Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jumping Out of the Comfort Zone

Before moving to administration, I had the pleasure of coaching basketball.  During every practice, I required players to get out of their comfort zones. We dedicated several minutes every practice to individual improvement. During this segment after practicing and mastering basic moves, players were required to “get out of their comfort zones” and try something more difficult and new.

Easier said than done.

It didn’t take long to figure out that my players were not pushing themselves to get better. Even worse, practice slowed to a crawl.

My players, like everyone else, were creatures of habit. They liked routines and didn’t like change. And they certainly didn’t like looking bad and feeling worse.

So why the reluctance to get out of what was comfortable?
1.     Embarrassment
2.     Anxiety
3.     Lack of confidence and inability to get past “I’m not good enough”

Knowing we wouldn’t get significantly better if we didn’t improve and knowing the only way to truly improve was to challenge ourselves in practice, I made a couple of changes.

First, I closed practice; no more spectators. The logic was simple: the players would be more comfortable to take risks in front of only their teammates, who they trusted. Further, I explained that get out of your comfort-zone portion of practice was a non-judgmental portion of practice. The only requirement was for players to work hard. It didn’t matter if you’re making or missing shots.

Although, I was anti-music during practice, during this stage, I allowed a player to choose a CD to be played during this portion. This loosened the mood a little. As coaches, we made a deliberate decision to offer only words of encouragement with occasional coaching tips. No criticisms were allowed. We shared stories, videos and quotes about hard work, grit, and improvement.

After the “get out of your comfort zone” drill portion, we immediately transitioned into a drill that players were comfortable with to ensure players weren’t caught up in any residual negatives from a tough couple of minutes. This was usually followed by a water break. During the water break, my assistant coach and I offered specific praise to each player and asked a question that required a certain amount of positive reflection (“Did you feel yourself getting more comfortable with...”or “Do you see yourself getting better?).

Slowly our student-athletes became more and more comfortable with getting out of their comfort zones. They became better players and we became a better team.

My next blog post will focus on how I encouraged risk-taking in my classroom.

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