"What's Next?" at the Expense of "What's Now"

        If you're like millions around the country, much of your last couple of weekends has been spent experiencing March Madness.  There have been some great games.  Many have come down to the wire and have ended with clutch game-winners.  One game that did not go that way at all was the big upset of Michigan State by MTSU.  MTSU won convincingly, but my greatest takeaway came from well beyond the box score.  It came from Tom Izzo's press conference and a "ridiculous question."  "Tom, how do you take a loss like this and turn it into something to motivate the guys moving forward next year?"  Izzo's response was priceless.  First, he let the reporter know very respectfully how ridiculous the question was.  He then gave a lesson I think we all could use.  Izzo talked about how a major problem in sports today is it's always, "What's next?"  What I love about the problem is it is very, very fixable.

        "What's next?" Where this problem started could be traced to any number of sources.  Maybe it's the ESPN culture that spends 90% of its time making predictions and breaking stories that may or may not have actually happened and only about 10% on what has actually happened.  Maybe it's the results-oriented society we are programmed to be a part of since the time we were very little.  "You need to learn this so you can go to college and have a good job someday," says the teacher to her group of 4th graders as they pick their noses.  Parents of kids playing middle school baseball are worried about their kids getting college scholarships rather than doing what they can to make sure they actually still like baseball by the time they go to college.  "What's next?"  is often asked at the sacrifice of, "What's NOW?"  Rather than just complain, what can we do about it?  We can change, and here are a couple ways how.

1. Focus on development and enjoyment.  Help athletes build skills and knowledge that will allow their best chance of being successful both now and in the future.  The best coaches are able to straddle the line between the two.  Allowing athletes to do what will make them successful now while helping them continually improve so they can be successful in the future is something that can only be achieved if it is worked on daily.  Doing so while also allowing athletes to enjoy themselves is important.  Notice I don't mention a level of play here.  This can be done from the youngest age groups all the way through the professional ranks.

2. Take time to celebrate successes of the now.  Parents, don't be hesitant to tell your kids how proud you are of them and how much you enjoyed watching them play.  Coaches, enjoy the successes too.  Wait for the next day of practice to tell your team all of the ways you need to get better.  Sure, it's important, but not enough to take away the enjoyment of all of their hard work to make NOW's game happen.  You spend way too much time preparing for the actual competition to not enjoy it.  While it's important not to dwell on one performance, good or bad, at the sake of preparation for the next one, it's okay to enjoy it for a little while!

3.  Reflect on the "just now."  What went well?  What didn't?  If we don't ask ourselves these questions, we are wasting so much of what the Now has to offer.  Rational reflection about performance teaches us so much as athletes and coaches that will help with the "What's next?" I know this seems contradictory to #2, but I'm talking about reflection after the fact.  I listened to a podcast the other day with Dr. Bernie Holliday who works with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He discussed a "3-2-1" technique he uses with their guys.  The technique asks for three things that went well (with the processes that led to them), two that didn't (and processes), and one takeaway moving forward.  It allows for that rational reflection focused on what actually happened.

        Those are just a few ways to help focus on "What's NOW."  I know planning for the future is important.  Goals and long-term plans are largely about the future.  All I'm saying, or rather all that Coach Izzo is saying, is that we should take more time to appreciate what has already happened too.  If you're able to do so, a funny thing just may happen.  You may find yourself more prepared for "What's next?" along the way.

Here is the full MSU Press Conference.  There's plenty of great stuff, but the question I wrote about is at 3:17




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