Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 90 - Dr. Andrea Becker - UNLOCKING POTENTIAL

What I’m really looking at are: what are the qualities and behaviors that make a really great coach? And what do coaches do to help their athletes perform at the highest levels? And what are some of the behaviors that maybe undermine the athlete’s ability to do that?
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 90 - Dr. Andrea Becker - UNLOCKING POTENTIAL

ANDREA: [00:00:01] What I’m really looking at are: what are the qualities and behaviors that make a really great coach? And what do coaches do to help their athletes perform at the highest levels? And what are some of the behaviors that maybe undermine the athlete’s ability to do that? And so if I were to talk about some of the things that great coaches really do, one of those things is that they’re really consistent in who they are and what they do and how they do it.

[00:00:31] So, a really great coach is not somebody who comes out to the field or into the gym one day and behaves a certain way. And then the next day, you’re not really sure how they’re going to behave. They’re going to behave in a consistent way, from one day to the next from the beginning, all the way until the end of the season.

And if they don’t feel like they can behave in that way, then they’re probably not going to show themselves to their athletes. Because they understand the importance of being very consistent in who they are in their behaviors in terms of how the athletes psychologically interpret that and then the athlete knows how to behave around the coach.

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JESSE: [00:01:55] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today has her Ph.D. in Sports Psychology. She’s a former Division 1 Softball Player, currently an Associate Professor at Sacramento State. And, and this is interestingly, notably, Sports Psychology Coach for USA men’s volleyball team since 2013. Welcome to the show, Dr. Andrea Becker.

ANDREA: [00:02:19] Thanks for having me.

JESSE: [00:02:20] Yeah, thanks for spending some time. I know before we got going, you were talking about having to get off of another meeting. And given all of the things that you’re involved in, I know, your time is very precious. So, I really appreciate you hanging out with me today.

ANDREA: [00:02:33] Sure, no problem.

JESSE: [00:02:35] So, I want to get into the nitty-gritty a little bit quick here. So, we don’t waste too much of your time. I was reading about — you did your dissertation on the psychology of coaching and thinking about it from that perspective, how does that — taking it from that role versus going from like player up going from coach down; how does that change the dynamic or looking at the psychology of that whole team unit?

ANDREA: [00:03:07] From a player perspective versus from a — [crosstalk]

JESSE: [00:03:09] So, like if you are on the outside — So, you’re on the outside, you’re studying coaches, right? Looking at the psychology of coaching. And like a coach and a team, they’re, hopefully, a cohesive unit working towards a goal, right? And I think when — I guess, let me say, when I think about sports psychology, I’m thinking about like, as a player, as an individual how can I affect my own mentality?

Whereas at least from my understanding, you’re trying to think about the coach’s role, or how the coach’s psychology plays into it. How does that change or like what are you looking at and how does that change your perspective on I guess, the field or what you’re looking at? If that makes sense.

ANDREA: [00:03:53] What I’m really looking at are, what are the qualities and behaviors that make a really great coach? And what do coaches do to help their athletes perform at the highest levels? And what are some of the behaviors that maybe undermine the athlete’s ability to do that? And so if I were to talk about some of the things that great coaches really do, one of those things is that they’re really consistent in who they are and what they do and how they do it.

[00:04:24] So, a really great coach is not somebody who comes out to the field or into the gym one day and behaves a certain way. And then the next day, you’re not really sure how they’re going to behave. They’re going to behave in a consistent way, from one day to the next from the beginning, all the way until the end of the season. And if they don’t feel like they can behave in that way, then they’re probably not going to show themselves to their athletes.

Because they understand the importance of being very consistent in who they are in their behaviors in terms of how the athletes psychologically interpret that and then the athlete knows how to behave around the coach. So, when coaches are consistent with who they are, it allows the athlete to be themselves and be consistent in who they are as well. So, that’s just scratching the surface, that would be one thing that I think really great coaches do to help their athletes perform at their best.

[00:05:16] The other thing is, they’re very clear in their expectations, not necessarily for outcomes. I think great coaches understand that while we strive for outcomes, we can’t necessarily control outcomes, but what we can control is behaviors. So, we can control whether we’re giving 100% effort, we can control the way that we communicate with our teammates, we can control the way that we focus our attention during practice drills. And whether we’re doing mindful performance or mindless performance. And I think the higher the level that you go, the easier it is sometimes to get away with getting outcomes, while also being mindless.

