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You "MUST" Do This To Be Successful!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #170 - Listen or watch HERE.

I have heard it time and time again. Statements like the one I heard yesterday when talking with a friend about her son. “He’s just not intense enough” or statements like, “If she would only show more toughness.” Last night in a meeting with a client who was a junior National champion, it was “you need to stop pacing and sit between jumps.”

We all want to get the most out of those we lead. The question is, are we moving them out of their sweet spot and forcing them into behaviors that we think they need that may go against their personalities and subsequently take them out of their game?

I often tell the story of my sister not wanting to work First Class in her days as a flight attendant. Why? She didn’t want to give the safety demonstration speech. Not because no one pays attention, but because it isn’t her thing! No microphones or “all eyes on me” for her!

I, on the other hand, would have been all about First Class and giving people directions…especially if there was a microphone involved!

We are all different. And as leaders (and parents), it's crucial to recognize that each athlete comes equipped with a unique set of traits that contribute to their success on and off the field. But we often fall into the trap of trying to mold our athletes and employees into a one-size-fits-all personality or into a mold that is the “prototype” of what a competitor looks like. We expect our athletes to step out of their personalities to meet our expectations for their performance.

We all agree, as sports psychologist Dr. John Sullivan once said "Athletes are not just bodies; they are bodies with minds and emotions.” Yet we often need to be reminded of the important link between an athlete's personality and their performance…and what connects them and provides them comfort as they perform. Recent research suggests that forcing athletes to alter their natural disposition can be a hindrance rather than a help.

So, the “He needs to be more intense” and OUR behavioral expectations, whether implied or enforced by scripting the athlete’s approach, may do more harm than good.

We had a shortstop at Cleveland State who didn’t say “boo” on the field. I clearly remember a conversation with my assistant about how Christa needed to talk more…direct traffic more vehemently. Neither fit her personality…AT ALL! What we didn’t want to change was her ability to play that position better than anyone we had ever coached. We weighed and balanced our options. Have a shortstop who is vocal or have a shortstop who is comfortable? Which is more important?

In a world that often celebrates extroverted qualities, we sometimes feel compelled to push introverts out of their comfort zones. However, Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, emphasizes that introverts bring a unique strength to the team dynamic. Their ability to listen attentively and analyze situations deeply can be a game-changer.

As Christa stood quietly in the middle of the field, her calm, her calculated process and consistency hinged on her ability to feel comfortable. And while the rest of us fell prey to losing our heads, she could do just as Cain suggested. She analyzed and acted and was a total game-changer!

On the other side of this coin is my very talented and very driven long-jumper. He is a fast talker, a fast thinker and is full of fast-twitch muscles. Everyone around him tells him to SLOW DOWN! There is no doubt there is some benefit to him taking a breath now and then, but when he should do that matters to his performance. If he sits and thinks too much, not good! If he doesn’t take the time to see what is in front of him, not good!

Because others think he needs to, he sits between jumps (I thought so, too, at first). He would rather pace. In fact, some of his best jumps have been when he rushes over to the pit after warm-up, steps up to the line, runs and jumps. No time to think…to analyze…to get paralyzed!

Think about it. Some kids can play shortstop. Some make better third basemen. Some of this had to do with tools. Some of it has to do with the fact that there is TOO MUCH TIME to think at short and at third it’s get or not…no time to think! This disposition difference matters. And forcing people to move from one approach to the other is often counterproductive!

In his theory of personality, Dr. Carl Jung highlights how personality differences affect behavior. Extroverts draw energy from external interactions, while introverts recharge through solitary moments. The hooting and hollering fire some of us up…and the pause and focus bring out the best in others (as we sit in angst and hope they have a heartbeat!).

No matter what we want, forcing an athlete to conform to a personality type that doesn't align with their natural tendencies can lead to burnout and diminished performance.

Here’s one more example. My former assistant wanted decisions NOW. I had to think about things…for WAY TOO LONG, according to her! But when forced into situations where I made instantaneous decisions with a hot head or without all the facts, I often screwed it up. There were times when I needed to decide NOW…as a head coach that comes with the territory. But in situations where the decision was not an emergency or a tactical game decision, I found I did my best work when I considered all of the variables and moved forward with a more tempered attitude!

That was my way. Not hers. And when I tried to do things her way, I wasn’t good! (There was a happy medium between us that was the best way, I believe 😊)!

Wishing someone would be something else may make us feel better but may make them feel uncomfortable. In his book Drive, Dr. Daniel Pink explores the science of motivation and suggests that autonomy is a key factor in achieving excellence. We have talked about “agency” many times in these tips.

Athletes, like most of us, perform better when they can express their authentic selves and, according to Pink, allowing people to play in their zone can create an environment that fosters intrinsic motivation...which keeps people moving and more confident!

Think about it. Had we made Christa talk more and in a way we thought a shortstop should communicate, she would have been focused on “Coach said I have to talk more. When will I do it? I guess I can cheer on the pitcher and then….” And in the meantime, she isn’t scanning for information. She isn’t listening for directions. She isn’t doing her pre-performance routine. She isn’t in sync with her timing. She is distracted. She isn’t prepared. She can talk but she is a step slow getting a jump. And who knows what happens after that!

If my track athlete is sitting, he is thinking…a hundred thoughts per second!!! He isn’t burning off nervous energy. He isn’t taking up space. He isn’t keeping his body warm. He is thinking about how uncomfortable he is and how bad his wanting to be active is (according to the script others have created for him).

Whether it is slowing someone down or wanting them to be more intense, too much change changes focus. We are now so concerned with playing the role that we can’t do our jobs!

Does this mean some people can’t benefit from slowing down or communicating more? Of course not! If any of these changes get people out of their heads and into the present, that’s a win. And if the changes need to happen because they are disrupting the culture or environment, then an ultimatum may be in order.

But I find that is normally the case. Most of the time when we make statements like those I heard yesterday, it’s because people aren’t approaching things the way we would…or the way the best players did.

In the end, if we are going to ask people to change, we need to ensure those changes help them through their process and don’t overshadow the process! Whatever it is that needs to be tweaked may need to be implemented in small doses, so as not to disrupt focus and routines.

You don’t have to look far to see that there are a million ways to win. No two champions look the same. The goal is to play to our strengths. We all have a spot on that inverted U of arousal at which we play at our best…and mine doesn’t look like yours…and that’s okay!

Here is to managing our personnel and moments!!


P.S. I have room to add only a few more teams for the year! Shoot me a text at 234-206-0946 or an email at and get on my schedule as you wrap up fall and look ahead to the next phase of the season!

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