When I first began coaching Basketball, I did it because I loved the game and wanted to teach others how to become better players and enjoy the games more. After only a little while into my coaching career I noticed my focus had changed and results had become of prime importance. With this change I also noticed that my stress levels had increased. I felt that I was responsible to players, fans, sponsors and the institution we represented to win. If we lost I felt I had personally let everyone down. It took me a long time to realise no matter how much I asked above, no one was going to come down through the roof and help my Power Forward make a lay-up or fix the referees eyesight. Knowing that divine intervention wasn’t going to relieve my s tress I needed a change of mind set in my coaching. I needed to return to my original reason for coaching. Once I began to focus on performance rather than results my stress became easier to manage.

If my team plays as well as it can that is our success. If we do that and lose then there is not much more we can do. Knowing we did everything we could do to win but didn’t somehow makes the lose easier to digest. Conversely, if we win and we played poorly I am more likely to be disappointed. This focus on performance also changes the stress from the game to how we get that performance. Practice and the pre-game become extremely important in this process.

Practice is my favourite time of the week, is when I am with my players and we are all working to achieve something together. Planning and discipline is important. If practice is scheduled to start at 1-30 it does. If we are scheduled to finish at 4 we do. This allows the players to schedule their lives and have certainty. Everything is planned for practice. I break down the activity, where on the court and who is working on it down to the minute. Once practice begins I belong to the players and I will not talk to anyone or be interrupted for any reason.

Pre-game I try to remove stress or nerves by placing a routine around me. I have a set time to arrive at the stadium. I do the same things when I get there. I bullet point our pre-game meeting. I try and clear my mind and focus on the team and the moment.

During the game can be a stressful time. I have learned to cope with it by trying to make everything a teachable moment. Instead of getting upset by things I try to focus on what we could do better and communicate that to my players. Timeouts are great for this. However, sometimes I won’t call one to see if they can work it out themselves. If they can’t I will call one and instead of telling them what to do I will pose the problem and ask them to solve it. More often than not they know the answer. This sharing of power also reduces the stress to be all knowing.

 After the match I like to take some time to reflect and decompress before returning home to my family. My assistant coach and I would often go to a burger joint for a bite and an informal deconstruction of the game. By the time I arrive home I have worked out most of the adrenaline and am ready to relax for the evening.

For me managing stress is all about being prepared, being disciplined and concerned with performance rather than results. If all that fails and I’m feeling the stress of achieving results I try to remember that in the greater scheme of things what we do in shorts really doesn’t matter that much at all.

Dr Ian Lambie has been instrumental in moving a generation of Auckland and Auckland Aces players forward from a mental skills component over a 10 year plus period of time. Individually and as a collective group including out internationals.

A comment from Sir Richard Hadlee – “at this level it is 80% mental”