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Effort, Teamwork, and Leadership

The three main things needed to maximize a team's performance are effort, teamwork and leadership.

Let me start with effort. For a team to play its best, every player needs to give their best effort. In other words, in order for a team to reach peak performance, each player must reach peak performance, and this starts with effort. 
One thing that prevents a team from giving their best effort is social-loafing, which is when athletes give less effort because they think their teammates will pick up the slack. To play your best as a team, you can't let social-loafing happen. You can't rely on your teammates to carry most of the load. Every player must give their absolute best effort in order to maximize the team's performance. Everyone should be motivated to do their part to make this happen.

But it is not enough just to have each player give their best effort. You can't just work hard individually. You also have to work hard TOGETHER! Everyone's effort needs to be p…

Understand Your Opponent's Motivations

It can be helpful to understand your opponent's motivations. Many times, an athlete or a team will be very motivated heading into a game. They may think their level of motivation is enough for them to win the game. However, they may not know that their opponent is even more motivated. If they understand their opponent's motivations, they can know whether they need to dig a little deeper to find more motivation.

The goal is to match or surpass your opponent's level of motivation each game. When you understand your opponent's level of motivation, you can use this knowledge as a yardstick and a goal to help you reach your ultimate goal, which is to give your maximum level of motivation. Here are some examples of how understanding your opponent's motivation can help you.

If you know your opponent wants revenge from last year's loss, you can match or surpass their level of motivation by telling yourself, "I know they want revenge, but we want even more to extend …

Adversity Training

The mentally toughest and most resilient people have had a good amount of adversity in their lives (but not too much). It is their overcoming of adversity that has made them mentally strong. However, most of the time, the adversity that makes people strong is not chosen voluntarily. Nobody desires to get cut from their high school team. Nobody desires to live through poverty. Nobody desires to experience losses and tough times. We appreciate the mental toughness we gain from adversity, but we would rather not have to go through adversity in order to gain mental toughness. Is there a way to gain mental toughness without the costs of real adversity. I believe there is a way. I call it adversity training.

Adversity training is when you purposely place yourself in adverse situations (in a safe, controlled way) in order to train your mental toughness. Many athletes love to be in their comfort zones. They want everything to be perfect. They want their equipment to be perfect. They want the w…

5 Bad Attitudes to Watch Out For

I've written before about the importance of attitudes and how they influence our thoughts, behavior, and outcomes. Today, I want to talk specifically about five attitudes that I believe are bad and lead to negative thoughts, behavior, and outcomes.

1. A fixed mindset and an external locus of control
These attitudes are similar enough, so I'll talk about them together. A fixed mindset is a belief that most of your traits (skills, strength, speed, intelligence) are fixed, meaning you're born with them and can't do anything to improve them. This belief discourages you from improving yourself. It also causes you to always protect your ego, which can make you a bad teammate and deal poorly with competition.
Similarly, an external locus of control is a belief that external forces such as genes, other people, and your environment mainly control your outcomes in life. This attitude, like a fixed mindset, gives yourself little agency to control your life, therefore it decreases co…

Book Review: Raise Your Game by Alan Stein Jr.

Raise Your Game by Alan Stein Jr is structured into three parts. First, Stein teaches about five of the most important traits for athletes, which are self-awareness, passion, discipline, coachability, and confidence. Next, the book goes over five of the most important traits for coaches, which are vision, culture, servant, character, and empowerment. Lastly, Stein shows how athletes and coaches can work together to form high performing teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. According to Stein, the five most important characteristics of teams are belief, unselfishness, role-clarity, communication, and cohesion.

On a macro-level, I really like this book, because it gives you clear guidelines of what makes a high functioning team. By learning what characteristics great teams consist of and how they are formulated, you can take direct action to improve. This book is equally great for players and coaches, and it also can be applied outside of sports.

However, I do have some crit…

Patience vs Urgency

Long term success requires a balance of patience and urgency. You can't be too patient, or else you won't work hard enough to reach your goals. And your sense of urgency can't be too strong, or else you'll overdo it, which can lead to injuries and burnout.

Having the ideal balance of patience and urgency is what you want. You've got to work hard almost every day to reach your goals, but you also got to live to see another day and understand that an athletic career is a long journey. If you're planning on playing competitively into your late thirties (or beyond), that's a lot of time. When you see the bigger picture, you realize that it's OK to fail, and that it's OK to take time to rest and enjoy the moment. You'll have plenty of time to bounce back, work hard, and succeed.

But at the same time, know that sports are extremely competitive, and that if you don't work hard enough, you'll get passed, so you need a healthy amount of urgency to …

How to Build a Championship Team

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Every team wants to win a championship, but each year, only one team gets to win the championship. So if you're a coach, how do you rise above your competition and build a championship team? 

Here is the obvious answer: it's all about creating the best product on the field. You have to create a team that performs so well game after game, that they make the playoffs, advance to the championship game, and is able to beat the best competition that your league has to offer in the championship game.

A more helpful answer comes from asking, "How do you create this product on the field?"
This answer comes down to 2 factors: talent and performance. Your product on the field is a product of these two things. Every game between two teams is a match up between these two factors. 