[00:05:53] If you think about in baseball, for example, if you’re practicing and you’re hitting balls off the tee, it’s really easy to go over and put a ball on a tee and hit it off and put a ball on the tee and hit it off. But are you really engaged in mindful practice where you’re focusing your attention on the ball, and going through your pre-performance routine, and then stepping into the tee as if you were actually hitting a ball in the game? And I think those types of things are — doing those types of behaviors are the behaviors that great coaches really hold their athletes to that high standard of behavior.

JESSE: [00:06:30] So, the first thing I kind of think about when you’re looking at coaches and their behaviors, I kind of wonder if, as you study coaches, is there any kind of, I don’t know how else to break this out, but saying like some kind of like union archetype — like this style of coaching — is it like that, or is it really just a dispersion of individuals?

ANDREA: [00:06:56] It’s really, it’s a dispersion of individuals. It’s just like the performing a free throw shot, a lot of people can make 90% of their free throws. Maybe I shouldn’t say a lot. But really great players can maybe make 90 to 95% of their free throws doing a slightly different technique, or looking slightly different. And the same thing is true in coaching. There’s probably no one right way to coach a team to be successful. But there are ways that maybe make that journey a little bit more enjoyable for the athletes. There are ways that you can achieve success. And it could be really enjoyable, and you can achieve success, and it may be really miserable.

[00:07:43] But when I talk about great coaching, I’m talking about not only helping your team be as successful as possible, but then when you speak with those athletes, they had an enjoyable experience while doing it, they really love to go to practice each day, because the coach created an environment where it wasn’t all misery.

So, if we’re just judging coaches on their outcomes, there are many different ways to do it. But if we’re judging coaches on their outcomes, in addition to the experiences of their athletes, then maybe we’re talking about some fundamental characteristics in terms of what they do, not necessarily personality qualities because all coaches are going to — There’s no two personalities on the 6.8 billion people on this planet that are exactly alike. Everybody’s got variations in who they are. And so there’s no cookie-cutter personality that makes a great coach.

[00:08:36] But great coaches are very knowledgeable in their craft. They’re very detail-oriented. They execute highly organized practices. They understand themselves and how their own words and behaviors impact their athletes, and maybe we want to call that emotional intelligence. And so they’re able to navigate their words and behaviors carefully in order to get the athletes to think or behave in certain ways that will help maximize their abilities to perform well.

And so I do think that there are those fundamental characteristics. You know, all coaches teach, but great coaches teach the details. All coaches communicate, but great coaches communicate, honestly and openly, and carefully. And all coaches motivate, but some coach’s motivated out of fear and some coach’s motivated out of love.

[00:09:34] And so all coaches do a lot of the same task, but it’s the way in which they do it and the way that they deliver it. And their ability to do it in a way that really builds the player up and makes them feel like a worthy and valuable member of the team, but also builds their confidence and their competence at the sport. And they feel like they can actually do it, and that their coach believes in them. So, there is no cookie-cutter approach. But I would say that those are some fundamental qualities across the board that you see when you’re examining coaches who are really great in their sport.

JESSE: [00:10:30] Is that why, I guess, in your opinion, you see it happens more so in pro sports than college, although transfers happen in college, obviously. A player comes to a new team and there’s a fitting in period because of a cultural shift. Is that because they’ve had a coach and they had certain expectations and they come to a new coach and there’s this kind of uneven ground, they’re not sure what to expect, is that why that happens?

ANDREA: [00:10:43] I think that’s part of it. I think whenever you join a new team there’s going to be a period of time where you’re developing your own knowledge of the culture that you’re entering, just the systems of play that you’re — Maybe this coach runs a whole different offensive and defensive system or has a whole different philosophical approach to the sport. I mean, you are in running so I mean, there are different philosophies on how to go about a race plan and how you want to execute.

And maybe that has to do with the individual who’s running that race as well, and what their strengths are. Maybe they’re strong at closing, maybe they’re a good person who’s very good at pacing, or whatever that might be right.

[00:11:28] So, I think some athletes get to a new team, and it’s like a breath of fresh air, and you see a whole different athlete. And some athletes take more time. And I really just think they’re — it’s so individualized, and it depends on the situation that they’re entering, and the situation that they came from, and the personality of that athlete, and so forth. So, I think there are a lot of different factors that might play a role in when an athlete transfers teams, what that experience might feel like, and then what that experience might look like from an outside observer’s perspective.

