RLCM Coach Talk (July 2012) Case Studies:
1 A player in your team has set a goal to play rep footy. He is so focused on achieving this that he gets too involved during games and plays for himself rather than the team. How do you use goal setting to help this player achieve his goals while at the same time helping the team?
A player as described above is often very motivated to achieve their own personal goals, sometimes even at the expense of the team. These players don’t often ‘buy-in’ to the team goals, unless it suits them, despite saying that they understand the teams’ goals and are ‘on board’. In fact, this type of player is unlikely to respond positively to any form of goal that is given to unless they find a reason to (KPI’s, minimum standards = Assigned Goals).
So, the way to manage them is to have them set their own goals, and then you can help them outline the things they need to do in order to achieve their goals. Here is where you align the individuals’ goals with the teams’ goals. By performing their role and completing the tasks necessary for them to do so, they are indirectly helping the team achieve the team goals. This can be reinforced by using an outline of what their role would be once they are selected in rep football and let them know that you are supporting them in their efforts for selection. The player is happy because you are not trying to turn them into something they are not (a ‘team player’) and you, the coach, are happy because they will now be working in the same direction as the team, despite getting there a different way.
This player often wants to feel special and recognised as being an important member of the team. They like to think that their needs and ambitions are a priority and the teams’ goals and needs are secondary. Often this view has been created during junior football if they were the best player in their team, or used to getting their own way. You can choose to try and change them, or you can choose to work with them.
A survey recently conducted by SKINS found that 10% of players would prefer to be man-of-the-match rather than have his team win; this is the sort of player we are dealing with here. Their high level of motivation is self-centred, but this is not an issue if it is directed properly via the goal setting process. When done properly, both the individual and the team can win.
[Please note, there are consequences for the group if the above suggestion is followed; for example, others may view this as ‘special treatment’ and it may upset the group, thereby creating other issues to manage. This highlights the importance of getting goal setting right because there are ripple effects and consequences if it is done poorly.]
2 Your team train very well but don’t play as well as you know they can on game day, especially when there is pressure on them to win. How do you use goal setting to turn this around or at least rule out goal setting as a possible cause of this issue?
The two classic causes of this are under developed mental skills or poor technical preparation, or both.
Under developed mental skills can lead to a team who has a focus on winning that is greater than their capacity to manage the pressure of delivering the technical skills that produce the result. Not performing as well on game day as they do at training is a sign of players not managing their nerves due to the pressure to perform on game day. The outcome goal (winning) increases their nerves to a point that they cannot manage and a poor performance is produced.
At the NRL level, teams often refer to themselves as being in a ‘re-building phase’ which is designed to reduce expectations of the fans and hence reduce the pressure on the players to win. Teams will also try to adopt the underdog tag in an effort to reduce pressure on players (like the Bulldogs did against Melbourne recently, despite being a top-of-the-table clash which the Bulldogs went onto win comfortably).
If you, or your players, have no expectations to win and you have not got any outcome based goals in place, then you can rule out goal setting as a significant contributor to the stress that produces poor performance on game day. The likely cause is the practice environment where the skill level of the players is being developed, which refers to their technical preparation.
Skill breakdown under the pressure of competition commonly occurs when skills are practiced in a situation that is different from the competition environment. Basically, the practice drills that the players do so well at training are not doing their job in preparing the players for the pressure of competition. If your players rate competing as more mentally demanding than practice (not necessarily more physically demanding), then this is likely to be the reason why your team practices well and plays poorly on game day.
To have players perform well on game day, they must be spending some time practicing their skills under more pressure than they will get on game day. Coaches often won’t do this because errors will occur, but that is the whole point of practicing under pressure – so you can make your errors at training while you are learning to perform under pressure. Then game day isn’t as stressful, because your players have handled more stress at practice during the week.
If your team does prepare under pressure and they still perform poorly on game day, then they need to get better at mental skills such as managing their nerves, controlling their attention, managing emotions, building confidence and so on.
Goal setting then needs to be used to achieve this.