Team Manitoba 2015 Canada Winter Games
Congratulations on being this close to the 2015 Canada Winter Games. I know that you have been working hard in preparation for the Games. Now is the time to maximize the chances that all your hard work pays off and that your athletes perform to their potential at the Canada Games. I will write some things to consider as you make your final preparations.
The Canada Games will be a multi-sport competition. As such, there will be many sports represented at the competition. It may be that you have a range of athletes on your team in terms of experience and ability level. If you have athletes on your team who have been to a multi-sport games before, I would start by talking to them. Find out a bit more about what their experience was like. If they had a positive experience and performed well, I would spend time talking to them about what they did to make that happen. It is likely that they were younger then and perhaps did not feel any pressure. Have them reflect a little on what they felt like when they performed well and what they will do in order to make this happen again. The alternative is that perhaps they did not perform well. If this was the situation, it is just as important to talk to them about this experience. You want to talk with them about what they felt went wrong and what they can do to ensure a better performance the next time. It is very important that they talk fully about what they can do differently so that they feel a sense of control over manifesting a different outcome.
Matt Mclean, Speed Skating
If you know of someone in your local community who has been to multi-sport games, perhaps consider inviting them to talk with your team. Ask them to talk about what they remember from the experience and to bring any items they might have from this event. If they happen to have an old shirt or pictures with a mascot, this can go a long way towards helping the athletes get a feel for the fun that can be involved in multi-sport games.
In preparing for the games at this point, there are a few areas I think are the most important to ensuring a positive games experience. The first is goals, the second is managing emotions and planning recovery, the third is managing distracters, and the fourth is maintaining perspective/managing pressure. I will take time to talk about each of these larger categories at this time.
Athletes spend a great deal of time preparing for competitions. There is nothing more frustrating than struggling to perform well once a great deal of preparation has gone into preparing for an event. It is helpful to talk to an athlete about what they hope to accomplish at the Games. It will likely be fairly easy for them (and perhaps you) to identify some pretty tangible objectives for the Games. It is often easy to think about times or placements, these are called outcome goals. And although they are important, they tell the athlete little about what they need to do in order to achieve the outcome, they do not focus entirely on things within their control, and they can increase pressure and anxiety. As such, I would encourage you to also speak with your athletes about more process-oriented goals. The conversation can simply be, once you know what outcomes you hope to achieve, ask the athlete “what do you need to do in order to accomplish that outcome?”. From there, try to come up with some specific examples of things that are within the athlete’s control. These can include, take deep breaths and stay calm before I start my pre-skate; push hard off the turn; etc. Remember, if it something within the athlete’s control and something that they need to focus on in order to perform well – these are precisely the kinds of goals to set with your athletes prior to the event. Then think of a way in which the athlete can remember these goals going into the event. Do you want to write them down somewhere, put them on a sticky note or cue card? What makes the most sense for you and that athlete so that you are reminded of them at critical moments? Do this several practices prior to the Games and talk about them frequently. Remind yourself and the athlete of the process goals and practice meeting these objectives at training.
As with the athlete goals, I would encourage you to think about what your goals as a coach are for these games. What things would you like to accomplish so that you are able to best reach your coaching objectives? What do you need to focus on so that you are able to positively affect your athletes’ performance?
Managing Emotions and Planning Recovery
Emotions can be a very powerful thing. In fact just thinking about the Canada Games will be exciting for most athletes. While this is great that they are so passionate about this event, it can be something that may negatively affect peak performance. I would encourage you to talk with your athletes about the Canada Games in great detail. What are they most excited about? What will it be like having so many family members there? How do they think it will be talking to the media? As you talk, they may say that they are feeling anxious – if so, this is great! You want them to keep talking about it until they are able to talk about the Canada Games without this elevated level of emotion. You may also want to spend time talking about what they will do if they feel this emotion during the games. How can they calm themselves down? In general, how do they like to feel when they perform well? The main objective is to help them learn to recognize and manage their emotions, rather than either deny they are there or be afraid of them when they show up.
Megan Imrie, Biathlon
Most sports will NOT spend the majority of their time at the Games actually competing. In fact, a great deal of time will be spent watching other competitions, talking to family, practicing, eating, relaxing etc. The implication is that we want to make sure to plan this off time so that the athlete is feeling recovered and energized when the competition starts. I would recommend that you and the athlete look at the schedule and plan in recovery blocks. There will always be things to do at multi-sport games. So it is easy to get wrapped up in this experience. Plan in recovery or down time and then encourage your athletes to enjoy the Games ‘experience’ in the other time slots. Another thing to talk about with your athletes is whether there are things that they for sure want to do while at the Games. If they really want a certain pin or a picture with a mascot or to purchase a t-shirt; help them do that early, so it is out of the way and they can focus on their sport the remainder of the time.
