Managing our own Intensity

February 23, 2014 Post Comment Uncategorised

It’s not a particularly well-worn phrase in terms of
performance – “Manage Your Own Intensity.” At least, it is not well-worn in the
conventional and traditional lexicon of pre-match phraseology.
However, yesterday for the team I coach, it was
pretty much the only pointer I wanted them to follow as they entered into the
contest. It was a non-league match – commonly billed as “a friendly” – and so,
in theory, the only outcome they would need to consider would be their level of
collective and personal enjoyment in playing a sport they love. 

are Required
Pre-match phraseology tends to follow a lot of
conventional norms. Players get spoken AT in a particular way, they speak AT
each other in a similar particular way, and they have a tendency to speak AT
themselves in that same particular way. Everyone does it so we’ll do it.
is euphemistically called MOTIVATION.
And between the spoken lines of exhortation comes
the repetitive message:
This is the way you must play. This
is the way you must think when you
play. This is the state of mind you must
get into in order to play in the way it is said you must play. The bottom line for all this is,
“You are required. All these things
are required of you. If you fall
short of these requirements you –
collectively and individually – will fall short of the necessary standards. This
is serious. I’m taking this seriously and I require that you do too.”
Plus, if you take motivation like this to the next
level (up or down, depending on your perspective), then winning is everything –
this is a matter of life and death – and there’s no second chance. Grit your
teeth, clench your fists and …
Pump up the volume – pump, pump, pump.
When Shakespeare wrote “Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up
with our English dead,
” he penned the essential motivational call in a
matter of life and death. King Henry V wanted to gird up his battle weary
soldiers for what he felt was going to be one last and fateful effort. The
context was clear – we live or die by how we approach this day.
Keeping an eye firmly on context, especially in
terms of motivation, is the key element. And it is certainly the key element
overlooked by many when delivering their own particular brand of pre-match
phraseology. Over the years I’ve seen this whole piece of theatre as being a
myth in terms of what the players should really be getting.
Now here’s an interesting image that’s been laden
with presuppositions, yet can also be laden with contextual manipulation!
I’ll leave you to draw some of your own conclusions;
yet also consider the metaphorical shark – who is distracted by checking his
long list of emails, who is worrying about what some of the other sharks have
been saying about him; who is required to visit his mother-in-law this weekend;
So, what happens next from both perspectives when
the eyes of canoeist meet the eyes of Mr Sharkey. For canoeist there’s no time
to think and the reaction to fight or flight kicks in, while for preoccupied
shark his mind is elsewhere. Likely outcome is canoeist lives to paddle another
day, while shark swims on with his thoughts continuing to run his life.
This is imaginary and ludicrous, I hear you cry.
Sharks don’t think along those lines. So we assume they don’t require
motivation; they are driven by instinct and hunger – as we know.
And the point I want to make here is that when we
see a matter of life and death about to unfold, then we assume neither party is
going to be doing any thinking. Their needs are just driven by their actions.

the Decks
So a regular sporting contest is not a matter of
life and death; both sets of players have diverse trains of thought going on;
both have a reasonable degree of intelligence; both are going to be susceptible
to fluctuating and wide-ranging states of mind.
The purpose of my approach is to enable as many of
my players as possible to reach a particular condition so that when they start
the contest, they are playing with NOTHING on their mind.
It’s rather like clearing the decks in the kitchen
before starting to cook a meal. If we leave surfaces dirty or stuff lying
around then we cannot give our full attention in the moment. Our meal will have
less chance of turning out in the optimum way we would like.
Over the years of working in different sports with
different sets of players I have witnessed pre-match preparations with widely
differing content, context, length of time and levels of intensity. Now if
there was a right or wrong formula here then I would have seen it played out in
the results of each specific contest. Interestingly, the ONLY consistent factor
is that of whether the players have something or NOTHING on their minds.
After the contest has begun, certain variables will
come into play. Some of those variables will impact upon the collective and
individual psyches of my players.
At the same time, a range of similar though not
identical variables will impact upon the collective and individual psyches of
the opposition.
And here arrives a succession of potential pivotal
If MY players allow their mental approach to their
OWN game to be affected by how they see their opponents are reacting to THEIR
OWN particular set of variables, then they’ll be playing with something on
their mind.
Now my players’ mental approach is NOT about tactics.
It is about their Managing Their Own Intensity.
OK, if they feel it is too low, they can step it up,
and if it is too high they can ease off. However, they will almost certainly discover
that stepping up and easing off are amongst the hardest things to control in
the midst of a contest. It is THE finest of tunings, and when attempted usually
gets out of control with undesirable consequences.
on lads – we need to up our intensity!
” comes the clarion call, and yet
before we know it we’re trying to force the issue and trying – as we know –
upsets the applecart!
This is why setting a level and staying at that
level is much easier to carry out and maintain.
Yet, having said all that, this is what managing is
all about, and the MORE they do it, the MORE they will get familiar with it,
and – miraculously as a consequence – the BETTER they will get at it. I cannot
manage it for them with either my words or actions, nor can anyone else, and
definitely not using the style of Henry V!
Starting a contest in a state of equilibrium, or
playing with nothing on our mind, is for me the best possible base camp. Things
will ebb and flow in any contest, driven by variables. Understanding and
dealing with our own variables and not those of our opponents will free us from
trying to “force” matters by “trying harder.”
It was interesting, yesterday, to note how things
turned out for the team I coached, and in particular how players felt and what
they said after the contest.
For most of the game they played with nothing on
their minds. They started out in equilibrium. The quality of their play
transcended the match and the conditions. No one considered or asked about the
scoreline. They were totally absorbed with what they and their team mates were
bringing about. They remained utterly impersonal towards their opponents. Apart
from a short period, nothing was “forced” and, not surprisingly, in that
“forcing period”, the quality of play dropped considerably. The level of
pleasure and satisfaction was high.
For me, they managed their intensity extremely well
– which is what I’d asked them to consider the most. I was particularly pleased
with the short period of “forced” play – because essentially they had to manage
in order to get out of it by letting go of the “forcing” action.