Here are some bar graphs to demonstrate how these two factors determine the outcome of games.




The black bar represents a team's talent, or their potential or ceiling. The red inside the bar represents a…

Grade Your Effort On A Scale From 0-100

Athletes like to say they give their best effort in games. Some athletes do give their best effort almost every game, but most athletes don't. They deceive themselves, and don't like to admit when they don't give their best effort. They think too often in all-or-nothing terms. Either they gave their best effort, or they totally gave up. They don't see the gray area.

I've once watched my friend play a tennis match. He played very hard for most of the match, but then towards the end, when the match began to slip away, I could tell he gave up a little bit. I thought his confidence lowered and he became less disciplined with his shot-selection/strategy. Later that day, I told him that I thought he "tanked" at the end. He became defensive and said, "I didn't tank! I gave it my best effort for the entire match!"

I explained to him that there's levels of tanking. You can give up completely, you can give up a lot, you can give up a moderate amount…

A Myth About Valuable Players

There is a myth about valuable players. When debating who is the MVP of a sport, people often make this point: when the player is off the court/field or is injured for a period of time, their team doesn't perform as well. With this logic, you could say that a particular player is very valuable because he is very needed by his team. A similar type of logic is used when making an argument against a player's value. A person may say that since a team does fine when the player is off the court/field or when injured, this means the player isn't needed, and therefore isn't as valuable.

Sometimes this type of reasoning is correct and truly validates a person's argument, but sometimes it is incorrect and actually means the opposite. Just because a player's absence causes his team to perform worse, doesn't mean this player is very valuable. It could mean the opposite. To understand this, you have to consider to role of leadership.

Everyone knows that a valuable player …

Self-consciousness

Self-consciousness is one of the biggest obstacles of peak performance. One of the effects of pressure is becoming self-conscious. You start to worry about what other people are thinking about you, and you worry if you're performing well so you keep your awareness on your body movements. This hurts your performance in many ways. First, it takes your focus off of what you need to be doing. If you're so worried about what others are thinking, this anxiety can "freeze" you and cause you to forget to do simple things such as moving your feet or breathing. Secondly, you become more conscious of the effort you're giving, which makes it feel harder, which makes you reduce effort or give up sooner. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, self-consciousness makes you try too hard to control your body movements and shots/skills. You lose trust in your instincts and don't allow your muscle memory to take control. All of this greatly hurts performance. Not only this, but a…

Book Review: Range by David Epstein

Range by David Epstein is one of those books that challenges your prior beliefs. Like many other people, I had fallen in love in ideas such as deliberate practice and a singular focus on specialization in order to succeed in sports and in life. Although, I've known for a while about the benefits of playing many sports as a child, this book taught me much more about the benefits of developing "range," or broad experiences and skills. I admit, it's uncomfortable reading something and thinking, "Wow, I was wrong about this," but in the end, you become a smarter person, so the bruises on your ego are worth it.

One of the first things the book teaches you is the difference between "kind environments" and "wicked environments." In a kind environment, rules are clear, and feedback is objective and quick. You know exactly how you're doing, what your errors are, how you can improve, and whether you're making progress. Activities such as go…

Preparation and Execution

How you perform in any game depends on two factors: preparation and execution.
Preparation is anything that you do leading up to the game. For example, in football, after a game, a team has one week to prepare for their next game. Everything they do during this week is their preparation. They can prepare for their game in many ways. They can study lots of film of their opponent. They can practice everyday to sharpen their skills and instill their game plan. The players can eat healthy, take care of their bodies, and sleep well. If they work hard everyday and do all the little things right, they will be fully prepared by the time the game begins.

However, preparation means nothing if you don't execute on game day. The hard work you did during the week will be wasted if you don't work hard and execute during the game. On game day, it's time to focus on getting your mindset right for kickoff. At this point, there's not much more you can prepare for. You can't watch more…

Treat Every Game Like a Championship

The best athletes and teams try to treat every game like a championship, meaning they try to give their best effort for each and every game, which maximizes their chances of winning each game, which maximizes their chances of winning a championship.

Unconsciously, athletes want to pace themselves and save energy for future games. The best athletes however, are able to trick their minds into thinking that each game is the only game to worry about, therefore they are able to give more effort (because there's nothing to save your energy for). But even after going all out, these athletes are able to recover physically and mentally to do it all over again the next game. To successfully use this mindset, you have to trust that you're physically and mentally capable of recovering after each game and drawing the same emotion for each game without getting burnt out.

Remember, the best teams don't just coast through the regular season and wait to get to the championship game. They get…

Playing to Win vs Playing Not to Lose

Peak performance requires a "playing to win" mentality, not a "playing not to lose" mentality. In pressure situations, athletes tend to become risk averse and start playing not to lose. Instead of playing in the most efficient way by trusting their skills and being aggressive, they become very cautious and try to avoid mistakes at all costs, but this is a mistake in itself. It happens most often when a team gains a lead and just tries to run the clock out and hope their opponent doesn't catch up in time. Often, because their opponent plays to win, their opponent comes back and wins the game.

