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- Training in the Off Season - 12/06/2014
Habits of a Champion in Water Polo
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
In this month’s article I am going to write about what I call the Habits of a Champion. To me these are habits of champions in all areas of life, not just water polo. No matter what you do, good habits will make you successful while bad habits will lead you down a path of failure and destruction. Habits are either your best of servants or worst of masters.
What exactly is a habit?
Webster’s Dictionary defines a “habit” as a tendency to perform a certain action or behave in a certain way. The usual way of doing things.
Habits make up our life. If we choose to develop good habits, I believe that we can be successful in any arena. If we develop bad habits then we will be burdened by the ball and chain that drags us down and keeps us from becoming a champion. It really is a choice and each of us needs to look carefully at their own life and decide which habits they want to nourish and which habits should be replaced. It takes some work but it is simply a matter of practice and repetition. First you make your habits and then they make you. Each of us has tremendous potential and it really is sad how many fall short of who they might become. Abraham Maslow once wrote “ The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” The average person settles for far less than he or she is capable of achieving. I am convinced that creating good habits is the way to bring out the best in each one of us. I hope that this list of habits helps inspire you to reach new heights in your life.
Here is my list of habits that I feel will help you become a champion.
1. Self Discipline – this is the mother of all habits. Self discipline is the ability to make yourself do what should be done, when it should be done, whether you feel like it or not. It is very difficult to build any good habits without self discipline. Self discipline is the key to self mastery. Every act of self discipline strengthens every other discipline and will help you to build the other habits that are important for becoming a champion.
2. Positive Self Talk – the things that you say to yourself will direct your life. If you wake up and say to yourself “I don’t feel well” or something like this you are probably not going to have a very good day. If you wake up and tell yourself “it is going to be a great day” then your day will more than likely be much better. Listen to what you are saying to yourself all day long. Are you building yourself up and or are you tearing yourself down. Your inner voice is very powerful. Be positive – tell yourself you are going to become a champion.
3. Attitude of Gratitude – I would highly recommend that you all work on developing this attitude. Be thankful. Here is an exercise for developing this habit. Write down what you are thankful for – Use 3 columns (1) Things (2) People (3) Other. (Other = freedom, opportunity, friendship, love, intelligence, abilities, health, talents, peace, faith, God, experiences, kindness ) Read the list over 4 times a day – you will become more appreciative. Being thankful when practiced regularly becomes a habit. Being thankful and saying thanks are two habits of people who have discovered what it means to succeed in life.
4. Being Goal Oriented – Before you make anything happen in your life you have to have direction. Goals give you direction, they will help you develop a vision for your life. Successful people write down their goals and they review that list regularly. Create a vision for your life. When you are constantly thinking about where you want to go and what you want to achieve you will have a much better chance of making that happen.
5. A willingness to take action/risk – dreams and goals are important but without action they are empty. Having vision and taking action on those goals will help you to find success in all you do. Most of us fall short of ever reaching our potential. Coupling goals with proper action will help you to close this gap. Are you afraid of failure? The champions are the ones that are willing to take the risk and put themselves in a position to take that winning shot. They are the ones that are willing to challenge themselves to get out of that comfort zone and see how much better they can be everyday.
6. Have a strong desire to learn and to grow – Recently, I read a story about John Wooden, who is now 97 years old. He admits that he is slowing down and losing some of his physical and mental capabilities, however he says “ I still like to read and I am going to continue to learn and grow for as long as I live. No matter what my capabilities are I want to wake up each day and do the best I can. I can not do that if I don’t continue to grow and learn.” We need to challenge ourselves to grow. If you are not getting better in life you are getting worse. You never just stand still. Champions are always lerning and growing.
7. A willingness to accept responsibility – being able to accept responsibility for your own mistakes helps you own the mistakes and allows you to grow. Those that play “the blame game” will never rise to the top and become a true champion. Champions don’t blame others – they realize that we all make mistakes and humbly accept their weaknesses and work to overcome them by getting better themselves.
8. Live by the Golden Rule – Treat others in the way that you would like to be treated. This really is “golden”. It is a simple secret of life – what you give you will receive. If you are giving love you will receive more love. If you are giving friendship you will have more friends. If you are a better team player you will be on a better team. A true champion understands the importance of living by the golden rule.
9. Good Time management – either you master your time or your time becomes your master. Do you use your time wisely? Do you spend too much time with unimportant activities and then run out of time for the real important concerns in your life. Time management is about being able to prioritize and keep the big picture in mind. What is really important in your life? We need to prioritize and make sure that we spend our time first with the activities that will help us reach our goals. Think about how many hours the average American spends watching TV? Spending your time wisely is a critical habit that will help you to improve and reach your true potential in life. .
10. Live in the Moment – Karch Kirary the greatest volleyball player who ever lived was once asked by a fan “How did you prepare for the Olympic Gold Medal?” Karch’s answer was beautiful. He simply said, “I did not prepare for the gold medal, I always prepared for the next point.”. To become a champion in whatever you are doing you need to stay in the moment. I once had an athlete that I coached a Pepperdine, who was one of the best pure athletes I have ever worked with. He never really went as far as he could have gone as an athlete. Why? This particular player could not let go of the last play. He would make a mistake and then he would be stuck thinking about the mistake (a bad pass, or a missed shot) and then this would impact the next play. He would usually get worse and worse as the game went on. He could not stay in the moment. Do you carry baggage around from mistakes in the past? Or have you learned to use those mistakes as learning opportunities that you can use in the present. Staying in the moment will help you to become the champion that is inside you.
Together these habits will help you to become more “Excellence Oriented”. This is when your usual way of doing things is to wake up and focus on being your best everyday. I truly believe that there is a champion within each of us. In order to become that champion we need to develop strong habits that become a way a life and help us to become the very best that we can become. Your purpose in life should be to accomplish every goal that you can possibly set for yourself. Success is the ability to live your life the way you want to live it. Good habits will help you accomplish this.
Here is the key – our habits will determine who we become in life. And it is just as easy to develop good habits as it is to develop bad habits. Developing habits is simply a matter of practice and repetition. Become aware of your tendencies to behave or perform in a certain way. If you are not satisfied with these tendencies then make a commitment to change. Work to change one habit at a time. This takes a little more focus and effort in the beginning but over time it will become your usual way of doing things. Don’t cheat yourself out of becoming the person that you can become. I truly believe that there is a champion within each of us. Whether it is an Olympic Gold medal, a higher paying job or simply a better relationship that you want – these habits of a champion will help you get what you want out of life.
Do You Get Nervous Coaching Water Polo?
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
I have had the opportunity to speak with many groups of people over the years and share my Olympic Experiences with them. Normally, during these talks I have a time at the end of the presentation for questions and answers. By far, here is the question that I am asked the most often.
Did you get nervous? And if you did, how did you control your nerves?
This is a great question and because it is so fundamental to successful performance, I thought I would take the opportunity to answer.
First of all, yes I did get nervous. Now here is the important part of the answer. Being nervous before a big game means that you are alive. I choose to look at this “nervousness” as a level of readiness. The key is to be able to control that level of readiness.
I will never forget an incident that happened right before our first game in the 1984 Olympic Games. Our team was in the ready room. We were basically waiting in a quiet room to be called out for introductions prior to our first game in the Olympics. Almost our entire team had been a part of the 1980 Olympic Team. We never had a chance to play in 80’ due to the Olympic boycott. We had all trained four more years to get to the 1984 Games. We had all sacrificed a good part of our lives to make the team, represent our country and hopefully win a medal. The 84’ Games were at home in LA and for me the water polo competition was at Pepperdine – my home pool. Finally, we were one of the favorites to win the gold. Talk about pressure. So in that ready room we sat for about 30 minutes. Drew McDonald (a great center defender on the 84’ team) came over and sat by me. Out of the blue he asked me “Are you nervous?” I thought for a moment and then I said “no not really. I feel ready”. I knew that we had done everything we could to prepare for these games. I also knew that I had done everything that I could have done. I was ready.
This is one of the biggest keys to finding that proper level of readiness. That key is having the confidence in your preparation. When you are properly prepared – when you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly say to yourself that you prepared the best you could have. Then you have no reason to be overly nervous. However, when you look in the mirror and you know that you have cheated yourself on your training by cheating the drills or not working hard in every workout. Then you should be nervous. Proper preparation in training gives you the confidence to show up ready without being overly nervous. Knowing that you have trained well makes it easier to show up and compete with great success.
