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  • Jack Fleming

Coaching Composure - How to Avoid Tilting

"Acknowledge your emotions then dismiss them from the decision making process." - Sherlock Holmes

Very rarely in the NBA finals, at the height of pressure with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line do we see a coach who has lost his emotional control. We don't see a coach barbecue a player as they come out of the game after a critical mistake.

Yet it would only be extremely human to fall slave to our emotions in pressure situations right?

Throw the horn down hard and shout some abuse to the car in front of us.

Be sarcastic to the people close to us when they do have something that annoys us.

Hire our friend because we know them better, not because they are the best person for the job.

You get a big win on the last game, so you go all in on the next one and blow it.

In poker that's called tilting.

What is Tilting?

Tilting is when you let your incidental emotions which aren't integral, affect the decision making process.

I distinctly remember coaching a game where we were playing a top team, competing out of our skin and playing well for a middle of the road group. However in the final 15 seconds of the 3rd quarter we turned the ball over twice on the inbound, to be down 8 now.

Well, it's fairly clear to say that I was tilted and so I was my message. Too much emotion, not enough concise instruction. It impacted our teams ability to stay in the present, with so much longer to go our competitive spirit was shot for the remainder.

Strategies for Avoiding Tilting

"An army is like a horse, in that it reflects the temper and spirit of it's rider. - Colonel John Thomason

1. Prepare

  • Do you have a your after time outs plays ready to go?

  • Are the expectations for your team matched up with what you have prepared them for?

  • Do you have a plan B if things don't go well?

2. Know Your Triggers

"Knowing about a bias doesn't mean you wouldn't exhibit it." - Daniel Kahnemann

  • Do you know what sets you off?

  • Hungry, angry, alone, tired is usually never a good place to make a critical decision.

  • Have you anticipated how it will make you feel in future, so you can act accordingly in the present?

  • Do you know the root cause of your emotions?

3. Have Routines

  • Do you give players high 5's and let your assistants talk to them regardless of what happens?

  • After a game, how do you decompress?

  • After a game do you deliver a short encouraging message in less than 1 minute and leave the analysis for another time - away from the emotions?

How to scientifically induce calm via breathing

"Inhale twice, ideally through the nose, and then you exhale long once through the mouth. So it’s inhale then another little inhale, even if you have to sneak in just a tiny bit more air and then a long exhale. Now, what this does, in addition to balancing the ratio of carbon dioxide and oxygen and the bloodstream in lungs, is it activates a circuit that goes from this very special organ, the diaphragm that we’ve all heard of, there’s a nerve that controls the diaphragm called the phrenic nerve, but that diaphragm also sends signals back to the brainstem and informs the brain about the status of the body."

4. Become Comfortable With the Unknown

“Poker isn’t just about calibrating the strength of your beliefs. It’s also about becoming comfortable with the fact that there’s no such thing as a sure thing—ever. You will never have all the information you want, and you will have to act all the same. Leave your certainty at the door.” ― Maria Konnikova, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win

  • Can you let go of the things that are outside of your control?

  • Can you let go of what you don't know and can't know?

  • Can you objectively evaluate your decision making and part way with the result?

It Starts With Ourselves

"Being unconquerable lies with yourself." - Sun Tzu

It is well and truly possible that management of our emotional state can have the greatest impact on everything we do as a coach. How we deliver a message, how we respond in critical moments. The NBA playoffs has been a wonderful example of that.

“Your mind is the starting point of all war and all strategy. A mind that is easily overwhelmed by emotion, that is rooted in the past instead of the present, that cannot see the world with clarity and urgency, will create strategies that will always miss the mark.”

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

Do the best we can with what we have, then let the chips fall where they may.


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