Again, as with the athletes – you as a coach are human as well. You should also take some time to plan in your recovery. In particular if you are required to spend time with your athletes all day and night – find your own pockets of time where you can escape and truly relax. You may need to be fresh at the end of the games, and taking care of yourself during the games will ensure that your athletes have their best coach when they need it. Also take time to think about your emotional management. How are you feeling about the Canada Games? What do you plan to do in order to manage your emotions during this event?
Chris Sobkowicz, Wheelchair Curling
Did you know that it is helpful to talk to athletes about things that might throw them off? I realize this is counterintuitive, but it is actually the best thing you can do to help them to prepare for those distractions. In fact athletes who are honest with themselves about what might throw them off, perform well more consistently than those who do not. So, take time to talk to athletes about the kinds of things that seem to get in the way of them performing well. For some athletes it can be things outside of themselves such as parents watching or another athlete performing well, for others it can be more internal such as feeling a certain way or being sore. Ask the athlete about possible distracters (or remind them of what you have observed), and then talk to them about what has usually happened in response. Next encourage the athlete to come up with how they would rather react instead. Get them to imagine themselves reacting this way in their head and try to create situations so they can practice it during training. Then, if this situation happens during the games, they will be ready to react in an alternative and more positive way.
It may also be beneficial to have a conversation about the various distractions that may be new for those competing in their first multi-sport games. Common changes are having more family watching, sleeping with several other people from a range of teams, eating food they may not be used to, having more people watch their event, or additional media coverage. As a team, spend time brainstorming the additional distracters and talk about a strategy for managing each one.
As a coach, what has thrown you off in the past? What is most likely to distract you and how will you get back on track?
Maintaining Perspective/Managing Pressure
All athletes manage pressure in different ways, and athletes will experience different amounts of pressure based on their level of expected performance at the Games. Some ideas to help manage this pressure include the following:
(a) Have the athletes conceptualize this competition as one in a series of competitions that they will compete in over the year. Look at their schedule and have them see it as just one competition to learn about themselves. Some questions to reflect upon include – Where does it fit within their larger athlete development plan? What are the next steps afterwards?
(b) Get them to make a list of all the great things about themselves apart from being an athlete and all the people in their life that love them regardless of their sport performance. Have them create this list and keep it with them during the games.
(c) Talk to the athlete about how they would like to feel at the end of the games. Sometimes reflecting on how you want to feel at the end tells you a great deal about how you need to react in the moment.
Jennifer Botterill, Hockey
You may never need to refer back to this conversation, but if the athlete does begin to feel anxious – it is a conversation you will be glad that you had.
As a coach, how will you maintain your perspective and manage any pressure that you feel at the Games? Who is on your support team while at the Games and how will you access them? And how do you want to feel once the Games are over?
Some additional Comments
Some additional areas to consider as you prepare for this event with your athletes include:
- Familiarity brings comfort. I would encourage you to share as much as you can with your athletes about the Games experience prior to the games. Do you have photos of where they will sleep or eat? Do you have pictures of the venue? If not, can you access any information online? Share these details with your athletes ahead of time. The more they know in advance, the more comfortable they will feel and the more they will be able to focus on their competition. Once you arrive at the Games, visit the venue and take them to the start area or any areas relevant to the competition. The more they can actually see and feel the place, the more their anxiety will be dissipated when they actually show up to compete.
- Daily plans help keep things on track. Again, there are many distracters at multi-sport games. It is helpful to plan each day in advance (including recovery time considering the unique needs of your sport and individual athletes), so that it is easier to respond to in-the-moment questions at the Games regarding whether an athlete may or may not take in a particular event.
- Communicate with family ahead of time. Family members may come to watch the athletes compete and may have a picture in their head of how they will take their child out at various times of the day. As the coach, you will know how this may positively or negatively impact the competitive experience. Therefore, spend time speaking with them prior to the event and share with them your vision as a coach. It is much easier to have this conversation ahead of time.
- Determine how your team wants to capture this event. How will you make this event special? Is there someone on your team with a particular talent that can be used to help capture this event? Does someone want to be the team photographer for example? Or is there a parent who plans to start a team blog?
- Take time to support the other teams from Manitoba. The fun part about multi-sport games is that you have the opportunity to interact with a whole bunch of new people. Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know and support the other athletes and coaches who have also worked hard to get here.
- Remember that multi-sport games are run by a community and a whole lot of volunteers. As you interact with people in various locations, keep in mind that you never know whom that person knows. It may be that the person managing the parking lot is the referee of your final game. As such, be on your best behaviour at all times and treat everyone you meet with respect.
Remember, every competition is an opportunity to learn about yourself; as a person and an athlete/coach. Congratulations on being in the Canada Games and all the best as you continue to learn and grow in sport.
Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, Director of Sport Psychology, CSCM