Tuesday, February 28, 2012


"Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it".

Whether you first heard this quote from pastor and author Charles R. Swindoll or famous football coach Lou Holtz, its message is clear — you are measured not by what happens to you, but in how you respond to those challenges.

That quote hangs on my office door and has been a theme for our men's soccer players here at the University of Evansville.

We have a young team, with a nucleus of rising sophomores and juniors, and they have worked really hard in the early stages of this preseason training at working outside of their comfort zone and responding positively to adversity.

Whether on the field, in the classroom, or at home, it's critical to respond positively toward challenges. "Adversity reveals character" is a phrase often echoed in this column, and you can learn an awful lot when presented with challenges. There are normally multiple coachable moments that can be applied when a mistake happens.

Here are some tips to assist in how to respond positively to challenges, and in presenting these coachable moments to your own players, team and children:

Be humble: There needs to be a level of appreciation and understanding of who you are and how you fit into the whole scheme of things.

No player is so special that he can't be fouled. I'm amazed when I see players who received a call continue to complain to the ref or trash-talk an opponent. If you've received the desired call, what more do you expect? Better players than you have been fouled; it's part of the game.

No player is so special that his team can't be scored on. It will happen, and when it does, keep it in perspective that games last two halves (soccer), four quarters (high school basketball) or nine innings (baseball). Most mistakes happen while a player is dwelling on a previous mistake rather than focusing on moving forward.

"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do" — John Wooden's quote illustrates the level of resolve and focus you need in adverse situations.

There are some things that are absolutely out of an athlete's control — the weather, an official's call, a decision from a teammate or coach, a past mistake. Athletes who are mentally tough understand that all they can truly control are their own attitude and effort. Putting emphasis on working harder, staying focused on your own responsibilities and not getting distracted are what will determine the toughness of an athlete.

Strength vs. toughness: I've often subscribed to the theory that strength can be measured in the weight room, where toughness is measured by how an athlete responds to challenges.

Physical size is relative when it comes to mental toughness, and has more to do with "the size of the fight in the dog" as opposed to "the size of the dog in the fight."

How you respond to challenges will determine how tough you are, so place more value in mental toughness. When your team's best players are also your team's mentally toughest players, you are on the verge of something special.

Focus on the process: It's easy for a coach or an athlete to get distracted by the outcome on the scoreboard as opposed to focusing on the process of getting better and moving forward. True champions learn from mistakes that happen in games.

No coachable moment sinks in more than a game. No matter how successful you are as a coach or a parent, your players or children will learn more from those adverse moments than from lectures. A coach's job is to make sure players understand why mistakes happen and how to correct them.

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