What struck me the most about the Women’s World Cup Final Championship Game recently was a subtle yet sophisticated coaching technique that many never got the opportunity to witness or truly appreciate.
What many saw and took away from that game was an American team that dominated for long stretches, missed numerous opportunities, yet pulled ahead twice with dramatic goals. Many also witnessed a Japanese team that never gave up, never panicked, and capitalized on the U.S. team’s mistakes.
What was not surprising was how unsophisticated the main stream press has been covering this Championship. Most references were made to the so-called ‘choke factor’ after the US Team missed three penalty kicks, rather than a simple but effective coaching technique that was visibly shown just prior to the start of the penalty kicks.
As the two teams prepared to take those critical kicks, the US Team huddle around Head Coach Pia Sundhage, who did a fantastic job directing this team throughout the tournament, and you could see the concern on the team’s faces. They were uptight, most likely still filled with thoughts that they twice let the game ‘get away’ from them and shouldn’t be in this situation.
On the opposing side you had a strikingly different appearance of emotions. The Japanese Team, led by their Head Coach, Norio Sasaki, displayed a technique that was brilliant. Sasaki was laughing, smiling, clapping his hands, demonstrating to his team that he & the team should “enjoy the moment”. By employing that technique, Sasaki in essence was telling his team, look what we’ve done, feel the excitement of the crowd around us, this is the moment we’ve dreamed about, don’t worry about it, go out and enjoy it!
What’s often missed in coaching at all levels is the fact that sports are full of stressful moments for athletes. Rather than allowing the stress of a critical moment worry your team, and at times almost physically and mentally paralyze it, a coach should be lightening the load and actually encouraging everyone to have fun! The US Team as a result most likely carried self-doubts in their minds, they were tight, not enjoying the moment.
The Japanese Team were free of doubt, because they were focused on the moment, you could see it on their faces, they went out to have fun.
In an earlier article this year titled “Taking Fun Seriously“,I wrote about how the world’s best Snowboarders, Skateboarders, Motocross, BMX riders, etc all mention “fun” as an integral part of their performance. They explanation is, if there not having fun they’re not going to perform well. When your having fun, you’re relaxed yet focused, and more apt to perform to your utmost ability.