Showing up ready to practice hard and get the most out of every drill is the athlete’s responsibility. This takes self discipline and a commitment to excellence. Most all of us have “off days”. This is human nature. Accept it. Your best may not be the same every day. But showing up and doing your best no matter how you feel is all you can control. So realize that you may have some bad days – work through these days and keep working on improving. The more consistent that you are with this principle the more confidence you should have come game day.
Here is the key to showing up with that proper level of readiness. The coach must plan workouts to be as game like as possible. When athletes practice in a game like situation over and over again they become ready for what they will face come game day.
My coaching philosophy includes as many game situation drills as possible. Sure we work on conditioning and fundamentals but even these drills are as game like as possible. For example; if I want to train legs. We can do jumping drills that are set up as if the athlete if playing X1 or X3 on the back line in the 5 man defense. On the whistle the players will jump out as if they were shot blocking at 1 or 6 (depending if he/she is playing X1 or X3). They jump out and shot block, imagining as game like as possible that they are shot blocking on an important 6 on 5 in a game. On the second whistle they will jump back into the post player and control the post while preparing their bodies for the next jump out. This is a game situation drill. You will get conditioning of the legs, good fundamental training and game like work. Another example would be to set up a scrimmage where there is 2 minutes left in the game. One team has a 6 on 5 and is down by 1 goal. Start the game as if you are coming out of a time out. Play out the final 2 minutes of the game. Make sure that your players know that you expect them to play like it is an important game.
When your team is used to practicing like it is a game, they will show up ready to play without too much nervous energy. They will be confident that they are ready because you prepared them properly.
I know when I have not prepared properly and I have been excessively nervous and have not played my best. I also know that when I have showed up and felt that the game really did not mean that much my level of readiness has not been great and I have not played my best either. There really is a good level of nervousness or readiness. It takes practice to find what this level is for you. Part of this responsibility rests entirely on the athletes shoulders. The athlete that wants to achieve greatness will show up everyday ready to give his/her best. The other part is the coach’s responsibility. The coach must create an environment that allows the athletes on the team to feel as though they have prepared for the game in practice before the game even happens. When you have both of these keys working together you can show up ready to play without being nervous.
Remember – it is a game. Enjoy what you do. Yes work as hard as you can but remember that even the best athletes miss big free throws, miss big puts, strike out with runners on base and miss penalty shots. You are human – you are going to make mistakes. Don’t dwell on your mistakes. Learn from your mistakes and focus on what is really important – going out there and consistently giving your best to the team. Chances are that if you and your team mates are doing this you will win a lot more games then you lose.
Here is one last important note about getting nervous. When you are on a team that is really functioning together as a unit you will always have shared responsibility. This means that all the weight of the game is never on your shoulders alone. You can go out and compete knowing that your team mates always have your back (and you have there’s). This is the beauty of a team sport like water polo. When you have all worked hard together you will know that each of your team mates is as ready as you are. This boils down to “team confidence” which should calm your nerves and help each team member be at that optimum level of readiness.
I hope that this answers this important question.
Back to Fundamentals: The Mental Game
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
I have often been asked about the importance of mental preparation in water polo. Because water polo is such a physically demanding sport, we as coaches often times spend the majority of our time and energy trying to get our teams in the best possible physical shape. There is great value in being the best conditioned team, however I believe that it is equally important to focus on the mental preparation. I believe that for most athletes the mental game is even more important than the physical part of the game. What separates the good from the great? It is the definitely the mental game that makes the difference when two athletes are similar in skill.
As a young swimmer, I learned some valuable lessons about mental preparation. When I first began my career as a young swimmer, I would often psyche myself out before a race. The results were never good. In fact, I can look back now and say that I lost many races before the competition even started.
Fortunately, I had very supportive parents who just loved watching their kids participate in sports. Sure they wanted us to do well (sometimes more than we did) but they were always there supporting us. I will never forget one swimming race when I was 8 years old. It was a 50 yard backstroke in my home town of Santa Barbara. I slipped on the wall on the start and then I hit my head at the turn. Because tears were filling my eyes I became tangled in the lane line and fell farther and father behind. I finished second from the last and I was embarrassed when it was over. I had failed miserably. I wanted to hide my face but as I headed for my towel my Dad intercepted me and just gave me a great big hug. He looked me in the eye and said “Terry, we love you – you did your best and that’s really all that matters”. I felt a sense of calmness pour over me. I wanted to win so badly but as the days passed after that meet, I came to realize that I will never win every race or game that I am in and secondly, that the most important part of competition is showing up and giving it your best effort. This philosophy has shaped my career as an athlete and now as a coach.
It has also created a reality in my mind that says – when I know in my heart that I have done my best, I can be happy. This is the message that I also wish to pass onto my athletes. With this philosophy in mind “mental preparation” becomes easier. The variables are controlled. You don’t have to worry about the officials or the opponents. You really only have to worry about getting yourself prepared and showing up and doing your best. Yes, you will have off days and no, you will not win every race or every game. But prepare yourself to show up and give it your best effort. Then, you can walk away knowing that win or lose, you gave your best effort.
Another area that I feel helps tremendously with mental preparation is self discipline. When an athlete has good self discipline they are usually able to stay focused and prepare physically and mentally for the competition. Self discipline gives you confidence and it helps to build your belief system. Without self discipline you will find that you can not fool yourself or cheat yourself. What do I mean by this? If I don’t have the self discipline to do what I need to do, when I need to do it to prepare for my competition then there is no way that I will be able to convince myself (fool my mind) that I am 100% ready to give my best. In this case, I will fail before the competition even begins. In this regard having self discipline is one of the first elements that an athlete needs to possess for good mental preparation.
The next big step is building a positive belief system. You can not do well unless you believe in yourself and your team mates. So how do you find this strong belief? I think that the best way develop a strong belief system is to celebrate the small successes that you or your team experience. This was one of the greatest things to witness with our 2008 Olympic team. This was a team that had not experienced great success over the past decade and yet as we went into the Olympic year, with each small success they gained more and more confidence. At first we had to look for successes but we kept building on the small things, even things that we saw in practice. In May of 2008, we experienced a breakthrough and beat Croatia in an official game. Since they were the reigning world champions this was a bid success. Our confidence and belief grew from there and as you know we did pretty well in Beijing. It was fun to be a part of that journey and much of the success had to do with building a positive belief system step by step.
As a young swimmer, I began to have some small successes and as my confidence grew I got to the point where I would stand up on the starting blocks and look to my left and to my right at the other swimmers in the race and just say to myself “I can beat these guys”. This is what happens when you begin to believe – your self talk changes from negative to positive. You begin to lose doubt and your mind begins to stay focused on the good things. Who usually wins the battle in your head? Do you hear that chatter that goes on? If you allow the negative self talk to beat you then once again you are defeated before you even begin the race. Focus on what you say to yourself. Focus on the successes that you have experienced. Keep it positive. That positive self talk goes a long ways to helping you be successful. This is a part of believing in yourself.
One other widely used technique for getting yourself ready mentally is to do mental imagery. Find a quiet place to do this. I have a strong opinion, that one of the biggest problems we face today is the lack of quiet time. I challenge you to find time to read, relax, meditate or pray without the noise of the world. This is a time to focus on you and get in touch with what your body needs. When you are used to finding the quiet time you will be more successful in utilizing mental imaging. You may find it easier to do at the beach or in a park away from the noise of life. When you begin these exercises it is important that you can see yourself being successful. Go through your race or the game and see yourself (even feel yourself) doing good things. I believe that you have to be able to see this before you can actually do it. I have used mental imagery for years and find it helpful in sport as well as other areas of my life. Positive mental imagery is a great tool for preparing for a competition.
Finally, since water polo is a team game. You have to learn to relay on your team mates. It is amazing when a team mate cares about your success as much as their own. It is powerful when you know this and learn to rely on it even before the competition begins. In this way being a part of a team can help you mentally prepare for the competition. When you know that you have an entire team behind you it makes you feel stronger. I enjoy this part about a team and I have learned to trust my team mates over the years. I know that they will be there for me – primarily because I will be there for each of them.
There is no doubt in my mind that we as athletes and coaches need to focus on the mental aspect of the game as much as we focus on the physical side. This is another fundamental for success.
A Lesson from Coach John Wooden
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
A few years ago I had the honor and privilege to sit and talk with Coach Wooden one on one. I was actually scared to death as I approached his apartment in the San Fernando Valley and knocked on his door. I just felt somehow inadequate at that moment. Here I was knocking on the door of perhaps the greatest coach that ever lived. What an opportunity! I was determined to learn as much as I could from this great man. Coach Wooden sat with me for about two hours and it was amazing. I learned so much that day. I left feeling like I had just spent time with an angel. This was a man that had accomplished so much in his life and yet he was so humble. He spoke softly and although he was over 90 years old he answered many of my questions with poems that he had memorized. It was a great experience. As I sit and reflect o the lessons that I learned from Coach Wooden, as a coach there is one that stands above the rest.
