Lessons From the Masters: The Blue Angels

We have a big old schoolhouse chalkboard on the wall right by our door. Whenever I get an inspiration for a post, I scribble the idea on the board… if the idea hits me away from home, it gets entered on my phone and transferred to the chalkboard when I get home.

chalkboardI like the chalkboard… it is very tactile and very visual… plus it is fun to draw up plays and defenses “old school” style when fellow coaches visit!

The other day I was looking at the board… it really is unavoidable since it just about smacks you in the face when you enter our home… plus I can see it from where I normally sit and type these posts.

I noticed there was a common thread running through about 3 or 4 of the ideas that had made it to “The Board”… the commonality was what we as coaches can learn from “experts” in fields outside our discipline.

So this post will be the first in a series of “Lessons from the Masters”.

The National Geographic channel has some interesting programming… especially interesting for an old history teacher and coach. Recently they had a special on the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s precision aerobatic team. The pilots on the Blue Angel flight team are elite… the best of the best… masters of their craft. Over 500 navy pilots a year apply for the squad and only 6 are chosen.

The show itself focused on the training of the Blue Angel team… both physical and mental preparation. The part that intrigued me was their pre-show (pre-game) ritual of “Chair Flying”.   I have written about mental visualization several times (Mental Visualization, The Highest Quality Mental Reps, Inside Russell Wilson’s Brain) but these pilots take it to a new level.   Blue Angels’ Captain Greg McWherter, has this to say about their mental practice….

“We’re a very structured organization, as you can imagine. We do the same thing every practice and on a show day. Two hours prior to flying, we get geared up and drive into work together. When we get to work, we go into our briefing room and close the doors for almost an hour before we brief and we don’t let anyone upset that. No family, no press, no friends. And we do that just so we can get focused as a team. Once we start the briefing, we have a set pattern. I lead the briefing, talking about the weather, and we’ll sit in our chairs and close our eyes. We’ll put our right hands out like we’re gripping the controls stick, our left hands out like we’ve got our throttle and we’ll “chair fly” through the maneuvers just like we’re flying the plane. And from an outsider looking in, it looks like we’re doing a séance.”

Here is a  brief video of their mental visualization technique.

My takeaway… this is yet more proof of the value of mental visualization… a verification that this technique works. It is a technique that these men are quite literally betting their lives on. Mental visualization helps them perform precision maneuvers that at times put their wingtips within eighteen inches from each other while flying at 700 miles per hour.

blue angelsDo you talk to your athletes about how to prepare mentally for a contest? Do you spend time teaching mental visualization techniques? How much time do you spend with your athletes on the different mental components of the game?

You Can Do More… your brain is lying to you…. Don’t Believe It!

Jeff Floyd – youcandomore1@yahoo.com

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Inside Russell Wilson’s Brain

Mental visualization is an extremely powerful tool your athletes can use to improve their performance.   Just this week Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson had this to say about using mental visualization as part of his game preparation:

“It [visualization] definitely translates in playing quarterback. It’s trusting myself and trusting what you see. When you’re playing quarterback, things happen so fast, especially when you’re playing a good defense like the 49ers.”

wilson trophy

Wilson says he tries to tries to envision every possible scenario in his mind and how to react to it if it comes up.

“I really believe it helps my game, and also, calms me.  I’ve already been there 100 times throughout the week, knowing those situations throughout every single play and different situations; end of half, end of game, third-down situations.”

“I anticipate those situations before they happen. That allows me to make quick decisions. I think it also gives me that sense of poise and grace under pressure. I really don’t worry too much. I trust my teammates, I trust the calls, I trust myself more than anything, and so I just go out there and play the game of football.”

For Wilson, it’s about believing in what you’ve already seen, on the field or in your mind.

“You drop back, hit your fifth step and you make a decision,  It’s either yes or no, and you make that decision and you just trust it. I think that’s what allows me to play fast.”

Here is how we taught the process of mental visualization to our athletes.   As with all things, the more our athletes practiced mental visualization, the better they became at using it, and the better the results.

  • Take ten minutes, in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
  • Take a defensive call, or offensive play from our game plan this week.
  • Picture yourself making the “perfect play”, from start (the call in the huddle) to finish, against this week’s opponent.
  • Involve all of your senses – in the first person.  You are not watching a movie of yourself making the play.  You are seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, feeling it, with all of your senses.
  • Think and phrase in positive manner – Thinking about “keeping your feet when making a great cut”, as opposed to thinking about “not slipping”.
  • See a clear detailed picture in your “minds eye
  • The more detail the better.  Smell the grass, feel the ball against your ribs, hear the crowd, feel the emotion.  The more senses you involve, and the more realistic you “paint” the picture, the more it will imprint.
  • Enjoy, feel, and experience the feelings and emotions that will be evoked when making the “perfect play

Although many of our athletes often scoffed at the notion of “mental practice” when we first began this process, it was always satisfying when those same athletes would tell us after a game that a particular play was “exactly like I visualized it this week!

Jeff Floyd – youcandomore1@yahoo.com

Mental Visualization

visualizationIt is always great to hear from my former players.  Many are parents whose children are now involved in athletics.  Some are teachers and coaches themselves.  They are quick to share fond memories of victories as well as bitter recollections of defeats.  What I find particularly interesting is hearing what they “took” from their participation in athletics.  I enjoy hearing what “worked” for them regarding motivation, teaching and coaching techniques.  One common thread that I have heard from many of my former players is how much they think the technique of mental visualization helped them become a more successful and confident player.

I have often used this process with athletes during my career, and believe in its value. Visualization is an often-taught mental rehearsal technique in sports. It is an extremely powerful tool and numerous studies have been done that confirm its value in improving athletic performance.

One oft cited study involved three groups of people who were tested on how many free throws they could make.  After this initial test:

  • The first group practice free throws every day for an hour.
  • The second group just visualized themselves making free throws.
  • The third group did nothing.

After 30 days, they were tested again.

  • The first group improved by 24%.
  • The second group improved by 23% without touching a basketball.
  • The third group did not improve which was expected.

Although using mental visualization can be useful any time, we particularly liked using it towards the end of the week as our contest approached. Normally at this time of the week, we were trying to limit the physical reps, focusing more on the mental aspect of game preparation.  As with all things, the more our athletes practiced mental visualization, the better they became at using it, and the better the results.

Here is how we taught the process of mental visualization to our athletes.

  • Take ten minutes, in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
  • Take a defensive call, or offensive play from our game plan this week.
  • Picture yourself making the “perfect play”, from start (the call in the huddle) to finish, against this week’s opponent.
  • Involve all of your senses – in the first person.  You are not watching a movie of yourself making the play.  You are seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, feeling it, with all of your senses.
  • Think and phrase in positive manner – Thinking about “keeping your feet when making a great cut”, as opposed to thinking about “not slipping”.
  • See a clear detailed picture in your “minds eye
  • The more detail the better.  Smell the grass, feel the ball against your ribs, hear the crowd, feel the emotion.  The more senses you involve, and the more realistic you “paint” the picture, the more it will imprint.
  • Enjoy, feel, and experience the feelings and emotions that will be evoked when making the “perfect play

Although many of our athletes often scoffed at the notion of “mental practice” when we first began this process, it was always satisfying when those same athletes would tell us after a game that a particular play was “exactly like I visualized it this week!

prepskcThanks to PrepsKC.com for running this post as part of their Coach’s Corner Column.  I hope you can take the time to visit their site and “Like” my column!

 

Remember – “You Can Do More… your brain is lying to you… Don’t Believe It!”

Jeff Floyd – youcandomore1@yahoo.com