JESSE: [00:12:01] I want to go back a little bit. You were talking about all great coaches teach or all good coaches teach, great coaches teach details. And I think about the various coaches I’ve had over time. And then most recently, this is pretty cheesy, and I don’t know that you’ve watched this. There’s this show on Apple TV called Ted Lasso, about a coach that supposedly coached at Wichita State and then gets pulled to coach a Premier League Soccer team and he knows nothing about soccer. And his focus is on like, basically, teaching the athletes to be great individuals, not necessarily good soccer players, but great people. And eventually, his assistant coach gets pissed at him because he’s like this is pro, results do matter.

[00:12:54] So, I wonder because you’ve been involved in various levels of sport, how much shift you have, in being more focused on those outcomes, the higher you go? Where I think about the collegiate environment and I think largely of outcomes do matter. But I think about the great coaches I’ve been involved with coaching character. And then I, unfortunately, didn’t make it to the high, high echelons of my sport. So, it leaves a little bit of mystery to me how much is that character aspect taken down a notch and outcomes weighed higher as you go on?

ANDREA: [00:13:36] I think any team could be likened to like being in a large relationship. And people are going to be happier and more productive individuals when they’re in a healthy relationship than when they’re in a dysfunctional relationship or when they’re in an uncertain relationship. And just as human beings, I think that we oftentimes seek security, we seek comfort, we seek those — we have basic needs and those are just examples, but we seek those basic needs to be met.

If you’re a coach who can understand the needs of your athletes, and some athletes really need to have a strong relationship with their coach in order to then feel comfortable to perform at their best, where they’re not looking over their shoulder worrying about what their coaches thinking, worrying about if they’re going to get pulled out, worrying about if they’re going to be judged or criticized.

[00:14:31] And some athletes don’t need that relationship at all. They’re fully confident in themselves and they go out and they do their job on the field or in the gym, or wherever it is. And they don’t need to have that relationship or that confirmation that their coach believes in them in order to perform well. And so again, this is where coaching really is an art. And figuring out the degree to which you need to develop those relationships is an important part of that art.

And with some athletes, they’re going to be more open to that and some are not. But I think by not focusing on establishing and nurturing relationships, it’s really difficult then to have critical conversations, to understand athletes on deeper levels, to figure out the buttons that you need to push, in order to really motivate that person to work their hardest.

[00:15:30] There are so many different aspects of coaching that really require you to know that person at their very core. Not just that they’re a warm body that’s out there and you’re controlling them or maneuvering them around, and they’re doing what you want. We’re human beings with emotional systems and because of that, we all respond and behave in different ways.

And so if a coach really wants to maximize an athlete’s performance, it really is in their best interest to get to know those individuals, develop strong relationships, and then that way when you’re losing or when something isn’t going right, you still have the relationship as a foundation to fall back on. And you can work from that, and you can continue to influence them.

[00:16:15] If the relationship isn’t there, if there’s no trust, and there’s no respect, and your team isn’t winning, then why does that athlete want to listen to you as a coach? Why would they want to continue to implement your system if they don’t believe in your system? And what would make them want to be loyal to you or care about you and your coaching if you haven’t exhibited those same behaviors toward them? And so I absolutely 100% — I was just talking to a handful of national team, our USA national team coaches the other day about the cultures that they established with them in their teams.

And all three of the coaches that I spoke with, emphasize the importance of developing relationships and having strong relationships within your team, not just among team members, but among coaching staff members, and then staff and team members in order to — that’s the foundation of success. Not focusing on outcomes. You can’t control an outcome. But you can’t control all of the different qualities or behaviors that would give you the highest probabilities to achieve that outcome. And I think they really understand the importance of those things in developing a successful team.

JESSE: [00:17:28] So, if you come into an environment, and you see, what I’ll say is maybe a sub-optimal approach to building relationships, that coach building relationships with their athletes. Is that where you come in and coach, the coach? Or how does your role come into play?

ANDREA: [00:17:47] Yeah, I might. There are some instances where I don’t work with the team members at all and I just work with the coaches. And maybe I’m observing some of their interactions, observing their behaviors in practices in games, and then really having dialogue about what that coach is experiencing, what they’re seeing, what they’re trying to implement, how those messages are coming across to their athletes, are there more effective ways that they could be doing that? How the athletes are responding to those messages, what their research says in terms of conveying those messages in a way that will be better received, and so forth.