The lesson that sticks with me more that any other – primarily because it was something that I needed to change – was that before you can be a successful coach you must create a positive learning environment. So how did Coach Wooden go about creating this positive learning environment? He implemented one simple strategy. He used 4-5 positive praises for every one criticism. Wow! This sounds so simple and yet as I tried to implement it in my workouts I found out just how difficult it really is.
As a coach I have always thought that the way you teach is to point out what one of your athletes is doing wrong and then show them or tell them how to correct it. This seemed to work pretty well for some of my athletes at least some of the time. Over and over again, I found myself correcting and criticizing my athletes. Stepping back from the pool deck and analyzing my methodology I realized that there were many flaws. I have learned over the past couple of years that this method of coaching does not really create a positive learning environment.
I have learned above all else that kids need to know that you love them and care about them. Praise helps them realize this faster than anything else. If you tell them what they are doing right over and over again then once in a while you tell them to what they are doing wrong they tend to listen better. And learn better.
Use praise… this creates a learning environment. There is a time to correct and teach but they will not be as receptive to learn if you have not created a positive learning environment.
To be honest with you I still struggle with this ratio of 4-5 praises to every correction. It seems impossible at times. I challenge each coach reading this to reflect on this idea. What is your ratio of praise to correction? Can you do better? I believe that if you create this learning environment your team will begin to flourish and become more successful. In my opinion, this is even more important than the x’s and o’s. What I have found is that if the athletes are not receptive to learn you will not be very successful as a coach.
Coach = Mentor = Influencer = Leader
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
This month I have chosen to write about coaching and leadership. Obviously, this article will be geared more towards coaches. However, perhaps we can all learn a bit from this article. To be honest with you, I have been researching this topic and trying to learn as much as I can, because I desire to be the best coach and leader I possibly can be as we prepare for the Olympic Games next summer. So the question I begin with is (this is what I asked myself), why am I coaching? What is the underlying reason that I do what I do? My best answer is that it is because I want to help my players – it is not about me The main reason that I am coaching is to help my players become the best water polo team they can become. Also, it is to help them grow and learn individually to be better human beings. No doubt, coaching fulfills me too. I get great joy in seeing my team improve and come together as a unit. I love to teach and I love the relationships that have come about as a result of my coaching. The second question, which is equally important and eye opening for many is this. Am I will to experience great success and not get any credit for it? We are preparing to win the gold next summer. Am I willing to go through this journey and not expect any credit for my team’s success? At my core, I can say yes I am. It is not about me. It is about my team and yes I want to share in this journey, however I want my players to get the credit for what they achieve. To me a coach is a mentor, an influencer and a leader. I want to be all those things to my players.
In this article, I will attempt to summarize some of the key elements that I feel will make a coach a good leader and a good mentor. By nature a mentor is a positive influencer. As you go through this exercise, it is important for each of you to realize that what we do – goes so far beyond the game of water polo. We have the opportunity to teach life lessons to our athletes and influence and prepare each and every athlete that we come in contact with to become better human beings. This is a huge responsibility and one that I take very seriously.
Here are some of the keys that I feel like I need to focus on, in order to become the leader and coach that I want to become. I hope that this list inspires you and challenges you to become a better leader and coach too.
1. Be others oriented – this is the first key for being a mentor leader. If you are self centered and your ego is in the way it will be difficult for you to grow as a leader. Be focused on the team and what you can do to help them. Move from a position of authority to a position of service. Albert Schweitzer once said “The only ones among you that will achieve true happiness are those that have sought and found how to serve”. In my opinion, the greatest coaches are those that serve their teams.
2. Think of your team as a Flock (you are the Shepherd) – this may be a stretch for many but it is a healthy way to look at your team. There is a great difference between a hired hand and a shepherd. Here is the difference. When a wolf comes to attack the flock the hired hand will run off to protect himself and leave the sheep to fend for themselves. On the other hand, the shepherd will stay and fight for his flock. He will do whatever he/she needs to be to protect and care for his/her flock. When bad things come up with your players what do you do? Are you willing to take the time and energy to be there for them and help them through a trying time or a great challenge in your their life? Or do you run away and leave them to fend for themselves? Obviously, there is a great difference in leadership. Be the shepherd. Your players will love and respect you for being this type of leader.
3. Create a Compelling Vision – every successful team needs to have a vision that each athlete can buy into to. The vision needs to be larger than any one individual and needs to be something that everyone can get behind. This gives the team direction and purpose. In 2008, the vision that I created was let’s get back to the podium. It seemed like a long shot at first but it stuck. One by one each player totally bought in. It stretched us out of our comfort zone which all good visions will do. They make us strive for a high goal – one that is difficult to reach. We all like to be challenged and a good vision will do this. As the players are working hard a strong vision will keep them focused on the goal. The vision that I see for 2012 and our team is to climb our Mt. Everest. Mt. Everest obviously paints of picture of a lofty goal. The meaning of course, it to win the gold in London. A lofty goal for sure but one that each of us knows is worthwhile to go after.
4. Build TRUST – if there is one thing that can change everything on a team, it is trust. This matters more than anything else. In my opinion, in order to build trust you have to first show that you have trust in your team. Let your players know that you trust them by giving them a role and then expecting them to do that. Give them work to do at home and trust that they will do it. If you want to build trust, then be trustworthy. There are two main ingredients to building trust on your team. First is character. It is an interesting fact, but in a crisis, people will follow those with the greatest character not necessarily the person in charge. Character is the foundation on which all leadership is built. Character is really the sum of your values as a human being. It is about integrity and consistency. The second element for building trust is competence. How well do you know the game? Do you know what you are doing as a coach? Are you constantly trying to make yourself better by reading books, seminars and talking with other coaches? Look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. Are you trustworthy? Do you exhibit good character and competence?
5. Be an Encourager – praise your team – don’t just correct. I am a big fan of John Wooden who tried to always stay positive with his players. He tried to give each player 4-5 positives (praises) for each criticism that he doled out. We all have the tendency to correct and look for what our players are doing wrong. In reality most people learn better when they are praised for what they are doing well. Then on occasion, you tell them what they can do to improve and they will be much more receptive to it. At a recent conference that I attended with the USOC, Pia Sudhage, the current USA Women’s Soccer coach, talked about a 7 – 1 ratio (praise to critique). I challenge you to try this is your practices. It is very difficult because I think that most of us are so used to criticizing or critiquing. It takes awhile to change old habits but as you change, my guess is that your team will change too. Everyone wants to know that what they are doing matters and that they are appreciated. This one change on your part could make a huge positive difference in the way that your athletes respond to you.
6. Teach, Help and Guide – Of course, you are the coach and your job is to teach your athletes the details of the game. My strategy is to build from the foundation. Teach the fundamentals. Make sure your team does the simple things well. In our game, it all begins and ends with legs. Spend time making sure that your athletes have good leg strength and that they are using their legs correctly. Passing drills that emphasize good body position and strong legs are great. Obviously, teaching any skill required for your athletes to get improve will fall under this category. Challenge yourself to teach your athletes something new everyday. Whenever possible relate a part of the game or something that happened in practice to a life lesson. Sport is a great place to learn valuable lessons for all. This is the greatest thing you can teach your athletes.
7. Engage with your team – You must care for your players and be willing to get into the trenches with your team. Most of the great war generals were willing to be on the front line with their soldiers. They were willing to risk their own lives to fight for the cause. This proved not only that the cause was worthwhile but that the leader would not ask them to do anything that he/she was not willing to do himself or herself. Obviously, this is a bit extreme but it is a good example of engaging. Don’t be afraid to show your players that you are willing to work hard too. Build good relationships with your players. Leadership is about relationships. In my book, when you have strong relationships with your players they are willing to fight hard for you. Your willingness to get into the trenches with your team will pay great dividends.
8. Be approachable and available – Once again this is about building relationships with your players. Often times it is the coach that must reach out and open the lines of communication. Go to your players and ask them how they are doing. Not just in the pool but ask them about their families. Get to know your players. Make time for your team. Relationship building takes time. You can not do it overnight. It takes a consistent commitment to be there. Certainly it is tough to stay approachable and available under tough circumstances – like making cuts or announcing travel teams. Believe me this is my least favorite thing to do as a coach. However, I have learned that the best way to do this is to communicate openly and honestly eye to eye. Don’t run away and hide during the tough times. Your team is always watching you and they will notice how you react in the most trying of times.
