Great players don’t hope to play well


Here’s a tip for all the people who like to bet on sports, if you hear a person say ‘I hope to play well today’, keep your hard earned in your wallet because no sports person worth their salt ever goes out ‘hoping’ to play well.

I learnt this lesson from an AFL coach of mine who surprised me one day with a simple question ‘how do you play a good game of football?’

I thought for a minute and stumbled around long enough for him to walk off and say ‘come and tell me tomorrow’.

Overnight I pondered the question and come up with what I thought I was a decent answer that the coach would be happy with.’ I work really hard, follow the team rules and never give in’. I was pretty happy with that answer. Unfortunately the coach wasn’t and simply said ‘nope, not good enough, I want to know how ‘you’ play a good game’.

The next day I fronted up again and said, “I tackle hard, win my own footy, use my voice and follow team rules’. He said ‘you’re starting to get there’. This time I was brave enough to ask for a clue, as I didn’t think I had another answer in me.

He said look over the games when you have played well. What did you actually do in that game? Don’t worry about what other people did, what did you do?

After exploring a few old videotapes I decided on the following five points:

  1. I tackled hard (forced me to be where the ball is)
  2. Won my own footy (didn’t rely on my teammates getting me the ball or my opponent being loose)
  3. Didn’t spectate (there’s a difference between being ‘near where the ball is’ and ‘getting the ball’)
  4. Played the percentages (e.g. front and square is the best spot to get the crumbs, not flying past at 100 miles an hour)
  5. Unrewarded running (sometimes you have to run even when you don’t think you can get the ball. You will be surprised at how many times you will get it)

The coach was now happy. The key point was that doing each of the 5 points was completely within my control. It didn’t matter what the weather was like, the score, how good my teammates were or how poor the opposition was. Each of the 5 points was up to me.

The coach then pointed out that I no longer have to ‘hope’ I play well. I didn’t have to hope that the ball bounced my way, or hope that my opponent gave me a lot of room or hope that my teammates would give me the ball. Playing the game was now in my control.

My next task was to make sure I was fit enough to carry out the points and skilled enough to capitalize on the additional opportunities I would create.

Importantly I now didn’t need to wait for a coach to tell me what to do. When quarter time came I would go through my checklist and ask myself, am I tackling, am I winning my own ball, am I spectating etc? If the answer was no, I could change it for the next quarter.

Previously If I weren’t playing well I would just beat myself up and say I have to work harder. But as we all know, working smarter is often a better option than working harder.

It didn’t guarantee that I played well, but it certainly decreased the chances of playing poorly.

If you’re a young sportsperson think long and hard about when you play well. What are the three things you do that are within your control, that are part of your game when you play well? Choose three not five, as until you get the hang of it you don’t want to overload your mind.

If you’re a coach try asking your kids ‘how they play a good game’. To me it is the most important question you can get them to ponder and answer. It is far more important than goal setting or working on your left foot. I guarantee you that if the player is playing well, you wont need to motivate them to work on their opposite foot kicking, they just will. Most likely they will come to training early to do it.

For information on how Nathan Burke Consulting can help you can get the best out of your team or staff, please fill in your details below and we will get back to you asap.

About the author:

Nathan Burke started his career as a schoolteacher before the demands of elite level football with St Kilda F.C. took over. Following a successful corporate career he founded Nathan Burke Consulting – a Melbourne based firm that offers High Performance Training and Coaching solutions to corporates, schools and sports teams.

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