[00:18:29] And so, certainly, some of the work I do is with the coaches themselves. And some of the work is with the athletes themselves. And then sometimes it’s about sitting down in a room with the coach and an athlete or a group of athletes and saying, here’s what I heard coach saying in the meeting, what did you hear. And the athlete says. And if that’s congruent, then we’re in a good place. And if that’s not what the athlete heard, maybe because of the tone or the way it was delivered, then we can have a dialogue and reach some kind of consensus so that they understand what is expected of them and what they can do to meet those expectations.

JESSE: [00:19:17] So, does that mean that there’s no typical day for you? They’re always approaching it differently?

ANDREA: [00:19:24] Never a typical day. Which is really enjoyable and sometimes really challenging. So, sometimes you do get in — you have a challenging situation. And sometimes when you’re in a relationship, right, because it’s a large relationship, there are miscommunications in that relationship, and you’re the person that’s trying to bridge that gap in the miscommunication. And that can be difficult at times, but I think that’s what makes relationships interesting and fun is that it is a process. And we’re developing as human beings when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to that process. Really just being open about making a mistake, perhaps, or sharing a vulnerability or sharing a fear or saying that something hurt your feelings.

[00:20:21] And I think that’s really hard to do, particularly in the context of sport where we’ve been built up to be these strong and tough human beings. And you’re asking me to be what I perceive is weak and not tough and I don’t want to do that, especially in front of my coach. But I think if you have a coach who’s onboard, and can also model some of those behaviors, that really makes the work a lot easier.

So, when you have coaches who are very open-minded and willing to be vulnerable themselves, and when somebody is vulnerable, like the last thing that an athlete wants to do is go to their coach and say, I’m not feeling confident. And to have a coach who can understand what that’s like to be in a sport and not feel confident. Because even your top athletes at all levels are going to have experiences or times where they don’t feel confident. It’s a fragile concept, you feel confident, you don’t feel confident, you feel confident.

[00:21:20] And so to know that you have a coach if there’s truly trust, and you have a strong relationship, you should be able to share that. And rather than feeling like the judge, or the coach would judge or criticize you on that feeling, they will help you to work through it, and help you to come up with strategies for overcoming or even just performing in the face of lack of confidence.

And sometimes we have to do that. And hey, you’re not going to feel confident all the time. But here’s what you can do. You can go out there and you can focus your — You have a choice, let’s choose to focus our attention here. Those thoughts aren’t going to stop, you’re not going to go out to the field or out to the end of the gym and clear your mind, that’s just not going to happen.

[00:22:08] We’re always going to have a constant stream of thinking. But we can choose to pay attention to those thoughts. Or we can choose to say, Okay, I hear you. There you are. And now I’m going to focus my attention on just seeing the ball. And I’m going to repeat in my mind over and over again, “Jesse, Jesse, Jesse.” Because naturally, if I’m talking, then I’m probably not listening very well. So, we can almost use our own internal voice to override that voice in the back of our head that — [crosstalk]

Yeah, that subconscious voice that is telling us, we’re not good enough, or don’t make a mistake, or you can’t miss this, or whatever it is. So, there are little strategies you can do to not stop it and not clear it because that’s really difficult. But to override it with your focus with things that are tangible. Thoughts only exists in our minds.

[00:23:07] But seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, and all those types of things happen in our present moment. So, it’s about getting out of your thoughts and back into your senses and taking in sensory information. So, talking, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, are all little sensory things that we can do to shift our attention away from the negative thinking. So, we can’t necessarily stop it, we can’t necessarily change the fact that we don’t feel great right now. But we can change our focus.

JESSE: [00:23:38] That makes me think about — I think about Nick Saban when I think about this, although I think most great coaches probably have similar ideas, focus on the process and just like, that’s when we control, right. And that’s basically what you’re saying is like I can’t control what they’re doing, I can’t control whether it’s raining today, I can’t control all these externalities. What I can control is that we’re focusing on doing all the details right every time to the best of our ability.

And then the kind of crossover of that into just how you do anything is how you do everything. Just focusing on the process of life, right? Not everything is going to go your way. And so that crosses over into sport where it’s like maybe you had a bad day in your inclusion environment. You bombed your test or whatever and that’s on your mind. Well focused on the process, both with studying or whatever it is and on the field.