9. Add value to the lives of others – As a coach, you are provided the privilege to work with and influence young kids everyday. What message do you want them to take with them when they are done with your program? I will tell you this – I have had many great coaches in my career. Some were better than others at strategy and teaching of the game but the ones that I remember the most are the ones that took the time to care about me and try to make a difference in my life. I will mention one coach in particular that help to steer me the right direction. His name was Mike Irwin and he was my high school coach. He not only helped me to fall in love with the game of water polo but he also made it clear to me that he was there for me. He helped me to believe that if I worked really hard I actually could make my Olympic dream come true. Whether you are the head coach or assistant coach – you have an opportunity to interact and influence kids in a positive way. What can you do to add value to the lives of the kids you coach? If you pay attention, you will see many opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of the people that you coach.
10. Make sure that your actions always match your words – this is all about leading by example. No matter how good of a communicator you are, if your actions don’t match your words, you are going to have problems with your team. It is very important that you stay honest with yourself and your team. When you say you are going to do something, then do it. This may be as simple as setting workout times. Stick to the times. Get out when you are suppose to get out. It begins with simple things but it is during a crisis that your team will notice the most if you stick to your word. When you are able to match your actions to your words you gain tremendous respect.
11. Utilize the golden rule – “Do unto others as you would like them to do onto you”. This simple law is present in almost every religion and walk of life in the world. It is one of the biggest consistent lessons that my father emphasized in my life. I use it for a guideline at home with my wife and kids as well as in my chiropractic office. I have tried to use it with every team that I have every coached. It really is all about being able to put yourself in your player’s shoes. Everyone wants to be respected and treated well. Coach with this rule in mind.
12. Always look to grow – learning is a life long process – Make yourself better first. Being a leader is often lonely. What does this mean? It means that when you are in charge you are ultimately responsible for everything that goes on with your team. Keep yourself sharp and learn something everyday. I have made a habit of journaling and I feel that this has been a great way for me to learn. We often times forget wheat we heard or what we have read, but if you write it down you will have a better chance at remembering it. Also, go to seminars and learn from other coaches and other people. Be open to something new. Don’t get stale and stubborn. Once again, don’t let your ego get in the way.
As I said in the beginning of this article, these notes are as much for me as anyone. These were good reminders for me and I hope that they inspire you to become a better coach and leader. I hope you enjoyed this month article. As always, please feel free to send me an email with feedback or questions. I would love to hear your thoughts. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
The Heart of the Matter
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
I have played, coached or watched competitive sports for most of my life. I am still intrigued by winning – and what really makes the difference between winning and losing. It is quite clear to me that most of the time this difference is very small and often immeasurable. This month, I will examine what it is that makes that difference. Certainly, to win your team needs talent. This can be a factor – If your athletes are unskilled compared to your competition than you will probably lose but this is not always the case. In my opinion, in the younger years (high school and club sports) there may be a bigger discrepancy between the skill level of the athletes when you compare one team to another. However, as you move up to higher levels of competition the skill level equals out. This may be due to a natural process of some (more unskilled dropping out or not making a team) while the better athletes in every sport tend to stay with it and continue to compete at higher levels. As athletes get more and more good coaching and training and perhaps just being involved in a sport for a longer period of time they naturally improve. In the bookOutliers, ten thousand hours is said to be a level in which in takes to truly master a sport or anything else for that matter. As the talent level balances out – what are the factors that might be involved in winning or for that matter losing? In a previous article, I have written about the intangibles that make a difference – trust, respect, belief and love. When athletes have these intangibles the team is much more likely to succeed. There is no doubt about this. However, I am not convinced that this is all that plays a role in determining what side of that fine line a team finishing on.
Lately, I have been watching a fair amount of club volleyball. My eldest daughter plays on a high level club team. It has amazed me to watch her team, which is loaded with highly skilled athletes. This is a team that seems to find a way to play to the level of their opponent and often lose a game or a match that they should win. There is no way that they should be losing some of the games that they have lost. Their talent and skills are far superior in some cases. They have an excellent coach who continues to teach and encourage them. They like each other and seem to have respect, love and trust for each other. However, they continue to lose? Something is missing. Watching this has really make me think about and search for a common denominator. What other factor may be involved that leads to a team winning or losing consistently?
Over the twenty years that I coached at Pepperdine, I have had some amazingly skilled teams that performed OK, while other teams that did not have as much talent did much better than I ever thought they could. In 1997, we had the perhaps a “perfect storm” so to speak. We had very talented group of players that included present national team goalie Merrill Moses, and past national team players Jack Kocur, Alan Hermann and Jeremy Pope. We also had a supporting cast of players that had good skills but more importantly had a competitive heart. One such player on that team, Brian McAllister seemed to be the leader in “heart” area. When his name was announced prior to games, he would simply put his fist to his heart and gently pound it one or two times. He would also make this gesture to a team mate at opportune times when something good had occurred. This was not necessarily after a goal was scored but more importantly after a good play was made on defense or after someone had made a good pass to set up a team mate. He was sending a consistent message to his team mates that seemed to be saying “remember where we are playing from – the heart”.
Looking back at this team they really did have an amazing heart. What does this mean? Once again, perhaps “heart” is one of those intangibles that is hard to measure. However, we as humans can not survive without our hearts. When 0ur heart stops to beat – we will die. The “heart” is the center of everything. It clearly makes a huge difference in competition. Each and every moment or game can be looked at like a test. How badly do we want to pass the test or win? In my opinion, if we can look at competition this way and be able to push ourselves to be the best we can be – we have passed the test for the moment and we will often win the game – especially if the others on the team share in this “heart” or desire to pass the test in front of us. This Pepperdine team in 1997 found a way to survive to win in games when it seemed like we would surely lose. They never ever gave up. We won 4 games that year on last second shots. Even in the NCAA finals against USC, we lost a good lead in the game and lost all of our momentum but came back in overtime to score a big 6 on 5 goal to win the championships. The team had something special. They certainly had talent and they had respect, trust and love for each other. They also believed in each other. But above all else, they had “heart”. They were mentally tough and they made a conscious collective choice that they were going to win – they were going to pass the test no matter what it took. They found a way to win. That team lost three games that year – but with each loss they actually grew stronger and more hungry to win the next. Essentially, their heart became stronger when they lost.
Having “heart” is more than being mentally tough. At the core – it is a deep desire to show up each and every game and do the best that you can do. But this “heart” that I am talking about it even transcends this. As individuals we are limited to how far we can go on our own. No doubt, any team is better off if you have individuals with a strong competitive heart. However it is when you have an entire team with heart that unbelievable and extraordinary things happen. We can only do some much by ourselves but when we as a team collectively have “heart” it is extremely powerful.
For those with “heart” each game is a reflection of life in a way. There is a deep desire to not only be your individual best but to be the best that there is. I would say that these three factors make up the competitive heart. (1) There is an ability to fight through adversity which will surely come. Life is full of hurdles just as every game presents challenges. What happens when these challenges occur. When you are down three goals in the final period or when one of your best players is injured? Do you or your team “cave in” and give up or do you find another gear and rise to the occasion? Adversity is really just an opportunity to grow. (2) There is an ability to stay focused on the moment. Staying in the moment is huge. Whether your team is winning or losing the game does not matter. What matters is the next play. Do you have the ability to stay in the moment no matter how big the distractions might be? The great ones do. Once again, when collectively the team shares in this ability amazing things can happen. It may only take one of two players who can’t stay in the moment to bring the entire team down. What has happened already is in the past and does not really matter. The next play or the next question will determine if you are going to pass the test and win. (3) There is an ability to find a way to win. The competitive heart always has hope! Even when things really bad that hope and that belief seem to rise to the top and bring out the best in an individual or a team. There is no room for hopelessness. At the core of the matter is finding a way to pass the test that is presented in front of you. LIfe presents challenges as do games and when we can look at those challenges as opportunities to improve and grow we will more than likely grasp the moment and find a way to win. It is interesting to me that winning and losing can come down to a choice. Deep within our minds we can make that choice and this will determine how important the game or the test is? If it really does not matter than we will usually lose. However, when we make the choice to give it all we have and push ourselves and our team mates , things usually work out pretty nicely. When I have spoken to a few of the girls on my daughters volleyball team I have been told that we were tired or that it really did not matter that much. What really matters than? If you are going to play on a team why not give it your all and push yourself and your team mates to the limits. Losing is but a symptom of the greater failure which is not caring enough to give it your all. It is much more fun to enjoy the competition and see how far you can go in the game or in life.
