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Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Back when I was a rookie athletic coach I was blessed to have gotten to work with a very wise and very successful head coach (I’ll call him Jed).  Jed taught me a lot of things about organization, strategy, the importance of fundamentals, and psychology.  One of the most important things I learned from him was to deliberately teach the athletes we coached to understand the connection between rational function, emotion, and performance.  Jed regularly admonished our football players to “play hot in your heart and cool in your head.”  In fact, that phrase was somewhat of a mantra with the teams he coached. 

Jed was, in a very simplistic way, helping our athletes understand that the likelihood of having success as a team was enhanced greatly when we are fully aware of and were actively managing the interplay between the emotional and rational states.  

On the one hand, successful execution is the product of deliberate, intentional, even monotonous practice/drill; that’s the rational component.  It is constant repetition and attention to fundamentals that allow us to do certain things automatically (good or bad, depending on the discipline with which we practice).  It is, in fact, the intentional formation of habit (both physical and mental).  That’s the “cool in the head” part. 

The “hot in the heart" part had to do with understanding the power of emotion in human performance.   Leveraging the reality that, in the midst of typical human vs human, team vs team, army vs army, organization vs organization types of struggle, the emotional component is the one that causes the chemical reactions in the brain and body that produce extraordinary stamina, endurance, bursts of strength, powers of intense concentration, etc. These are the things that, according to Mihaly Csikszeentmihalyi  cause "flow."  

Without the cool habits of consistent execution, these emotional manifestations are virtually worthless.  But, coupled with near flawless execution of well-practiced fundamentals (whether they be physical movements like shooting free throws, or relational processes like service-orientation), these emotional “injections” can be purposefully activated.

I am immensely thankful to Jed for teaching me these lessons early on in my career, lessons that have served me well both on and off the athletic fields.  RIP, Jed.

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