When you take the lead and are tempted to start playing not to lose, you need to remember what got you the lead in the first place. Most likely, you got the lead by playing to win, by playing aggressively up to your limits. If you want to maintain your lead, you have to continue playing the same way. But in order to do this, you have to relieve yourself of the fear of chokin…

How Not to Lose

Before you learn how to win, you must learn how not to lose.

So many games are not so much won, as they are lost. Many times, it's not that your opponent played too good, it's that you played bad and gave the game away.

Here are the most common ways in which games are lost:
Playing too aggressive and making dumb mistakes.
Playing too unfocused and making simple mistakes.
Giving up, reducing effort, and making lazy mistakes.
Letting pressure get to you and playing too cautiously or choking.
Being too selfish and not working as a team.

If you simply fix these mistakes, you will lose less games. To fix these mistakes:
Play smart and not too aggressive, so you make less dumb mistakes.
Focus better so you make less simple mistakes.
Stay motivated and maintain good effort so you make less lazy mistakes.
Handle pressure better so you stay aggressive and loose.
Be unselfish so you can play better as a team.

But remember, you can’t just focus on what not to do. Just thinking, “Don’t make mistakes! D…

Book Review: Mindset by Carol S. Dweck

By now, most people are familiar with the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.” However, many people probably haven’t read the book from which these terms originate: Mindset by Carol S. Dweck. By reading this great book, you can have a better understanding of growth and fixed mindsets, and learn how you can better develop a growth mindset for yourself.

I’ve written before about the growth mindset vs the fixed mindset. You can read it here, but I'll also offer more analysis of the book right now. 

Here are the basics of the growth and fixed mindsets:
The growth mindset is the belief that traits and skills can be improved with practice. The fixed mindset is the belief that traits and skills are fixed, determined by your genes, and cannot be improved with practice. These two different beliefs have many consequences. They affect your attitude towards success, failure, competition, challenges, obstacles, criticism, and effort. These attitudes go on to affect your work ethic, perform…

The Importance of Playing on a High School Team

It may be more common in certain sports, but there are many athletes who choose not to play on their high school team in order to find a "better" route to their goals. I advise against this. I believe it's very important to play on your high school team. Before I explain why, let's go over the reasons why an athlete may decide not to play on their high school team.

It is common in tennis and golf, where kids decide to train with their personal coach or at an academy, and play in national tournaments instead of playing for their high school. They do this mainly because they believe their high school teammates, coaches, and competition aren't good enough for them. They think it wastes their time. They think it's more efficient for them to train and compete outside of high school.
Basketball players often think the same way and decide to focus more on their AAU team than their high school team. Likewise, some football players care more about camps and 7 on 7 leagu…

An Interview with Noah Rubin: Life as a Professional Athlete

Noah Rubin is a professional tennis player who is currently ranked 175th in the world. Noah runs an Instagram account called Behind The Racquet, where he gives other professional tennis players a platform to tell their stories. If anyone knows what it’s like to live as a professional athlete, it’s Noah. I had the great opportunity to talk with him, and here is our conversation.

Hi Noah, what would you consider to be the biggest struggles professional athletes face?

NR: This might be a little bit more unique to tennis, but I still think it's true for other sports. It's the loneliness. For the most part, whether it's for training or competition, you're away from your family, friends, wife, husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend for an extended period of time. This takes a toll on athletes. Yes, the financial burdens are still a pain for lower ranked players, but it's the mental ones, the loneliness, that cause athletes to wonder, "I don't know how much longer I can…

Four Ways to End Procrastination

Here are four ways to end procrastination:

1. Change environment:  procrastination often happens when you're in an environment not suited well for hard work. If your environment is filled with temptations, then it'll be hard to resist them. This will suck away your willpower and distract you from working. For example, it can be hard to focus on reading while in bed, because the comfort of your bed can make you sleepy and tempt you into taking a nap. Likewise, it's hard to study if your roommates are playing video games and are being loud. In this environment, you may rationalize laziness with excuses. You may say, "I can't study now because it's too loud, so i'll just wait til later." 
So If you want to end procrastination, it helps to place yourself in a better environment. To do this, you can set up a quiet study area with a good chair, desk, and good lighting. Or you can simply go to the library to study. Whether it is for school, work, or sports, tr…

Competing and Entertaining

If you think about it, professional sports are a form of entertainment. Professional leagues only exist because fans pay to be entertained. This makes athletes entertainers. But this isn't the only ways to look at sports. Sports are also competitions, where players compete against each other to win rewards and to have fun. Some people only care about the competition aspect of sports, and have no concern about entertaining fans. Whereas other people care more about the entertainment aspect and care less about winning the competition. This is an important topic, because your attitude on competition and entertainment and how you value them greatly affect your performance, motivation, and mental health.

Here are reasons why you should play to entertain:
It can selfish just to play for yourself and your own personal success (winning trophies/money). If this is all that you care about, you will use the most efficient playing style in order to win. This however, can be boring and not fun t…