In my opinion, there is a choice we make every time we jump in the pool, or onto a volleyball court or whatever sport it is that you play. That choice is really whether you are going to do your best – not only for yourself but for the good of the team. Are you going to help your team find a way to win when everything says that you should lose. Are you going to help your team stay focused and stay in the moment or are you going to cave in and be content with losing.
Here is what I know from my years in sport. I want to find people that have this so called “heart” to be around. To work with and to live with. I believe that we were put on this earth to do our best – to work hard and to use the skills that God gave us to perform and to “make music” whether it is in sport of something else.
I am blessed to be a part of a team now that has this “competitive heart”. Our 2012 Olympic team is a special group that has been together for many years. We have grown together and fought together. We have not won all of our games. In fact, we lost the Olympic final (Beijing 2008), however, we have learned and grown and we are understanding more and more that there is nothing we can not do if we stick together and play with heart. There are many players on this team with unbelievable heart and this is why I like our chances as we head into the London Olympic Games next month. Our test – our moment is rapidly approaching. Keep on eye on this team – they have something special. I believe that our “heart” will make the difference as we go for the gold.
The Art of Goal Setting
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
As we begin the new year it is a great time to reflect back over this past year and evaluate what we did well and what we can do better. This is a great exercise and it is smart to take some time and be honest with yourself. I try to do this every year. The information we gather can help to formulate a vision for what we want to accomplish in the years to come. Vision give us direction and purpose and without it we are lost. In fact, one of the most commonly quoted Bible verses is from Proverbs and it reads “Where there is no vision, the people will perish”. There is no doubt we need vision to help us grow and move forward in our lives. Without vision we will certainly flounder because we don’t really have a good idea of where we are going. Vision ultimately forms the basis for all of our goals. As I work on my vision and goals for the year, I thought it would be a great time to write about the art of setting goals and creating a vision.
I am quite certain that being skilled at creating a vision and setting goals has helped me in all areas of my life. As a young kid, I dreamed of being in the Olympic Games. This became my vision and my dream. Through the years, I kept this vision alive by setting goals to reach it. I must say that when I started I never thought that my Olympic dream would still be alive today. However, I am have never experienced anything else in life that is so amazing and challenging. The Olympic Games are also a great test of self. They continually challenge me to be the best I can. Over time, I have continued to try to refine this all important skill and even to this day I still spend a good amount of time on my goals.
Here are some of the things that I have learned to be important in this process of setting goals and reaching them.
Create a vision that is exciting and difficult to reach. It is better to reach for the stars and fall a little short then to set your goals too low and not feel challenged or excited about what your are trying to achieve. If your friends and family don’t say “wow” when you tell them what your goal is than it might be too low. As I have mentioned earlier in an article. My vision and our team vision in to climb Mount Everest this year. It is not enough for us to just make the Olympic Games (we have already done that by winning Pan Ams). We have set our goal high – we want to come home with the gold medal – that is our Mt. Everest. It is a huge challenge but it is also very exciting and a goal that everyone can surely get behind.
Write your goals down and keep them in a place where you can read them regularly. Each January, I sit down and write my goals out for the next year. I also write out my goals for the next 5 years, 10 years and 20 years. By doing this I create a life plan if you will. My one year goal needs to be in alignment with my 20 year goal. This helps me to stay on track and realize my goals are really all connected. For example, by climbing Mount Everest and winning the gold medal – I will be in a better position to become a sought after motivational speaker which is one of my 5 year goals. As you write down your goals try to be as specific as possible. Put a time line on each goal. I want to do what by when… It is also a good idea to tell your closest friends and family about your goals. Writing down your goals and telling your friends helps to keep you accountable to these goals. It also makes the goals more real.
Don’t listen to the naysayers. Most people don’t understand your vision. Throughout my career so many people have tried to tell me I could not do it. Some would say “making it to the Olympic Games is too difficult or do you know how few people ever make that dream come true”. I never once listened to them. In fact, hearing others tell me I could not do it just motivated me that much more to make it happen. I was very fortunate to have three very important people in my life, my dad and my high school coach and my college coach tell me over and over again that “I could accomplish anything that I put my mind to”. That is what I chose to believe. I tried to constantly play that message in my head. This positive affirmation became one of my biggest tools. To this day, I fully believe that I can do anything I put my mind to. By keeping this positive message in my head, I was able to keep doubt out of the picture. Fear and doubt are enemies of success. Don’t listen to them. Find the positive people in your life. The ones that believe in you and want to support your dream and hang out with them. Find some positive words and affirmations that you believe to be 100% true about yourself and write them them and play those words over and over in your own mind.
Once your vision and goals are set than you need to develop action steps to reach those goals. For example – if you set a goal to make the Junior National Team or maybe to become a stater on your high school team. What are the steps that you have to take to make this goal come to fruition? What is it going to take for you to reach this goal? Let’s first examine what you feel you have to do to reach this goal. What parts of your game do you need to improve on? Swimming speed? Strength or shooting? Now, what are you willing to do to make this goal a reality? Every worthwhile goal takes time and energy and usually a sacrifice of kind. Are you willing to sacrifice some lazy time to spend a little more time making your goal come to be?
Here is an example of some of the action steps that you might consider to make this type of goal a reality. Work with a swimming coach to improve your swim stroke and spend and extra 2 hours a weeks in a swimming practice. Get on a new weight program that helps you improve your strength. Go to the gym 3-4 times per week whether your team is doing this or not. Spend 20 – 30 minutes every day after practice working on your shot. Make these action steps as specific as possible. I would also write them down and hold yourself accountable to them. Remember forming good habits is huge to being successful in whatever you do. Self discipline is a big key. There will be distractions and things that come up that might seem fun at the moment but when you want something bad enough you will stay on course and spend the necessary time to improve.
Keep track of your progress. It is a good idea to re asses and tweak your goals every 4-6 weeks (at least the short term ones). Look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. Are you really doing what it takes to make this goal come true. Is there more information that needs to be considered to change an action step or spend more time refining a skill. This is also a good time to celebrate the small successes that you have had on the journey towards the bigger goal. Make sure that you stay positive with yourself when deserved. Having some fun is important to staying on track too. So when you reward yourself by celebrating successes along the way your heart and brain stay more centered on reaching the goal. The reward might be buying yourself something that you have wanted for awhile or taking a Saturday morning off to spend some time with friends. The important part here is that you are honest with yourself and that the rewards are equal to the success. The bigger the accomplishment the bigger the reward.
Don’t get discouraged if the path to your goal is not straight and easy. No one said it was going to be easy. The more challenging the goal the more likely is that people get discouraged and quit before they make it happen. There are thousands of great stories about people who lost their way when they were so close to making it all happen. Failures are a huge part of success. Stay the course. Learn from your mistakes and reassess but stay positive with yourself.
It is always good to have a team mate, mentor, coach or friend that you can speak honestly and openly with. Someone from the outside can also help give you a different perspective and often times see change or results that you may not notice yourself. I like to consult or visit with a few friends that help to keep me on track at least once every two to three weeks. I often times remind them that I don’t want them to just tell me what I want to hear. I want them to be positive but honest with me. Am I doing what I need to do? Where am I doing good? Where do I need to do better? This is an important component of reaching your goals so choose these mentors wisely. It should be someone that you know well and someone that totally supports your goal.
Life is all about growing, learning and continually getting better. Obviously, setting goals and creating a vision are not just for water polo but can be used in all aspects to shape your life and help you find success in whatever it is that you love to do.
I encourage you to create a meaningful vision in your life and then set goals to make it happen. Your vision can be centered around family, work and sport. If you are married then hopefully you will work together with your spouse and perhaps even family to create a shared vision that you all feel passionate and excited about. One of the goals that my wife and I talk about is creating more quality time as a family each month. We have talked about trying to spend the majority of one weekend each month together as a family. This excites me too. I love my family and want to work to make this happen. It will obviously be a huge challenge as we go into this next 7 months with the Olympic Games coming in July. While it is a challenge it is also a high priority and I will work hard to find the balance between my work and home life.
Since our sport is a team game it is also important to think about how your goals align with the team goals. Usually, if you are trying to become better as an individual you will be helping the team at the same time. However, make sure that you do think about the team and how your goals will impact it. Ultimately, for our Men’s Olympic Team the vision and goals of the team – winning that gold medal in London – will be a driving force that needs to coincide and align with all of our other individual goals.
