Reflect On The Past To Prepare For The Future

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

As the Mettle Team prepares for a new and exciting season with the OVA, we see a growing demand for the expertise of a mental performance coach in total athlete development. Kim Dawson, a professor of Sports Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier Unversity and owner of Mind2Achieve, has joined the Mettle Team to offer her knowledge and experience to our growing number of athletes across Ontario. Kim has prepared this article for the OVA to provide some guidance to the thousands of athletes looking to take their game to the next level.

August is a transition month for indoor volleyball players. While it marks the end of a fabulous summertime that is meant to rejuvenate and refresh, it also represents the anticipation and excitement of a new season. In order to make the most of any new opportunity, it is important to reflect on past experiences and identify opportunities for growth in the new season. August is all about premeditated change for the future!

There are three integral people in the volleyball triad: athletes, coaches, and parents. All are vital components of a successful season. I encourage you, in your role as one of these key players, to reflect upon your volleyball experience this past year and answer a few fundamental questions. First, rate your overall satisfaction with the previous season by identifying a number that represents your experience last year from 1 (extremely dissatisfied) to 10 (extremely satisfied). Next, accurately evaluate what factors led to this evaluation. By doing this exercise, you are engaging in the first step of overall productive thinking, which is figuring out what worked this past season and what did not.

The following issues are only a few examples of the many factors that may have led to your overall dis/satisfaction rating of the previous season. Perhaps you are a coach and your dissatisfaction stemmed from underachieving performance results with respect to team potential, faulty team dynamics, lack of team effort at practices, or a struggle with finding appropriate team strategies. Conversely, if you indicated a high degree of satisfaction with the season, what would you like to replicate for next season?  What successful coaching strategies worked for you and your team? Was it effective communication and strong team leadership? As a parent, did your dissatisfaction stems from a lack of communication with the coach, your child failing to develop as a player, differing club philosophy than your own? Or were you satisfied watching your child thrive in their volleyball environment or you choosing the right words at necessary times when your child lost their perspective? As an athlete, were you dissatisfied with the lack of communication within the team, too great a variability in individual player ability, differences in team commitment, a non-reinforcing coach, not placing enough effort into managing nerves and emotions in the game? Alternatively, were you satisfied with your development through the season, your relationship with your teammates and coaches, how your team competed? 

By answering these questions, you’ve engaged in the first step of overall productive thinking. You assessed your volleyball experience and deliberately figured out what was successful last season and what was not.  Now comes the fun part – planning for a change this season.  If you want things to be different this season, you must identify the things that worked and continue to keep them in the future while eliminating factors that were unsuccessful. The most important thing is to identify which of these factors are within your personal control and commit to putting effort into regulating these factors.  A key mantra that many of the athletes that I work with use in world-class competition are “control the controllable”. This means identifying what is in your personal control and exercising all of your power over it. It is true that not all factors are 100% personally controllable, but most people don’t recognize all of the things that they can control. For example, in a tournament, as an athlete, you do not have control over what team you play, but you do have control over your emotional response to that team. Emotional responses, in this situation, can vary from perceiving an opponent as intimidating to approaching the match as an opportunity for your team to be challenged. The latter evaluation gives you way more personal control in determining the outcome of the match. It is empowering, productive, and hopeful.  Three components that are necessary for team success.

Similarly, adults in the volleyball domain must also recognize the influence that they hold on athletes. At last year's Ontario Championships, while watching my two sons compete, I watched coach-athlete interactions on many teams.  Too many times, I witnessed coaches not controlling situations that were within their personal control. I’m going to give a shout out to the Guelph U14 boys’ coaches for demonstrating a high control time-out strategy.  When the team was struggling with their serve receive in the first five points of a game, the coaches called a time out. Instead of using their words to reprimand or reinforce, they had the boys drop into serve-receive position repeatedly. They effectively controlled the situation by helping the boys use muscle memory to physically recreate the skill. Remember coaches, players do not generally have a skill deficit issue; they generally have an issue with their confidence in their ability to execute a skill. This is a different problem and one that needs to be addressed with additional opportunity and reassurance, not frustration and limiting exposure to the skill. Similarly, I witnessed parents emphasizing the errors that were made within a game to their children after the match was completed. A more effective parental personal control strategy would be to communicate situations where you watched your child execute successfully within the game. Athletes know when they make an error without anyone needing to tell them! In fact, one error is more mentally salient for an athlete than many correct responses. Therefore, as a parent, highlight current successes and future potential, don’t stay fixated on past errors.

So as the calendar starts moving toward September, take time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. This process is essential in facilitating change and growing in the volleyball domain. Figure out your past experiences and identify your definition of success this season. Then ascertain all of the factors that are under your personal control and put effort and mindfulness into executing these strategies. Identifying deliberate strategies for change is the best way to create season-to-season improvements.

Enjoy the process and have an awesome season!

Kimberley A. Dawson, PhD

Volleyball In The Community