The temperature outside has been soaring and the rays of sunshine are starting to wear on more than just your skin. Your joints ache with every movement and your body screams at your stupidity while also pleading with you in a child-like innocence to just find the neatest soft, comfortable location and just sleep. Yet, your mind won’t allow it and constantly hushes the ever-growing and increasingly louder voice of your body like an old, mean librarian ‘shushing’ a restless set of studious school kids. So, up and at it you go; forward again into the painful, yet rewarding but still unknown steps of football’s pre-season training; this time.
I mean seriously now; you’re the coach and this is how you feel? Regardless of whether or not you can actually remember what it felt like when you played, just imagine how your players currently feel – and you now want them to sit through another Team Meeting? A Team Meeting that you have to stand before them and lead.
Of course, the easy way out for everyone one would be to not even hold these a Team Meetings. To not spend this time going over tactics, dead-balls, goal-setting, program philosophy, team bonding activities, film, etc….etc.…etc….just save everyone, including yourself, the hassle and headache and not even hold them to begin with. I mean other coaches don’t hold them, right? So, why should you? Even if you know their inherent and long-term value, you and your players are just too worn-out to put yourselves through that, right? Of course you are…its human-nature not to be. However, what would you say if I told you that by holding these meetings your players would not only become smarter and more intelligent, but also fitter?
That’s right; what if your players could exercise and lose weight without moving a muscle? That may sound like some kind of late-night infomercial come-on, but the idea isn’t entirely preposterous…and…when looked at from the perspective of a football coach; it becomes quite an intriguing proposition: players who can train and maintain fitness while sitting still?
After all, pound for pound the most energy-intensive organ in the body isn’t muscle. It’s the brain. Though it makes up just 3 percent of the body by weight, the brain sucks up 20 percent of total energy expenditure. (That, by the way, is why more animals don’t have big brains like us: To pay for them, you have to gather more, higher-quality food or else starve to death. So far, only human beings seem to have found this proposition worthwhile).
According to research psychologist Richard Bouam, the brain burns an extra-large amount of the body’s primary internal fuel, glucose, when you flex your willpower. In a famous 2007 study,Bouam and his colleagues gave subjects tasks that required them to exert self-control. They found that doing so caused the subjects’ blood glucose levels to drop and that the plunge prevented them from using their willpower effectively in subsequent tasks. Subjects whose willpower was run down and then swilled a beverage rich in glucose had their self-control miraculously revived.
So then; if the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then most of us football coaches would qualify as nuts. Yes, we want to change our player’s development for the better…Yes, we believe that we are capable of making that change…BUT, yet we find ourselves perennially stuck in the same old rut. There was one study that found 90 percent of coronary bypass patients had returned back to their old, unhealthy eating habits within two years of their operation - and - staying on the health tangent; another study found that a substantial majority of dieters would regain all their weight within a year—or would wind up weighing even heavier than when before started.
We football coaches fail to change time after time because we profoundly overestimate our stores of willpower. Psychologists call this failing “restraint bias.” We confidently make resolutions to change and assume we’ll be able to bulldoze our urges because we’re bad at remembering how tempting ‘remaining within our comfort zones’ can be. When we’re full, we forget how irresistible that bacon triple cheeseburger is when we’re hungry. So we allow ourselves to walk into situations in which our willpower is going to be overwhelmed.
That’s not to say that all of our football coaching careers are necessarily doomed. Coaches do transform their careers, philosophies and the ways they go about their craft every day. However, for the most part they don’t do it by relying on willpower. The key, it turns out, is to simply start behaving like the coach you want to become. Instead of wondering, What should I do?, imagine your future, better self as a coach and ask: What would they do? This approach works because of the rather surprising way that our brains form self-judgments. Numerous experiments have demonstrated that when it comes to forming beliefs about our own character and proclivities, we don’t peer inward, as you might expect; instead, we observe our own external behavior. If we see ourselves carrying out a particular action—whatever the actual motivation—our self-conception molds itself to explain that reality.
Looking back at Richard Bouam and his ideas, they really do make intuitive sense. After all, the feeling of effort that you experience when you push yourself hard to do a match problem is pretty similar to the sense of effort you feel when you force yourself to do physical exercise. It stands to reason that the two kinds of exertion are connected by some underlying principle…AND…glucose, the body’s universal fuel, is the perfect candidate.
Baum’s work implies that for our players’ to get into shape they don’t have to run or go to the gym. Instead they can stay at home and flex their mental muscles. It’s the best of both worlds: they can learn your programs’ philosophies, tactics and concepts; all the while you can be confident that however they choose to challenge this learning process, they’ll wind up calorically depleted and intellectually enhanced.
Unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ve already figured-out, this is just not the case and taking these implications from Baum’s work would be a huge mistake. Daniel Molden, a psychologist atNorthwestern University, was skeptical of Baum’s glucose idea from the start and wondered if there might be some other explanation of why glucose seems to bolster willpower. In one part of his experiment, Molden’s team asked subjects to do a task that demanded a lot of willpower. Then the researchers gave some of the subjects a glucose-rich beverage, while others only were allowed to rinse out their mouths with glucose solutions. It turned out that both groups experienced a surge in willpower. The result suggests that glucose seems to modulate a person’s willpower, but doesn’t fuel it after all.
