NRL Round 7 – Manly v Gold Coast
‘I didn’t see it coming’ were the words Geoff Toovey used regarding Manly’s 1st loss at Brookvale in 12 games. This is not true; here’s why.
During the week’s media commitments Toovey labelled this round’s clash with the Titans as a ‘danger game’, plus he was aware that Manly would only have a 5 day turnaround from their Monday night performance against the Panthers. So he did see it coming. Coaches say they ‘didn’t see it coming’ when they don’t know why it happened. ‘It’ of course refers to a poor performance. Here’s how the mental element contributed to how Manly produced a poor performance all by themselves.
What is a danger game? Is it a game that is played on a field with land mines in it, so you lose a leg if you step on one, or is it a game that has a greater risk of physical injury?
When Jack Nicholson’s character is asked about danger in the movie A Few Good Men the exchange goes like this:
Tom Cruise: “He was in mortal danger?” Jack Nicholson: “Is there any other kind?”
It is ridiculous to label a game of football, or a game of anything for that matter, as a danger game. There is no real danger, only perceived danger, which is why such a label is mentally destructive. The worst outcome for a team in any game is a loss; where is the danger in that?
The same applies for must-win games, crunch-games, games against bogey teams; all of these are complete rubbish because they are all mentally destructive.
A must-win game suggests that winning is optional for the other games.
A crunch-game suggests that this game is more important than all the others (which it’s not; all games require the same skills be executed, so making some games more important only increases pressure, reduces performance and produces losses).
A bogey team suggests a mental obstacle that a certain team provides, which only exists in the minds of those who choose to believe it.
Coaches make the mistake of labelling these games in an often misguided attempt to motivate their team. If the coach believes that his team needs extra motivation, it would be a good idea for the coach to do it properly and add something that was actually going to increase his teams’ motivation. All ‘danger game’ labels increase is pressure and guess what, pressure leads to poor performance.
This is why danger-games and so on are self-fulfilling. The seed of poor performance is planted into the heads of the players who take on these rubbish labels and beliefs.
Coaches often get the relationship between motivation and nervous energy wrong. If you think your team needs motivating, ask yourself why?
Have NSW lost so many State of Origin series because they aren’t motivated? Do they really need to be told how important the series is? The role of the coach is to manage this balance and the more the coach understands the influence of the mental element the better they are at getting this balance right.
Perhaps Manly were mentally and physically flat following a Monday night game. If so, this means you load up on rest and relaxation so they can produce the required burst of energy on game day, especially given a 5 day turnaround. If you are physically flat and then get a rev up from the coach, you start burning mental energy before it’s required, leaving little for game day.
The extra emotion added by a senior player’s 200th game tips the scales over and the balance between motivation (too much) and nervous energy (too much) is disturbed.
Toovey then plants another rotten seed during the week; he reminds his players about the Parramata game as an example of what happened when they are ‘supposed to win’. What was he thinking?
This is like reminding someone about a car crash they recently had before they get in the car. How would you feel about being driving if that was you? For most people, it will increase their nerves (pressure) and reduce their performance – exactly where they need to be to have another crash!
Again, coaches make this error in a misguided attempt to motivate their players to avoid repeating their mistake. This is basic psychology – as a coach you need to focus your players on what you want them to do, instead of what you want them to avoid.
For example, don’t think about ice cream. Whatever you do, don’t think about ice-cream because it’s very dangerous. We have to avoid ice-cream at all costs, especially this weekend because it’s so much more important that we avoid ice-cream. Are you confused by this?
It is very hard to read ‘ice-cream’ 4 times in 20 seconds without thinking about it, even though I said ‘don’t’ and I told you how dangerous it is!
Same applies for errors, penalties, missed tackles and dropped ball. If you don’t want those things to happen then you need to say what you do want (completions, discipline, solid contact and soft hands). Say these things at training and say them often. This forms the habit of directing your player’s attention to what they need to produce, which builds consistency.
This is why the half-time talk is so important from the mental perspective; coaches can really kill their teams’ chances by saying the wrong things.
So, Manly regularly drop the ball (I bet the call ‘no dropped ball’ could be heard in Beacon Hill), miss tackles, concede penalties and produce a flat performance.
From the mental perspective, you could see it coming a mile away.