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  • Travis Mitchell

Building Process Oriented Athletes

This month’s blog focuses on the mental side of performance and athlete development and is one of my biggest passions as a coach – the process.

Over the last few years the phrase “trust the process” has become ubiquitous. Listen to any pre/post game conference and you’ll hear the word process. Players, coaches, and team executives have been encouraged by team psychologists to steer clear of being focused on results and outcomes such as stats, wins, and losses. A lot of the time you hear it from struggling players and organizations, almost as if you’re following a process its ok to suck. The whole idea of process has certainly become watered down, but at its roots there are some valuable lessons for athletes, coaches and parents.

Process is Fearless

I first heard the words “Trust The Process” in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs were in Spring Training. With an enormous amount of pressure heading in to the season, the Cubs manager, Joe Madden, wanted the team to ignore the pressure of ending a 109 year drought and instead focus on a process they could control. This is something Maddon freely admits that he borrowed from legendary NFL assistant coach Tom Moore, whose philosophy is that if you concentrate on the little things, you'll eventually arrive at the Big Thing. There are four points he uses to explain The Process -- it lacks emotions, it's the moment, it's the mental anchor, it simplifies the task. See Joe's 2016 Spring Training cheat sheet.

Joe Madden Spring Training Cheat Sheet

Madden actually made t shirts and ninja headbands for the team that read “Process is Fearless” using Japanese characters. The idea that Madden was trying to convey is that as humans we feel most powerful when we are in control of our task at hand. So if his players had a controllable process to focus on, they could be empowered and play without the fear of failure. That process included simple guidelines like “respect 90 & run out every hit” and “have a two-strike approach”. The Cubs of course went on to win The World Series 2016.

As coaches and parents we unfortunately focus way to heavily on outcomes. We would rather see our kids succeed in the midst of mediocrity than struggle and grow in the face adversity. Across every sport, parents and coaches are way to focused on being on the better team and winning meaningless tournaments. We’re asking the wrong questions. What are you doing for development? What does the schedule look like? What is my kid doing on her/his own?

Rock Your Routine

Process doesn’t just apply to teams but also individuals. There is a reason why professional golfers like Jordan Speith and Tiger Woods rely so heavily on a pre shot routine -yes it gives them a sense of comfort and rythym- but focusing on something they can control helps them feel in control of the shot and the situation. Likewise, big league pitchers and top NCAA softball pitchers often have an OCD like order of breath and movement in which they approach every pitch. Professional and high level athletes are human just like the rest of us, if they are not focusing on their routine their focus drifts to the water hazard, the score, the last the pitch, or the next shot. Routine isn’t just for game day, what does the week look like? If an athlete has a solid weekly routine, they will have less anxiety about the upcoming game or match.

The Long Game

Most High School athletes have a dream of playing their sport in College. Unfortunately, they think the first step is to make this or that team, show up to practice everyday and take my reps, win the starting role, and go to every college camp and showcase I can attend. That process ought to look like – Put in “x” hours of weekly individual skills work, be coachable, lose/gain “x” lbs of body weight/muscle mass, eat “x” calories everyday, train “x” hours every week, increase speed, increase strength, and sleep 8 hours every night.

While teams, games, and production matter, if you want to produce a successful athlete in the long run, help them focus on what they can control.

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