Strengthening the Links

        Team sports are great for many reasons.  The feeling of accomplishing something with a large group of people somehow supersedes the euphoria we get after working hard individually and achieving.  One of the elements of team sports I love is the unlimited amount of variables that go into a team being successful.  Quality of talent, mixing of personalities, team chemistry, and efficiently working hard are a few of the many.  As coaches, we all long for figuring out that way we can make a group of people work as well as possible together.  Then, we want to do it again and again.  Rarely are we satisfied.  There is always something we could have done better.  With that in mind, I think there is a way we can improve the quality of team that often gets overlooked.  We have all heard the adage, "You're only as strong as your weakest link."  Well, I think we sometimes focus so much on the creation of this amazing chain that we neglect the links.  In reality, wouldn't it make sense to focus on making each and every link of the chain as strong as possible?

        So how do we go about making each link as strong as possible, and how does that differ than what is already done?  The way to strengthen the links is to focus on development of the individuals.  Rather than teaching everyone to hit the same way, work to the individual strengths and weaknesses of the player.  The same goes with pitching.  If every pitcher has his own velocity level, command, and mix of breaking pitches, should the entire staff then pitch in the same fashion?  The same also goes with the mental side of the game.  Not everyone is the same, and teaching mental skills to everyone in a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all way makes very little sense to me.  As many of you are aware of, it makes me feel nauseous when I see an entire lineup of hitters have the exact same routine in between pitches.  It makes me wonder if they truly understand the purpose behind having a performance routine or if someone has simply brushed over a topic with them.

        While I do think there are certain concepts everyone can benefit from, the real reward in the implementation of sport psychology lies with an understanding of self.  Becoming self-aware and creating a healthy perspective trumps individual mental skills.  Most of us, after all, are in the business of helping young men and women develop into the best possible people they can be.  Why then do we not spend more time on the development?  In the ideal setting, I think a great mental skills program combines both group and individual sessions.  The group sessions are targeted more at educating, and the individual sessions focus on helping players figure out themselves.

        Over the last several weeks I have been working on a final project paper where I have been researching and writing about the possible effects of implementing a mental skills program at the minor league level over a period of time.  Although the research is extremely limited, I am confident it backs up what I am discussing here.  The question then remains:  Do you want to incorporate the mental side of the game to say you do it, or do you want to because you want players to perform as well as possible and develop as individuals?  Think carefully about that answer, and I'd challenge you to do the same with every element of your coaching.  For the record, I am not against team concepts and have seen firsthand team chemistry make up for shortcomings in talent.  My only point is, at the least, there should be more of a balance of the two.  Focus on the development of individuals within a team concept, and then I think you're onto something.

         Some of you may have seem my analogy the other day of a great team being like a beautiful painting.  The artist doesn't focus solely on the grand totality of the painting to make it happen.  Rather, the artist takes care with each individual brush stroke while keeping the overall painting in mind.  The individuals on your team are the brush strokes.  Take care with each one, and the result will be the "Mona Lisa" you want to create.



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