[00:24:42] You know, I don’t know that I have a question here. Just your comments, I think. And then going back to talking about being open to admitting that you’re making mistakes or that you’re not feeling confident with your coach, I think the kind of contradictory but almost self-evident after you examine the result of that situation is that it takes a lot of strength in and of itself to admit that you made a mistake and that you are vulnerable. And it’s, at least in my opinion, a stronger position to do that than to simply hide it and pretend that it doesn’t exist. But from that side where you don’t want to admit it, it doesn’t feel like that at the time. How do you get people across that bridge?

ANDREA: [00:25:38] I think you have to first have an environment where it’s safe to cross that bridge. And I think there are a lot of sport environments where athletes don’t feel comfortable doing that. They don’t feel like they’re in an environment where they can be vulnerable and share those inner thoughts or those inner feelings that might be holding them back from being their best. And I think it really is up to the head coach and the coaching staff or the manager, whoever is the leader of that team, that culture, to create an environment where they feel safe enough to do that.

[00:26:19] Or the athlete, if they don’t, they’re in an environment where they don’t feel safe enough to do that, to be open enough to develop their own outlet outside of their sport so that they can self-reflect, and maybe peel back some of the layers that hold them back. So, having some external feedback, and to process their experiences with somebody who’s outside of their sport, so that they can almost survive in an environment that maybe doesn’t feel safe, perform well, in spite of that.

JESSE: [00:27:03] So, I’m going to shift gears a little bit on you. I was kind of wondering since you played softball in college, and then are involved with the USA men’s volleyball; how do you make the crossover in sports, personally, or it doesn’t matter? Is it sports are sports and we could stick you anywhere, and you’ll thrive?

ANDREA: [00:27:27] I think when we’re talking about athletes and their experiences, there are many similarities across sports. Particularly when you’re working with athletes who are performing at the highest levels, they experience expectations, external pressures, judgment, social judgment in media formats. They experienced issues of confidence. They could all work on developing strategies to improve their focus in pressure moments, particularly.

So, I think, across the board, athletes experience many of the same thematic issues. But for me, transitioning from being a person who played softball at the collegiate level to somebody who ended up becoming an assistant coach at the collegiate level in a different sport, I would say that the first year that I got into volleyball, I watched hours and hours of video, and really tried to learn the details of the sport from a coaching perspective.

[00:28:36] And I was just very fortunate that I was able to be around some of the best coaches in the country and ask questions of them. And ask about different systems of play and strategies and what each practice drill was for; what’s the purpose of the trail, what are we trying to accomplish. And so really coming from coming into the gym from a fresh perspective, allowed me not to come in with a closed mind and ingrained philosophy is about my beliefs about how the game should be played.

But it was really about these are some of the best coaches in the country and some of them do it differently. So, let me come from a place of questioning. Learning. Coming from a place of, “Hey, I really want to learn, why does this coach implement it this way? And why do you implement it this way? What is the rationale behind that?” So, really learning the game.

[00:29:31] And I think that helped me bridge the gap sometimes between the coaches and the athletes because sometimes you’re in a practice drill as an athlete, you don’t really know why you’re doing the drill. And so because of that, you’re just going through the motions. And so some of that, some of my own questioning helped to make the drills more purposeful for the athletes because I was able to go over them in practice and say, “Hey, we’re really doing this because we’re trying to develop our ability to hit different shots.”

And so you keep going and you’re hitting the same shot over and over again. And that’s the shot that you’re really good at, which is great because maybe 80% of the time you’re going to use that. But there is going to be some moments where you’re going to need a different tool in your toolbox. And here’s the opportunity.

[00:30:15] So, don’t fear failure right now, and don’t fear making a mistake. Let’s try to develop this other shot so that you get comfortable to use that as well as this shot that you’re really good at. And that’s what the drill is for. It’s okay to make mistakes right now, it’s a practice drill. And to be able to give purpose to some of the drills that maybe athletes didn’t see because they just take the orders, and then they go do what the coach tells them to do. And that’s just one example.

But I think really, it gave me an opportunity to learn a sport from the ground up without any preconceived notions, or philosophies about how I believed it should be coached, or learned or executed, and so forth.

JESSE: [00:31:03] That reminds me I wish I could remember. I know I’ve had another guest who kind of has a similar situation where they grew up in one sport, and then they end up coaching in another sport. And I think they had very similar thoughts where it was like, since they had no idea what was going on to start with, not no idea obviously, you know what volleyball is, and probably even know the rules of the game.

