It is past 1am on the east coast as I write this in a hotel lobby in Long Beach, California, struggling to adjust to the time difference. Travel has been one of the biggest challenge’s for our team over the past two weeks, traveling to Florida, Nebraska, and now the west coast as part of our regular season schedule. Put early mornings, long haul flights, time changes together and it can be hard to reach optimal performance on a consistent basis. I would argue, however, that travel and competition are the two greatest ways to build team spirit and really get to know the players. From the moment I arrived in Cincinnati, Neil has stressed the importance of the coaching staff forming good relationships with each player. Travel allows us to do this in a more relaxed environment as you find yourself in discussions with different players on the plane, at baggage claim, or even waiting for a waffle at breakfast. I listened to an interview with Tony Strudwick, Head of Fitness and Conditioning at Manchester United, today and he said that every coach at Manchester United focuses only on four players. It makes total sense – the better you know each player, the more effectively you can work with them.
As a coaching staff, our focus has been on continuously looking for ways to improve every performance. We have used classroom sessions to add to our understanding of how to win games, and then used intense practice sessions to consistently apply it. Whether it is sports psychology, sports science, yoga, or any other aspect that can give us even one percent improvement, we are going to do it and we are going to embrace it. Another key component of our training program has been competition. Every exercise must have a winner because that competitive drive ultimately becomes a habit. Competition increases arousal levels and challenges players to work together under some form of stress in everything they do. There are no passive exercises and because of that the tempo is always high. The goal of every session is to have a direct effect on improving the next performance.
Despite our tough start and young team, our performances are steadily improving and every time we have stepped on the field we have definitely made progress. We all want to get to the top tomorrow, but you have to be realistic and failure is part of the process. Neil firmly believes that “strength is the product of struggle” and instills this into the players every day of the week when we face adversity. Everyone has to work hard, to commit themselves physically, and be emotionally connected to the team as well as the journey. We will have two more opportunities this weekend to showcase our work. It is the fun time of the week where we have to trust our habits, let it flow, and focus on the performance. This season will be a journey in more ways than one. I don’t know if its jet-lag or excitement that is keeping me awake!