As a coach who refuses to give into the subconscious call of nature and continues to schedule, hold and present Team Meetings as a regularly scheduled part of any team which I manage and it’s training schedule; team meetings carrying the same weight as actual training-sessions and sometimes even more-so, I was disappointed to realize via Molden’s study that my players’ couldn’t just melt the pounds away by sitting in chairs during Team Meetings. Never-the-less, the take-home lesson is that when we’re straining hard to accomplish something, the feeling of effort isn’t caused by actual exertion of some internal force. Rather, it’s that the brain is creating a motivational state to prevent us from doing something.
In the case of physical activity, fatigue is the brain’s way of preventing us from running around willy-nilly, squandering energy and risking injury. (Cocaine and amphetamines partially override this mechanism.)
When it comes to mental effort, it’s not energy that’s being preserved but computational resources. The vast majority of the brain’s work takes place automatically and effortlessly behind the screen of consciousness. When our players decide to tackle a problem on the pitch with their conscious mind, however, they have to summon huge amounts of computational resources from areas all over the brain. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation, which is why, explains University of Toronto psychologist Keith Stanovich, “people close their eyes or look at the ceiling when thinking hard.” From an evolutionary perspective, strenuous mental problems are attention-sucking sinkholes that might stop us from noticing potential predators, violent rivals, or comely mates. So yes, “math is hard” – and evolution has told you to feel that way.
Never-the-less, regardless of how many times I have this discussion or how many times I spout facts or show how it’s doable and even beneficial to my players, other coaches just don’t seem to show the interest or want to make the effort of incorporating Team Meetings into their program.
In fact, to show the value of Team Meetings, my history with them, success with them and willingness and ability to present on many different topics ended-up being a major selling point when it came down to making the final decision as to whom would get the present position that I currently hold. In that same context, one of the first things we discussed adding to the curriculum was Team Meetings and had lengthy discussions about when, how long and what would be we would include in these Team Meetings. I have no empirical evidence to prove whether they were effective or not, except for the fact that the team recorded their best season in the club’s history…coincidence?…maybe?…maybe not?…that’s not really what’s important here, but rather that a highly respected professional manager was open-minded enough to see the need, importance and value that Team Meetings could bring to the club and not shut the door on the idea because it was extra work or something that wasn’t high on their list of strengths.
You see, what these other coaches just don’t get is exactly what they’re looking for. I mean, it’s really quite simple when you put your arrogance and pride aside and open up yourself to new and progressive ideas; the most effective way for both coaches and their players to move toward change is to act like they’ve already achieved it. Don’t worry about playing mind-games with yourself. Don’t worry about affirmations. The way to score goals is to act like you’ve done it before. The way to respond to a new problem faced in a match is to act like you’ve faced it before; perhaps maybe having seen it on film or have discussed it in…a Team Meeting?!??! I’ve always found that the hardest part of exercising—the only hard part, really—is putting on my shoes. Once they’re on, there’s pretty much a 100 percent chance of getting some form of workout done. Why else would I have these shoes on?
In one experiment, a researcher asked a group of subjects to take part in a bogus experiment and allowed them to win a sum of money. Afterward the researcher went up to the subjects and told them that he’d had to use his own paltry funds to subsidize the experiment; apologizing, he asked if they wouldn’t mind giving the money back, so he could continue his research. A second group of subjects performed the exact same bogus experiment and won the same prize money—but weren’t asked to give the money back. Finally, all of the experimental subjects were asked to subjectively rate the researcher’s likeability. It turned out that the ones who’d given back their prize money liked him a lot better. The reason: in order to explain our behavior to ourselves, we have to make assumptions about our own proclivities. I gave the guy money, the subjects subconsciously reasoned, so I must have liked him.
Obviously, you can’t change your internal reality overnight. However, act out the change you want, and day by day, the weight of evidence will become undeniable. Before long, the coach you pretend to be becomes the coach that you are. In another experiment, researchers recruited subjects who said they wanted to learn one new habit and asked them to perform the new behavior every day. After 60 days, most of them rated the newly learned habit as effortless to perform. What had once been a desired change was now an accepted reality. The same simple concept applies to almost anything; cessation of smoking and drinking, dieting and even a coaching philosophical change preclusive to the addition of Team Meetings.
For all my skepticism about resolutions, I must confess that I’ve tried a few over the years. On December 31, 1993, I vowed that I would give up dating. Just before midnight, I took a long, last look across the dance-floor and threw away the soda I was drinking. The next day I woke up monogamous—precariously. For the next few weeks, I’d eye the ember of friend’s passion and lust like a cat watching a canary. However I didn’t want to go back to person I’d been before the turn of the year—that womanizer…that player—and I knew that it would be a long wait for another one to come around, if one ever did again. So day after day I stuck it out, until eventually I realized that my new identity had become concrete. Not only did I not want to date any other women any longer, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to. This New Year’s Eve I’ll celebrate my 20th year with the woman who eventually became my wife.
The bottom line, then, is that while the scientific jury still may be out on whether the Brainpower Diet can help your players maintain fitness while sitting still, numerous studies have found that elderly people who stay curious and intellectually engaged live years longer than those who don’t. Maybe the effect has something to do with the motivation to take care of oneself, stay connected with others and avoid depression…or rather the motivation to educate oneself on the game, stay connected with teammates and avoid negative situations in matches (all of which can be addressed in Team Meetings, eh?) – again – coincidence?
So when the time comes to pick yourself up and drag your weary legs into that next Team Meeting just smile and be grateful. The next hour may just be adding extra matches to the end of your season.