In Hagakure (The Way of the Samurai), the author talks about the stories of the samurai, their history, important people, and many other stories. The book gives advice on how to deal with and lead people that still holds as true today as it did several centuries ago.

One part of the book talks about how to address things with people. The author says something to the effect of, “It’s far better to tell someone a story about yourself and what you did or a change you made as a result of a certain situation rather than to address them directly about it. It is the person’s natural response to push back if you push them. If you lead them to a conclusion and they get it, then the problem is solved. If they do not get to the conclusion, it is of no consequence, as they did not start to revolt against you because of your suggestion.”

It also goes on to say that if you are in a situation that has to be directly addressed, do so in private and one on one. Any time that you are more than one on one, the person will feel attacked regardless of what was said.

These two points are ones on which I based a lot of my coaching/mentoring career. I would see issues that arose with a team and address them with different parables. We’d go over a lot of different stories to address different issues. These stories never took more than three to five minutes to tell from start to finish, plus people talking about them. We would take common parables, historical figures, and anything else that came to mind to illustrate our points. Even if it didn’t get the person on board at the time, it didn’t push them further away, so we could try from another position.

The ancient Greeks were also famous for this technique, as they used parables known as fables to teach right from wrong. Most of us heard Aesop’s Fables when we were little. In both cases, the parables were short and had a specific underlying meaning, which is great because college athletes typically have a short attention span.

This month, we are going with a bit of info on one and some classic Wooden on the other. The inverted U is really just scientific principle talk to let everyone realize that there isn’t just some linear relationship between performance and level of arousal (psych, how “up” you are, etc.). You need to have some level of arousal and some level of control for all activities. Finding the right one for you is key.

The other is from John Wooden on how to accept criticism and deal with it. Criticism is something that will be undertaken by every individual in every sport. Some people tend to deal with it better than others. Wooden’s quote is a fantastic way of processing criticism into a useful manner for the athlete to deal with. Plus, it is from John Wooden, so that in and of itself usually makes people listen. 

The Inverted U 

inverted u

The inverted U is a sports psychology tool used to demonstrate when maximal performance is achieved.

Performance on the Y-axis is combined with emotional arousal on the X-axis to demonstrate how it works. Some people may feel that the more psyched up they get, the better their performance will be, but as we can see on the inverted U, it is not true.

If someone is under-aroused for a competition, their body is not going to be prepared for the demands placed upon it by themselves or their competitor. They’ll be sleepwalking through the game, as coaches like to say, and missing things because they’re not paying attention and are not focused.

On the contrary, if someone is over-aroused and playing over-aggressively for a competition or is too psyched up, they will often make mistakes by trying to force things and move too fast, not being able to see changes made in the play. Over-reactions often occur at this state, such as over-running the ball, not being able to cover properly, etc.

The optimal level of arousal is right in the middle. One is awake, ready to play, able to pay attention and react to all things going on but still calm enough to notice changes and counter them.

To find what your optimal level of arousal is, think back to your best game ever. Think about how you felt. Were you psyched up or relaxed? Were you ready to knock heads off or were you stepping up, ready to go? Were you anxious, assertive, or aggressive? When you think back to your best games, it is easier to determine what your optimal level of arousal is.

Not everyone will have the same optimal level; it will be different based on your sport and your individual differences. Some teammates may compete best when they’re quiet and calm; some teammates may have their best games when they’re ready to explode.

Figure out what your optimal level of arousal is so you can go out and compete like a champion today. 

Criticism — John Wooden Quote

John Wooden was a great basketball coach at UCLA. He had many NCAA championships and the love and admiration of all of his athletes.

"I told my players the same thing every year: ‘Fellows, you are going to receive some criticism. Some of it will be deserved and some of it will be undeserved. Either way, you won’t like it.

"‘You will also receive some praise. Some of it will be deserved and some of it will be undeserved. Either way, you will like it. However, your strength as an individual depends on how you respond to both praise and criticism. If you let either one have any special effect on you, it’s going to hurt us. Whether it’s criticism or praise, deserved or undeserved, it makes no difference. If we let it affect us, it will hurt us as a team. You have very little control over what criticism or praise outsiders send your way. Take it with a grain of salt. Let your opponent get caught up in other people’s opinions. Don’t you do it.’"

Remember the circle of concern? If you can’t control it, you have no influence over it, so you can’t concern yourself with it. You can’t control what people say about you. Sometimes what they say will be good; sometimes what they say will be bad.

What you can control is the way you respond to it. You can let the media get you on the highs and lows of the season, or you can simply choose to not respond to it. You can choose whether or not to let it get to you. It’s your choice.

Like Coach Wooden said, let the opposition get caught up in what other people’s opinions are. Let it wreck them and their season. Choose not to and go compete like a champion today.

Champion Nature Series: Thought Stoppage