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
Lessons from Dad
This past week we all celebrated our great country’s 236th birthday. The team took a day off and spent time with family and friends. Training has been good but long. I’ll give you a quick idea of what our days look like – Monday we arrived for training at 7:45 am. After 2 hours in the gym for weights, the guys had a light snack and then went for two more hours in the water. After refueling, resting and in many cases getting needed therapy they came back at 6 pm for a sport psyche meeting and then spent another 3 hours in the water before we had a team meal on the pool deck. Our 8 + hour day on Monday was followed by another 3 hour and 45 minute practice on Tuesday. Needless to say, we are grinding away and trying the best we can to get everything done before we leave for London on July 16th.
The 4th of July is always a very nostalgic day for me. It was a good family day filled with patriotic memories. Here are a few of my favorite “American” moments. First of all it is hard to beat Opening Ceremonies at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. It was an incredible feeling to march into the L.A. Coliseum with over 100,000 spectators all cheering and chanting USA USA USA. I felt like I was floating off the ground as we walked around the track that day. I was so proud to be representing our great country. Another moment of great national pride for me has been the numerous occasions that the national anthem has been played for me as an athlete or a coach. I have experienced this at the World Cup, Pan Am Games and a few other international tournaments. However, my dream and this team’s dream is to stand atop the podium in London, with hand over hearts and hear our glorious anthem played for us. Finally, one of my favorite patriotic memories occurred during the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain in 1992. As our team was being introduced for one of our first games, I looked up into the stands and found my mom and dad. Dad was not hard to spot. He was wearing a USA flag shirt (with cut off sleeves) and a star spangled head band. He was so proud of his look that he wore this outfit to every game in Barcelona and eventually added a big American flag that he would wave proudly whenever our team did something well. It was awesome and this picture of my dad is still one of my greatest memories of a man that was an amazing inspiration to me.
Today, in honor of my father, I would like to share a couple of the most important lessons that I learned from my dad. These are lessons that have shaped my life.
Lesson # 1 – Do your best. As a talented young age group swimmer, I had my share of wins and loses. Even when I had suffered a miserable loss, Dad would be there to give me a hug and remind me “you did your best”. This was a powerful message that resonated deep within me. I learned that it was OK to lose as long as I had done my best. No one is going to win every time, we lose once in a while and often times we learn more from losing than we do from winning. The bottom line is that we are to use the gifts that God gave us and in all areas of our lives we should do the best that we possibly can. John Wooden shared this wisdom. He has been quoted as saying “A man can be no happier than when he knows he has done his best.” Even though “doing my best” was often translated in my mind to wanting to “be the best”, Dad would often remind me not to compare myself with others but to simply go out and become the best that I possibly can be.
Lesson # 2 – Dare to succeed. This concept goes hand in hand with lesson # 1. Dad would always inspire me to dream big dreams and reach for the stars. In fact, my Olympic dream began when I was 9 years old. I was watching the 1968 Olympic Games on television with my dad. I remember asking my Dad, “Do you think I could be in the Olympics one day?” He just looked me in the eyes and said “you can do anything you put your mind too.” Dad reminded me to stay focused on my dream and never get sidetracked by set backs (loses and failures) along the way. One of my favorite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech that he gave in 1910. In this speech, he says “the credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena…who spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Basically, get in the arena or pool and go for it!
Lesson # 3 – Be grateful. This was big for my Dad. He taught us to be thankful for all we had. Dad would have us make a list of all the “things” we were thankful for. This has become a habit for me. It is amazing how much better your day goes when you wake up and your first thoughts are positive thoughts about all that you are thankful for. Too often we think about what we lack instead of what we have. Try making a list of what you are thankful for and look at that list on a daily basis. Say thank you more often. It will change your life. As I reflect, I am incredibly thankful for my family and the relationship I have with my wife and children. I am thankful for the friends I have. I am thankful for the freedoms that I have in this country and the men and women that fought for those freedoms. I am thankful for the opportunity I have with this team over the next month or so. And of course, I am thankful for my dad and the valuable lessons he left me with. That’s the short list…
We are down to our final week at home. Twenty days to go until Opening Ceremonies…
See you at the pool.
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
What To Do When Things Go Wrong
Life does not always go the way that you plan or dream it will. Water polo is a good reflection of this statement. Losing hurts but it is a part of life and how we deal with it is a choice and can often define who we are.
As you know, the Olympic Games did not go very well for the Men’s team. After starting well with wins against Montenegro, Romania and Great Britain, we lost to Serbia and then Hungary in the preliminary round. Somehow, this took the wind out of us and we lost our confidence. In the quarter-final game against Croatia we lost 8 – 2 after going 1 – 16 on our 6 on 5. I am not sure that I have ever been on a team that struggled so badly on the 6 on 5. It was a disaster. With our dreams of winning a gold medal or any medal for that matter crushed, we seemed to be “dead in the water” so to speak. We finished the Games with consecutive loses to Spain and Australia to finish a disappointing 8th place.
Needless to say, it has been a very difficult time for me and each of the members of that team. We had such high hopes and expectations and our dream did not come true.
How do we deal with the lose? Where do we go from here? Everyone is a bit different in how they react and move forward. I can only share with you my process. As the head coach, I take a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders. There have been many nights of tossing and turning in bed searching deep in my subconscious for the answers. The truth is that it is extremely difficult for any team to succeed. Every little piece of the team must be working together – each coach and player playing his/her role to the best of his/her ability. Even when all this is in place, the team still may not win. We experienced the success in 2008 and this time around for whatever reason it just was not clicking. As I have reflected on the Games, it seems to be that there were a lot of little things that went wrong. The Olympic Games is the most amazing sporting event in the world because you have to be at your best for a two week window every four years. It is the greatest challenge in sport. My hat is off to all the gold medalist!
The fact is that no one wins all the time and losing often teaches us a great deal – if we are open to grow and move forward. I am humbled by our loss and I am taking some steps to move forward. Here are the steps that I am working myself through. Hopefully, there is useful information here for everyone. As I said, no one wins all of the time and unfortunately losing is a part of life.
Look in the Mirror
This is where it all starts. This is the one thing that each of us has control over – ourselves – our actions and reactions. In order to take a good look at yourself you need to find a quiet space where you will not be interrupted. Prayer and/or meditation can be very helpful in this process. As I have reflected on this past year I have identified some things that perhaps I would have done differently. Obviously, I can not go backwards and change it but I do believe that this is a healthy exercise for me. As the head coach, I have to take the responsibility upon my shoulders first for our result. I have been told by many great coaches through the years that “when you win the players should get the credit and when you lose the coach needs to take the blame.” I do believe that this is true. Looking in the mirror takes honesty with yourself. I feel that when I am honest with myself I will potentially grow more. I have no doubt that I showed up everyday to practice and gave it may all. However, when things go wrong reflection will reveal what could have made the journey better. I am not trying to beat myself up over this but I am trying to be honest and figure out how I can grow and make the next adventure better. I know that some of the biggest disappointments in my life have created a platform for me to grow into a better person/coach/husband and dad and ultimately that is what life is all about. I have also tried to keep this all in perspective and focus on some of the very positive things associated with me being the head coach of the USA National Team for the past six years. The relationships with the players stands out on the top of this list. We have had so many great experiences together in our travels around the world. I consider all of these players family and I know that I will have a relationship with most all of them for the rest of my life.
- Huddle up
For me the next step is to “huddle up” with those closet to me so that I can get some honest feedback from the outside. The most important part of this process is to get with people that you love and trust the most. These are people that you can be totally honest with and they can be honest with you. You don’t want people who can’t give you honest feedback. In my opinion, it may be good to have one person on the team that was close to you and then a few people that were not part of the team. I feel like I need to get different perspective and if I only relied on feedback from within the team it may not be as “real”. The first person that I went to was my wife. Lori knows me better than anyone else. We have been married for 25 years and we are shooting for another 25. We have hd some good discussions and I have asked her to talk to me from her perspective. I don’t want her to just agree with me. I want to hear what she has to say and tell me honestly what I may have been able to do better. I have learned a great deal from my wife and even though she never played water polo she knows about team work, family and relationships as well as anyone. These discussions have also helped us to grow together. After all she shared in this journey too. I then went to one of my closest friends and asked him to share with me what he saw. In my opinion, this process takes time and numerous conversations. These conversations have helped me to work though the pain. I have cried on Lori’s shoulder. I also was able to let go of some of my frustrations and it has helped me to stay positive to some degree. I do admit there has been some severe disappointment (bordering on depression) associated with losing but also just the normal letdown of the Games being over. After spending six hours a day with the team – we have barely seen each other since. This has been hard too. Anyway, having these conversations with the ones that I love and trust has allowed me to express some of my feelings and sadness and let it go. This is how we grow and continue to move forward.
