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Navigating Challenging Situations with Preparation, Action, and Reaction

This is part III of the Process of Learning to Coach Life Lessons within the Game.

In part I of this series, I explained that to successfully teach life lessons beyond the game, coaches must first learn to not see their team members as only players but must first see them as people and athletes. In part II of this series, I explained how to set goals for teaching life lessons and how to use inspirational quotes and homework to help players start to put those lessons into practice.

Part II of this series ended by explaining that one of the best ways to mentor a player on how to do better not only in their sport but in their lives, is to role-play. I stated that one of the best formats for role-playing is to use the same preparation, reaction, and action format that coaches should use when they train their team members as athletes or as players in their sport.

Common examples of these lessons include handling a bad call by an umpire when batting in baseball, and a student receiving an unfair exam from a teacher.

Here is how preparation – reaction – action process looks for each example:

Bad call in a baseball game

1. Preparation (content and context – when, where, and how does this occur and why is it important to deal with it properly?)

  • You are the clean-up hitter, and you strike out with the bases loaded on a pitch that was clearly not a strike.
  • Your whole team and your fans are watching your reaction – if you stay positive, their negative reaction will be minimized, and they will move on quickly and you will set a great example of how to deal with adversity in the future. If your response is negative, they will be distracted and wallow in negativity which will likely lead to more poor results and more bad calls by the umpire in that game and future games.
  • Your reaction to the call will affect your focus and play on defense – it will also impact the performance of your team.

2. Reaction (what should your verbal and non-verbal language be when the issue arises?)

  • Any verbal comment or negative non-verbal reaction, e.g., slamming down of the helmet or bat, will have severe consequences including ejection from the game by your coach or by the umpire.
  • Must be role-played during scrimmages and game sims at the end of practice!
  • Role play must include an individual and/or team “mistake ritual.” Ask the question, how am I and how are we going to react when this happens?

3. Action (after the issue arises and your initial reaction is completed, how are you going to deal with it before and after it occurs moving forward?)

  • Discuss in practice how hitters get three strikes, and the hitter must take accountability for what happened on the first two strikes.
  • Also, discuss that with two strikes the hitters must adjust to the umpire’s zone.
  • The player and the team must immediately re-focus on supporting the next hitter and tracking along with the game situation or, if it was the third out, they must re-focus on playing great defense.

Unfair test by a teacher

1. Preparation (content and context – when, where, and how does this occur and why is it important to deal with it properly?)

  • You failed a “pop quiz” or did poorly on a midterm exam that included questions on material you barely discussed in class or did not discuss at all.
  • Both situations happen frequently in school. If you fail to anticipate them or if you react inappropriately to them, it could
    • (1) Negatively affect not only how well you did on that test, but your grade in the class.
    • (2) Generally, how your classmates react to the test and how your teacher acts toward your class moving forward.
    •  (3) Overall, your attitude towards school.

2. Reaction (what should your verbal and non-verbal language be when the issue arises?)

  • As with the bad call in the baseball game, any verbal or non-verbal negative initial reaction could have seriously bad consequences.
  • These test issues are very common and therefore, should be role-played and designed into a life lesson discussion as a part of the practice plan early in a player’s career!
  • What will be the student’s “mistake ritual” when these types of things happen? e.g., visualization of something positive, positive self-talk about recommitting to better study habits and that the poor grade can be overcome, breathing techniques, etc. (just like the strikeout can be overcome by playing great defense).

3. Action (after the issue arises and your initial reaction, how are you going to deal with it before and after it occurs moving forward?)

  • Make a habit to ask every teacher at the beginning of every term if they give pop quizzes and test on material not discussed in class.
  • Make a habit of reviewing the subject regularly not just when tests are scheduled.
  • Make a habit of going to see the teacher during office hours days ahead of scheduled tests to discuss material that will be on the test.
  • Make a habit of asking other students who have taken the class from this teacher previously about the teacher’s test philosophies – you might decide not to take the class from this teacher at all if possible!
  • Remind yourself that class grades are usually affected by many things including homework, class participation, and multiple tests and that sometimes extra credit work is available to bolster poor results in other areas.
  • Also remind yourself that grading commonly has a subjective component that can be affected by a teacher’s view of your work ethic, attitude toward the subject, and respect for the teacher.

I think you can see how easy it is to use this format to use your sport to teach life lessons. Yes, it takes time, so you need to prepare these role-playing scenarios before the season and delegate some of them to your assistant coaches too! And believe it or not, it is becoming very common for coaches in many sports to start their practices in the classroom where these role-playing activities are easy to do (Although some of them such as the bad call by an umpire scenario, might have more effect on the field!).