But just the intricacies of it since they didn’t grow up with it, didn’t have all that, it allowed them to come in. Oh, it was — I forgot her name. She studies swimming in Australia, at Australia’s Olympic Training Center.

[00:31:45] Anyway, she came in and was asking questions about like, why are they swimming like this? Why is the pacing like this? Why are the athletes doing this? And was able to come in with I’ll say, a critical mind, but in a positive way because she wasn’t inundated with “This is just how it’s done while I was growing up.” So, it’s just interesting. I hear some similar kind of thoughts from you coming into that sport as an adult, and then really making that deep dive.

[00:32:24] One of the things I always think about, both on a personal level and trying to get to the bottom of, maybe you’re the right person to ask. I try to think about where does motivation come from? What is motivation? I know when I talked to my current coach about it, we talked about how a coach can’t light the fire of motivation, but they can stoke it. You can’t make — if a player is not motivated, if they have no motivation you can’t create it, but you can grow it. So, I kind of like your thoughts on where does motivation come from? Are we wrong? Can you create motivation? You know, how does that play a role in kind of your world?

ANDREA: [00:33:11] Sure, sure. I mean, if we talk about the formal definition of motivation, we’re really talking about energy, where someone is directing their energy, like motivation comes from the word to move. And in order to move something, it needs energy, or else it’s going to stay in one place, right? So, it’s about where do we direct our human energy?

And then once we direct it toward that something, what is the intensity of the energy once we’re in it? So, I played softball in college, and I love softball. So, I directed a ton of my energy toward anything softball. I’m going to go watch a game, I’m going to go out and play catch or I’m going to go — And so I directed a lot of my energy towards softball.

[00:33:55] But then motivation is also once you’re out there at practice and once you’re out there doing the activity that you’re motivated to do, what is the intensity of your energy or your effort once you’re in it? And young people are motivated to play sports. And the word play is in the action of what we’re doing.

And as adults and as coaches and as the people who influenced the environment in which they play, we can either undermine that motivation, or we can fuel it. And there are a lot of things that coaches do in youth sport, for example, that undermine young people’s motivation, and even parents that undermine young people’s motivation to do the sport once they’re in it.

[00:34:46] Having long practices, over-focusing on outcomes, asking them why they did something. I mean, they did it because at the time they thought they were doing good. You know, I think understanding that all young people who are participating in sport, want to do well. Nobody tried to perform poorly. Nobody went out to Then made a decision that, “Hey, I’m really going to strike out right now so that I can head back to the dugout and hear my parents in the crowd saying, why did you swing at that pitch?

Told you not to swing at high pitches.” You know? It just breaks my heart to see these young kids in youth sport where so much of the focus is on the outcome of what they’re doing when it should be about the joy of playing because that’s what we’re doing. We’re playing a sport.

[00:35:37] And I think as adults, we’re squeezing the joy out of what young people are doing in sport. And these are just some examples, obviously. But if we want to motivate young people, we want to focus on loving learning, loving the feeling of improving at something when you really practice it. Loving going out and running around and jumping and appreciating that your body is capable of doing those things. Because there are so many people out there who don’t have those capabilities.

And so really putting a sense of gratitude and fun and appreciation for those opportunities that people get to be able to play, truly play and letting them play. It isn’t about the score. So, many parents get wrapped up in the score, or their own child’s statistics, or getting a college scholarship, and we’re really going to focus on, we’re going to give you a strength coach and a sports psychologist and a nutritionist and a pitching coach and all — and then you’re going to get a scholarship.

[00:36:48] And you know what? They might get a scholarship. But then they’re going to get to a university like a UCLA, gosh, one of the finest academic institutions in the country, and they actually get to play a sport there. But then they’re going to come to a person like me during their sophomore year. And the first question I’m going to ask them is, why do you play? And their answer is going to be usually, 90%, “I don’t know.” And the reason why they don’t know is because they played their entire life to get a college scholarship. And they got it last year.

They achieved the outcome that was pumped into them their entire life. The outcome wasn’t really loving your sport and becoming the best that you’re capable of becoming. And every day when you have an opportunity to go out there and learn, you’re learning and it feels good to fail at something over and over and over again.

[00:37:41] And then when you finally get it and it finally clicks, it’s like “Wow,” you earned something. You develop confidence from those multiple failures. And then finally, overcoming that obstacle that you work so hard at overcoming. And you realize, “Wow, I can fail a lot of times, and I can do this.” That’s not how they feel. They feel like, “Well, I got the scholarship, but I don’t love the sport. I hate the pressure that comes with it. I don’t like the attention I get in the media. I just want to hide out and go do my thing.” We’re putting too much pressure and too many external expectations on something that’s supposed to be played as a game.