- Move on
The beauty of life is that we wake up to a new day everyday. There are new opportunities and new adventures to pursue. As John Wooden said, “Make everyday your masterpiece.” I feel strongly that we can not let something bad hold us back. Too many people I know get stuck on something bad that has happened in their life. Once again, no one wins all of the time and this loss while very painful is only sport. I may be in a valley right now but I know that I am looking up to the mountain in front of me. I am not face down and dead. I am alive and wanting to move forward and find my next adventure. I am in the process of forming a game plan for what is next in my life. I am forming a vision of what that looks like. I am surrounding myself with people that believe in me and want to go forward with me. I know that i have been to the top before and if I make my plan and go after it with all of my heart passionately I will climb the mountain again. Success truly is a journey and the experience that I shared with this team was an amazing journey. Even though it did not work out the way that all of us hoped it would it still pretty incredible. This was a special team and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity I had with them. I have found that the higher you reach in life, the bigger that your dreams are – the greater the risk. We risked it all and made a commitment to ourselves and each other and did the best that we could. Things did not work out the way we had envisioned. I feel bad about our result but I would do it all over again. The experience has been an amazing chapter in my life.
My dad once told me that “life is not fair”. Things don’t always work out the way that you want. I have been to the top before and I am going to get back there again. This is a temporary “valley” for me. This is the life we all live. There is a natural ebb and flow.
I am convinced that in the end I will be more defined by how I reacted to the loses in my life then the wins. The loses may actually have a more powerful impact on me. When I am humbled and on my knees, I am ready to grow and become the man that God intended me to be.
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
The Ten Most Valuable Lessons Terry Has Learned from Water Polo
In many ways this has been an amazing year. Lori (my wife) and I celebrated 25 years of marriage in March. My daughter Leanna turned 18! And of course, we had this small thing called the Olympic Games that went down in London in July and August. While the Games did not go the way that we had planned or hoped for it was still an incredible chapter in my life. I feel like I gained 13 sons in this process and I am very proud of each and every one of the guys on that team. It is easy to sit back and look at our result as a failure, however, there is so much more to it than the competition itself. These young men dedicated their lives to each other and to the team. Many are married and a few have kids of their own. Each one of them committed a large part of their life to this Olympic quest. Many of these players have been playing together for the past 15 years. We learned a great deal about each other and we became family – connected to each other for the rest of our lives. I am very proud of each one of these men and I would like to dedicate this month’s article to them. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to coach this team and I have learned a great deal from each one of them.
This month, I would like to write about the ten most valuable lessons that I have learned from water polo. These lessons carry over into every aspect of my life. They truly are life lessons! I am happy to share them with you.
1. Can you see it? First and foremost, you must have a vision as to where you are going in life. I can tell you this for a fact. Each and every one of the Olympians that I have been honored to coach has had a great vision. Making it to the Olympic Games and competing for a gold medal was a driving factor in each of their lives. You absolutely have to have a clear picture of what you want before you are ever going to get it. Purpose does not just come about randomly in life. You don’t get in your car without having some idea of what your destination is. If you are going to succeed in anything you do, you need to have a clear and absolute picture in your mind of your destination (what it is you are going after). If you can not see it you will never achieve it! My dream as an 8 year old boy was to make it to the Olympic Games. This vision guided me in so many decisions I would make. I would constantly ask myself – Is this going to help me make it to the Olympics? If it (no mater what it was) was not going to help me make my dream come true than I would not do it. After you can see it in your own mind than write it out and tell others about it. This will make your dream more real and you will become more accountable to make it happen.
2. Habits: Your best friend or your worst enemy. It all begins here. One of my favorite poems says it all.
The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread.
Every time you repeat the act you strengthen the strand.
You add to it another filament with each repetition,
until it becomes a great cable
and binds you irrevocably to each thought and act.
First you make your habits
and then they make you.
Your thoughts lead you to your purpose.
Your purpose always manifests into action.
Your actions form your habits.
Your habits determine your character,
and your character fixes your destiny.
Your habits are either the best of servants or the worst of masters.
The thing about habits that you have to remember is this. Habits change one “thread” at a time. Change can be very subtle. It takes great self discipline to keep your habits healthy. In the end, your habits will either help you to become a champion in life or will be a huge ball and chain that keeps you from being successful in anything that you do.
3. This moment! One of my favorite athletes of all time is Karch Kiraly. He is perhaps the best volleyball (beach and indoor) player that ever lived. He was once asked – How did you prepare for the Olympic Gold medal? Karch responded, “I never prepared for the gold medal, I prepared only for the next play.” This is what it is all about. Our Olympic water polo sport psychologist, Peter Haberl spent hours and hours with our team, talking to us about present time consciousness – being and staying in the moment. It is critical to success at all levels. There are many distractions in life and it is easy to get caught up in what is going on around you. However, the best of the best in all professions are able to stay in the moment and be present. This simple concept will also help you in every relationship that you are in – whether it is with team mates or with a spouse. You must be there 100% with those that you are with. In our sport the action is fast and furious. It is easy to get caught up in a play that happened in the past. I have often found myself stuck on the last play – how the pass I was thrown could have been better or what a terrible call the official made. That is wasted time and energy. My focus needs to be on the play that is happening right now. The present moment is the only moment that I can really have an impact on. There is time to reflect on the game (good and bad) and learn from it after it is over. During the game I must stay in the moment.
4. Opportunities surround us all. Why is it that some people seem to be so lucky and things seem to fall into their laps while others never seem to be so lucky? I believe that the opportunities are there for us all. Some people go after opportunities (there is not much “luck” involved). They are not afraid to take the risk. They seek out things that will make their life better while others cower because they are afraid of what might happen. The most successful people I know are good at being at the right place at the right time. That is not a coincidence. These successful people have figured out how to go after the opportunities that present themselves. You can look at the game of water polo and look at the parallels in this concept that exist. There are opportunities to win the game all around us. Some players find these opportunities and rise to the occasion while others seem to hide from them. The best players rise to the top based on what they do with the opportunities around them. Be ready to find those opportunities in your life. Go after them with confidence and of course the common sense to know what will truly help you reach your goals and what may just waste your time. Don’t be afraid to take the risk and perhaps to fail while striving valiantly.
5. Winning when you lose… learning and growing. No one wins all the time. One of the biggest keys in life is how you react when you lose. I will be the first to tell you that the Olympic Games this summer challenged me personally. We all put so much into the Olympics and we felt going in that we had a great chance to win a gold medal. When things went south and we lost our last five games, I struggled to find any positives. I felt like I had failed to do my job. I still wake up in the middle of the night with my mind racing and trying to make sense out of what happened. I know this fact though. We will all learn from this. I will be better in some way because of what I learned from our experience. Look at some of the greatest people in our history. Abraham Lincoln failed miserably many times before he became one of the greatest Presidents in our history. Bill Gates was a Harvard drop out. Albert Einstein was told by one teacher “you will never amount to anything”. He also failed his entrance exam to the Swiss Polytechnic Institute. There are millions of examples of people that have lost or failed in one endeavor but have come back to find great success in their lives. We have to learn from losing. This is how we “win” when we lose. Losing is not fun however every set back is an opportunity to get better. This is a part of life.
6. The balancing act… One of the most difficult concepts in life is keeping everything in a healthy balance. Personally, I have struggled with this a great deal. When you have that big dream and you want something bad enough it is easy to get so focused on that goal that it takes over your life. From 1978 to 1992, a period of fourteen years, I was a part of our USA Olympic water polo team. I had the opportunity to be a part of four Olympic Games and win two silvers medals (1984 and 1988). It was a wonderful time in my life but I did not realize how much it consumed me. I was out of balance! I would venture to say that this happens to most Olympians. It takes so much focus and energy to make this dream a reality that you often sacrifice in other areas of your life. After I retired in 1992, I was lost. I felt like I had lost my identity. I struggled to find happiness and peace in my life. It almost cost me my marriage. It took a couple of years and some good people (especially my wife) to sort it out and find some sense of balance. Last year at a US Olympic Committee conference I was able to share my thoughts about this and talk from the perspective of an Olympian and an Olympic coach. In short this is the message that I passed on. What we do as an Olympian is not who we are but only a part of what we do. It is all about keeping it in perspective. In my Chiropractic practice, I have trademarked the saying “Live in Alignment”. Obviously, this works well for the chiropractic profession and keeping healthy spinal alignment but for me these words mean much more. Living in alignment is all about keeping all areas of your life in a healthy balance. While difficult to do it is definitely one of the big keys to success in life.
