do not have to commit to the level of the pig to enjoy and excel in our activities. Yet, we must go far beyond involvement, take personal ownership for our own happiness and success, and commit to what we are doing.

Impossible? I’m Possible!

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We face many obstacles along the journey towards ultimate performance. Many obstacles come in expected ways and from expected places. Some obstacles come in unexpected ways and from unexpected places. There is a third source of obstacles, and this catches us by surprise. The obstacles that cause us the most problem are the ones that originate inside ourselves.

Usually when I ask a young athlete or group of athletes what is holding them back in their shooting, the typical answers are heard: positions, certain guns or events, hold, triggering, “mental game” (whatever that is – it’s like saying “physical game” whatever that is), or other basic topics. Recently, I heard a very different set of answers, coming in rapid fire succession, from an exceptional group of young athletes. Here is their list:

Ego
Laziness
Passiveness
Worry
Impatience
No Confidence
Staying In Comfort zone
Trying too hard
Worry about score and outcome
Worry about what other people think
Fear of failure

What a remarkable list for such young athletes! We could write a blog post, or an entire book chapter or book, on each of these topics. Elite athletes know the importance of these topics, and many other related topics, so it is good that this group is already learning about and working on them.

Too many athletes fall short of their goals and dreams because they do not overcome these obstacles. They feel that the goal is impossible. Instead, they need to think “I’m Possible!” and work through the pain, fear, frustration, and all the other challenges they face.

This inspiring video (link below) speaks to these and related topics. Crank up the volume (don’t hurt your ears or disturb others) and listen – really listen – to the the narration. Then play it again a few times and listen again and again. You won’t catch it all the first time or two.

How hard are you willing to work? How much are you willing to work? How much are you willing to push yourself? How adaptable are you to working on the right things in the right way at the right time? Where are your priorities? Is your focus on the important things or the easy things?

Best Workout Motivational – Be Blind (Sail Awolnation)

Impossible? I’m Possible!