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January 14, 2016 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

The importance of trust between coaches and athletes

Because trust is such a critical component of peak performance, coaches and athletes must continually look to build and maintain it.

Trust is the ultimate goal of all peak performance training. Whether it’s an individual athlete attempting to perform to his or her potential or a team working together to achieve a common goal, trust is the basis of peak performance. Individual athletes must learn how to trust themselves and their talents, especially in pressure situations, so that they can perform to their potential.

Team-wise, trust is the emotional glue that binds teammates together to create team chemistry. Without trust in teammates and coaches, there is sure to be conflict, dissension, cliques and hurt feelings. Because trust is such a critical component of peak performance, coaches and athletes must continually look to build and maintain it.

On an individual level, trust occurs when an athlete allows their body to naturally react to the situation without deliberately trying to consciously control their movements. The athletes allow themselves to play on instinct and feel. Their minds are relatively clear and they feel connected to the activity. They put themselves on “automatic pilot” and experiences a sense of rhythm, synchronicity and flow. They simply allow their body to do what it is trained to do.

For example, a softball hitter experiences trust when she sees the ball early and clearly from the pitcher’s release point and lets her hands naturally react to the pitch instead of overanalyzing and guessing. A basketball player experiences trust when he catches and shoots in a rhythm instead of worrying about his form, a previous miss, or if his coach or teammates think he is taking a bad shot.

Helping your athletes trust themselves, their talents and their preparation is the key to success. With trust, athletes confidently and aggressively look to make plays that help your team be successful. Without trust, athletes second-guess themselves into making mistakes and missing opportunities.

Blocking trust

Two colleagues of mine, Bill Moore and John Stevenson, have done a lot of great research and writing on the concept of trust. They have identified the following mindsets that get in the way of trust.

  • Jamming. This occurs when athletes think too much. Excessive thinking disrupts muscle memory and interferes with trust. Jamming is often called “paralysis by analysis.” When an athlete overanalyzes the situation, he ends up locking up his skills and paralyzing his talents.
  • Aiming. This occurs when athletes become overly conscious of a target. This excessive preoccupation with a target leads athletes to consciously control their movements. Pitchers can get too caught up in trying to pinpoint their pitches in the strike zone. They focus too much on perfectly hitting their spots instead of trusting their arms to throw the ball to the spot.
  • Guiding/controlling. Guiding occurs when athletes consciously try to control their movements as opposed to trusting them. This occurs often on short 8- to 10-foot jump shots in basketball. Because of the short distance, players end up short-arming the shot instead of trusting their touch.
  • Forcing. This happens when an athlete tries too hard to get the outcome they want rather than letting it come to them and trusting the process. You see players forcing the issue in basketball when they attempt to “thread the needle” on some passes when the opening is just not there. Or, softball players start to press at the plate when they attempt to swing for the fences instead of trusting themselves to make solid contact with the ball.

Trust barriers

What’s interesting is that certain athletes have a more difficult time trusting themselves and their talents than others. Based on my experience, here are six barriers to watch out for when teaching your athletes to trust.

1. Intellect. Your more cerebral and analytical athletes will tend to have a difficult time trusting themselves. That’s because most of them are accustomed to using their brains to solve problems. However, on an athletic field, too much brain power gets in the way of trust. Tell them it’s okay to think before they perform. However, too much thinking while performing (jamming) interferes with trust.

2. Self-conscious athletes. Athletes who constantly worry about what others are thinking of them have a tough time trusting themselves. They focus more on what their coaches, parents and teammates are thinking of them rather than the task at hand. Excessive worrying about the opinions of others often leads to jamming, guiding and aiming.

3. Perfectionism. Perfectionism impedes trust. Because perfectionists fear mistakes, they often play not to lose rather than trusting themselves to take the intelligent risks that sport requires. Perfectionists are prone to guiding and aiming rather than trusting.

4. Over-coaching. Too much information can overwhelm your athletes and cause them to think too much. Remember, most of your instruction should take place in practice. During practice your athletes have the time to process the info and practice it. When it comes game time, you should simply remind them about the game plan and keep them mentally on track and not overload them with information that leads to jamming. Keep it simple.

5. Critical coaches. Overly critical coaches create tentative athletes who always look over their shoulders because they are afraid of making mistakes. These athletes have a hard time trusting themselves largely because they fear your negative reaction to mistakes. How you react to the mistakes your players make either encourages them to trust or doubt themselves.

6. Obsessing over outcomes. Athletes who get too caught up in stats like shooting percentages, hitting percentages or fist-serve percentages cannot trust themselves. They obsess over the outcome instead of trusting themselves to work the process.

Do your best to take your players focus from their stats — hide them if you can — and emphasize the process.


For more info on helping your team win championships, visit www.JanssenSportsLeadership.com.


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