[00:38:22] And I think that’s really hard on young people. I’m seeing more and more– I would say over the last 10 years, I’m seeing more and more young people come to me and they tell me they have the yips. They’re telling me, “I have the yips, I need to talk to you. And I don’t know where it came from.” And really, what they’re sharing with me is high levels of anxiety. High levels of dysfunctional perfectionism, high levels of deep care about what other people think and whether they’re pleasing other people, and whether they’re meeting external expectations. And those things aren’t self-developed, those things are nurtured.

[00:39:01] And so, as adults and as sport coaches and as teachers and as people who influence the lives of young people, we really need to get back to the fundamental qualities that make sport a special experience. That they can learn how to have good character, and to win and lose with class, and to fail over and over again, but continue to work hard to overcome those failures. And then sit in the feeling of what it feels like when you’ve been successful after failure and really move away from those outcomes.

Nobody’s going to care what your batting average was in the fourth grade. So, why do we put so much emphasis on it now? Nobody’s going to care. Your rankings don’t make who you are as a human being. Your behaviors and the way you treat other people, the way you carry yourself is what makes a good human being. Not how you performed in your sport.

[00:40:02] Even some athletes come to me and they don’t want to play anymore. But their entire relationship with their parents through their eyes is based on the interactions they have through their sport. If I don’t play anymore, “Oh my gosh, what will I talk to my dad about?” That’s where the love that I feel and they had for me came through my sport outcomes.

And that’s just, to even think about that’s how we’re making a young person versus many young person feel it’s heartbreaking to me, you know. And so I think there are a lot of things that we could do that would motivate and even more important, inspire young people to want to give full effort because that’s what feels good. Inspire people to take pride in the behaviors that they exhibit in practices. Rather than punish them for mistakes and outcomes that are really outside of their control.

JESSE: [00:41:07] Andrea, we’re starting to wind down on time. You’ve already kind of touched on this. But each season of the show, I have a single question I asked every single guest. And my question for this year, which you kind of already answered, I think. But for a more succinct version, I’d like to know your opinion and how you stay motivated after you fail to reach a goal.

ANDREA: [00:41:33] Having the deep belief that if you stick with it, that someday you can achieve that outcome. And that if you do fall short, then you feel good about having given your 100% best. And I think at the end of the day, I say this to my students all the time, at the end of the day, what I try to achieve in a day is to be the best person I’m capable of being. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to make mistakes. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to accidentally use the wrong tone. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to be perfect in my behaviors. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to have the best lecture every time I head into the classroom.

[00:42:16] But when I look in the mirror at night, did I try my best? Did I try to treat people with kindness and respect? Were my intentions good? And if the answer to that question is yes, then I should feel good about that. I’m not always going to get the outcome. So, when that young person doesn’t get the outcome that they want, but they look in the mirror, did they try their best? Then they could still feel good about themself. And I think that’s really what it’s about in the end, like, so many young people struggle with not feeling good enough. What does that really mean? And who’s ever really truly good enough?

[00:42:50] We could spend our lifetimes becoming better and better and better at something and you know what we can still do? Become better. There’s never any — You never reach a final destination. There’s always one little thing you could have done better. So, really, what is good enough? And to me, I just really defined good enough is that the intention of having good intentions and doing the best that you were possibly capable of doing? And if you did that, then you should feel good enough about yourself. And really, to me, that’s the message that I try to instill in young people.

JESSE: [00:43:28] Andrea, I know we talked about you’re not big on social just like I’m not. Is there anywhere people can kind of see what you’re up to, check on kind of what you’re doing, what you’re doing with teams, that kind of stuff?

ANDREA: [00:43:49] I’m on Twitter, Andrew J. Becker. And I don’t put tweets out a lot, but I pay attention. And yeah, if people are interested in sports psychology or reaching out to me, then they can find my email address on the Cal States University Sacramento website. And following the USA Men’s Volleyball Team is another way to kind of keep up with some of the stuff I’m doing. So, between those things, they’ll probably see little snippets here and there.

JESSE: [00:44:26] So, it’s good. Thanks for hanging out with me today.

ANDREA: [00:44:28] Sure. Great to chat.

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