7. No deposit, No return. You will get out of life what you put into it. In sports we become successful by working hard in practice. How you practice will determine how you play and how successful you become. In life it is all about the day to day grind. Successful people don’t just happen. They work hard day in and day out to constantly make themselves better. Learning and growing with each test whether they pass or fail. I believe that this concept “no deposit, no return” is vital in all areas of life. People often give up too soon because the cost is too great or the task is too difficult. In the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, he describes the idea that it takes over 10,000 hours to master a skill and become “successful”. Are you willing to put in this type of deposit? The return can be great. This is why I am so proud of the guys on our team. I know first hand what they put into this Olympic journey. The deposit was huge… and in my opinion the return (rewards) will show up in many areas of their lives for years to come.
8. The greatest secret – TEAM. Water polo is perhaps the greatest team sport that exists. This is why I love our sport so much. You have to work together to be successful. Weaknesses in the team are exposed quickly and make success difficult. The most important concept about team that I take with me in life is this – If I help someone on my team to get what they want then I will increase my chances of getting what I want. Basically, by helping others to become successful, I become successful in the process. You have to give to get! A successful team does not have a bunch of people that are takers…on the contrary; a successful team is loaded with givers. A team works best when the individuals are willing to sacrifice a part of themselves for the greater good of the team. As Coach John Wooden said, “It is amazing how much can be accomplished, when no one cares who gets the credit.” I know because of my experiences with water polo, I look for opportunities to work as a team. Whether that is with my family (the greatest team we all have) or at work. The greatest and most meaningful successes in life are not what we can accomplish individually but what we can accomplish together with a team.
9. Enjoy the ride. It has been said in many ways but it really is all about the journey. If you are not enjoying what you are doing than you probably should be doing something else. This is where passion comes in. The joy that drives us to want to be the best thrives in the environment when we love what we do. Now you may say – I really don’t enjoy the pain of those killer workouts that my coach makes me do but the reality is we need to appreciate the process and that daily grind that makes you better and find a way to enjoy it. I remember going to Disneyland as a kid. It used to be that the rides were classified into A, B, C, D or E rides. The E ticket rides were the best rides. You had to pay extra for the “E” tickets because those were the rides that everyone wanted. In my opinion, we should strive to make every day an “E” ticket ride. Get the best out of every day and enjoy the ride.
10. The master key is LOVE. When it comes down to it, life is really about the relationships we have. Relationships are what last and give meaning to our lives. All the other successes are pretty temporary. If you don’t understand this than you probably are out of balance or out of alignment (see #6). Love does make the world go around and it will usually fix what is broken or not working in your life or for that matter on your team. Love unlocks all doors. We all need to be loved to flourish and be successful. And once again if you want to be loved, you need to give love! Much of the success that I have experienced in my life I would attribute to the love that I was given by my parents, family, friends, coaches and especially my wife.
Checklist for the Season
US National Men’s Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics
As another summer winds down it is time to begin looking at the fall season. In my opinion, it is a great time to reflect on the past summer (club season) and set some goals for the upcoming season. I thought I would write about this “checklist” this month and help you get ready for what lies ahead.
Fist of all, REFLECT. Don’t rush through this. Take some time to sit and reflect and really be honest with yourself. In a way this is like looking at the scoreboard. Where are you in the game? Find a quiet space and carve out some time to think about and write out all the good things that occurred during the past year of playing. What were your biggest areas of improvement? What did you do well? How did you contribute the most to your team’s success? What do you like most about your game? Then look at the other side as well. What do I still need to improve on the most? What is my biggest weakness? How can I help my team more? If you do not take the time to do this then it is almost impossible to set realistic and meaningful goals. If you are really serious about your game this exercise should fill a page if you are writing it out.
Now it is time to SET SOME NEW GOALS. Once again, it is more powerful if you write your goals out on paper. These goals should include where you want to be at the end of next year and what you want to accomplish during the fall season. Set both the long term and the short term goals and then write down some steps as to how you are going to make this happen. An example might be if one of my goals is to get stronger legs. One of my action steps might be to do an extra 15 minutes of leg work 4-5 times a week. Be specific with your goals. Another example might be, I want to improve on my 6 on 5 shooting from the 3 post especially with passes from the 4 spot. Many players struggle a bit with these angle passes. How do I improve on this? I am gong to take 25 passes from the 4 to 3 after or before practice 4-5 times per week and have my coach evaluate how I am doing. That is a specific goal. Since this is a team sport it also makes sense to include team goals. Remember back to your reflection – how can I help my team more? Many times these goals will coincide perfectly and by getting stronger legs and becoming a better shooter on the 3 post you will indeed help your team. Your goals might be to help your team win league or to win CIF. In order to do this you might have to check in with your coach to have him/her give you some feedback as to what you can do to help your team. Take your ego out of it. Ask and be humble. This is how you will learn and become better. After you have spent some time and written your goals out if you are really serious about this it is time to share them with someone that can help hold you accountable to your goals. This might be a parent or a good friend or someone you know that won’t let you off the hook easy. How bad do you want this? If you want it bad enough then it is very important to have someone else hold you responsible. Research tells us that this is absolutely the best way to achieve any goal.
PREPARE YOUR BODY. Take inventory on your body and how you are feeling. Do you have sore shoulder? A sore knee or hip? This is the time to really take care of yourself and help the body heal. Since you are not grinding away in the water it may be a good time to do some extra weights or band work to try to balance or strengthen any weak or slightly injured areas. If you have had a more serious injury it may be a good time to get it looked at by a doctor. It may also be a good time to get some chiropractic care or some PT to help to stabilize an injured or weakened area. While it is a great time to take a break it is also smart to do some cross training. Keep your cardio up while giving your water polo muscles a bit of a break. Find something that you like to do (be smart – the last thing that you want to do is to get injured) and spend some time doing it. This might be bicycling or rollerblading or playing a little basketball. Always make sure that you wear the proper equipment. For example, a good pair of high tops is highly recommended for basketball. The bottom line is that this is a great time to take a little break, heal from your injuries, and strengthen weak areas while keeping your body fit. The last thing that you want to do is just sit around and watch TV. Remember first impressions. If you show up to the first day of training in great shape you will stick out in your coach’s mind and it will pay off for you when he/she starts to figure out who is starting or playing critical minutes in the games. What any coach wants to see is that his/her athletes have self discipline. By coming into camp in shape you are sending a strong message that you “want it”.
REFRESH AND REFOCUS YOUR MIND. There is no doubt that the biggest factor in your success is your mental toughness. Your mind is either your worst enemy or your best friend. In my opinion, taking a break from playing gives you a chance to refresh and refocus. It is a time to re-energize. We all tire during a long season and one of the biggest factors in this fatigue is wearing down mentally. The “grind” of a long season will certainly take it’s toll on the body but perhaps more importantly the long season begins to wear on us mentally and emotionally. Taking a break can give you this time to rest mentally also. A family vacation or taking some down time (see above body paragraph) gives the mind some down time. This is huge for any athlete and especially in a sport like ours which is one of the most demanding on your body and your time. It is a good time to read a book – maybe something inspirational or in an area that you want to gain some knowledge. I enjoy reading books about athletes and coaches in all sports. Their stories and the lessons that they learned often teach me life lessons that I then don’t have to learn the hard way (making the mistakes myself). If your not a big reader than it may be a good time to watch a few movies that you have wanted to see for a while or watch an old favorite or two that you know that you will find inspirational. The movie “Miracle” is always a good one. Regardless, this is just a good time to settle and quiet the mind and get away from that “survival mode” that we live in too often. The mind is powerful and can be such a great asset when in the “creative” mode. Fill your mind with positive thoughts – be thankful for what you have. Gratitude is always a great place to refresh from.
MAKE THINGS RIGHT. The break is always a good time to make things right in the important relationships in your life. It may be with a parent, a girlfriend/boyfriend or just a friend but make a bit of extra time to heal and grow these important relationships. Once again, when we are caught up and lost in the middle of a season and things are hectic we tend to be focused on our own survival and don’t always spend the time to keep outside relationships strong and healthy. I like to take some extra time in prayer and make sure that my relationship with God is strong and growing and usually this keeps me focused on “Love” which in turn helps every other relationship in my life. Each individual is different and you will know if there is a relationship that needs some extra time. Make the time to do it now. Small acts of kindness and a little extra time spent may help to avoid a crisis during the season. Having healthy relationships will help you perform better!
This is also a good time to visualize what you want your season to look like. Having gone through the above steps you are in a better place to “see” more clearly what the season might look like. Keep your thoughts positive and be passionate about it. Stay in the moment and enjoy the journey.