In 1996 our team was going through a period when they were not playing well. The effort was certainly there but the players were getting frustrated because we were struggling to beat teams we knew we should beat. I finally remembered an article written by Pat Harrison who at that time was the head coach at Ole Miss. The title of it was trying hard versus playing hard. I read that article to the team and they immediately saw that they had a lot of the symptoms of trying to hard which took a lot of their freedom of playing away. We started to turn it around from that point on. Since that time I have added some additional thoughts to that article and applied some new ideas that I have learned.
All athletes want to do well. The key is, do they have the motivation and drive to prepare to do well? There is a saying that ‘the will to win is never as important as the will to prepare to win’. Winning and doing well do not come without total preparation mentally, physically, and without a conscious plan or goals to succeed. Unless a player prepares properly he opens himself to the disease of trying too hard or in simpler terms ‘choking’.
To paraphrase Pat Riley from The Winner Within, ‘Choking sometimes occurs because players do not know themselves. While putting on a good front, inside they really have little self- confidence. This can stop a player from ever proving himself to the fullest or going all out to develop his skills. In effect he puts a performance cap on himself. Another result of a player not knowing himself is that he will think he is ready for a challenge when he hasn’t properly prepared for it. The challenge is beyond his level of preparation.’
Below are Coach Harrison’s symptoms of trying too hard and the characteristics of playing hard as a result of proper preparation:
1. A lot of effort (producing damaging tension), but misdirected and ineffective. Often tries to be someone he is not or do something he cannot.

2. Analyzing every move while trying to perform a skill. Leads to Analysis Paralysis (hoping – usually because player has not practiced correctly and has not practiced enough – so deep down he knows he is unprepared ).

3. Hoping – but real lack of confidence.

4. Inconsistent – since movements are out of control and effort is overdone for the situation.

5. Drudgery – joyless.

6. No fun !

7. Losing totally incapacitates and leaves one feeling personally inadequate/Winning is blown far out of proportion as is losing.

8. Nervousness totally incapacitates or takes one out of his own pattern or style.

9. Mental mistakes mount up – player forces things to happen that can’t happen; tries to make something out of nothing. Observation and judgment become clouded and foolish chances are taken.

10. Player cannot handle criticism or correction – he truly is trying his very hardest (actually too hard). In his mind he is giving his all with the discouraging results that he makes more mistakes. Becomes easily confused with further teaching.

11. Player tends to isolate himself from others on team and becomes a severe critic of teammates and coaches.
1. Seemingly effortless and extremely effective – plays like he was trained to play; stays within his own capabilities.

2. Focuses on the ball as he executes his plan . Body works freely from memory rather than forced and mechanically (since he has practiced well he can be free to put all of his attention on the situation at hand).

3. Anticipating – calm sense of confidence.

4. Consistent – great plays may occur, but routine plays are made routinely.

5. Excitement – joy of using talent.

6. Fun!

7. Winning or losing is kept in perspective – performance is always the issue. A person’s self-worth is not damaged.

8. Nervousness is welcomed since it means every bodily system is keyed for its maximum performance.

9. Mental mistakes are kept to a minimum . Player anticipates plays rather than spasmodically reacting – observes strengths and weaknesses of other team so that judgments made during play have high percentage of success.

10. Criticism or correction is handled more positively , especially since there is less of it!!

11. Player communicates well with teammates – fact, becomes a coach and encourager on the field.
All of these symptoms of ‘trying hard’ are the result of lack of preparation, not knowing oneself, lack of self confidence, or not being prepared to step up. The good news is that a player can get out of the rut of ‘trying hard’ and become a player who ‘plays hard’.
Below is a list of things a player can do to prepare himself to ‘play hard’.
1. Develop a competitive spirit which will not accept any kind of defeat. Things like losing streaks, myths, tradition, opinion, weather, or sickness all hint of possible loss or adversity. A competitive spirit will not let any negative thoughts into his mind but will gladly accept the challenge to overcome all adversity.
2 A player must remember past successes and review how he accomplished them.
3. Consciously seek out root causes of non-aggressive play and destroy them. Fear of failure and losing, if not dealt with, can take all of one’s aggressiveness away.
4. Believe in one’s preparation and ability to perform. Develop a plan to succeed and focus all one’s concentration on accomplishing that plan. A player must prepare mentally and physically until he knows he is ready for any challenge that comes his way.
5. A player must remember that he is part of a team and that they are supporting him and that they win together. Pat Riley in The Winner Within, p. 190, says it well. “Somewhere along the way we have to stop being afraid of the consequences. Because when you go for something significant ….. consequences become irrelevant. Nothing matters except that we are in this together.”
Everyone that has played any length of time has experienced the pressure of ‘trying hard’. Maybe it is time for you to take the challenge of not worrying about the consequences and allowing yourself the freedom to ‘go for it’, to play to win and not to not lose. The lessons you learn will not only help you to be a better player but will help you to conquer the challenges of life.
By Geoff Zahn
Former Head Baseball Coach University of Michigan and 12 Year Major League Veteran Pitcher

October 15, 2014 | Instructional Articles | 0

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