Dr. Ed Garrett is an associate professor for the Online Department of Health Science at California Baptist University and a CMPC with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. He calls these lessons “Get Psych’d.” Follow him on Twitter at @SPwithDrG.

As a young volleyball coach, I knew what I was getting myself into.

The 15-3 team is never the easiest group to work with. Typically, it’s right on the cusp of a “wanting to play but wishing I was somewhere else” sort of mentality.

Maybe I was predestining my future sport psychology practice, but I figured I had to do something different in order to motivate these 11 young athletes. I had the technical knowledge of the game, but if I couldn’t connect with my athletes cognitively then I knew it would be a struggle. We have all been there. We, as coaches, have had those times where we struggled with ways to the cognitive-core of our athletes in hopes of finding what it will take to motivate them. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in psychology to get into the mind of an athlete. Motivating and behavioral change can be as simple as applying the right tools to bring about greater performance in the ones you coach. 

Now, before I progress, I understand the intimidation with assessments and more importantly with ones that may not be familiar.

If you have a sport psychologist locally that you are using with your team then your athletes are blessed by that resource (it’s not far off when a team sport psychologist will be the norm). My counsel to you is seek out a trained sports professional who can assist in the mental training. There is no substitute for that. But, until sport psychology grows to the point where access is immediately available, coaches themselves must gaining the knowledge to help their athletes improve cognitively. Without getting too deep in the psyche, let me provide coaches with a resource that can bring about the behavioral change the athlete is seeking while providing you with a connective piece in the athlete-coach relationship. 

Enter the DISC Assessment, a tool that helps coaches understand their athletes while bringing about the process of behavioral change. The DISC is an assessment that has been around for a long time and has been used in multiple different settings.

Historical and contemporary research reveals more than a dozen models of our behavioral differences, but many share one common thread: the grouping of behavior into four basic categories. DISC theory focuses on patterns of external, observable behaviors using scales of directness and openness that each style exhibits. Because we can see and hear these external behaviors, it becomes much easier to “read” your athletes. The four categories are: D for Dominance, I for Influence, S for Steadiness and C for Conscientious.

Get Psych'd 2/25/2019

If you spent a minute looking the DISC assessment up on Google, you would find a vast selection of modifications of this tool. The assessment I first used with my 15-3 volleyball team was a simple version that provided me with the challenging information that my team was made up of 10 influencers and 1 dominant. This version used animals to display the characteristics. That meant 10 playful and loud otters and 1 roaring and focused lion. Sound like your team? For me this was a game changer.

To motivate and maximize practice efficiency, and address the cognitive change we were striving for, I learned I had to approach my practices differently. Simplistically, the 11 influencers needed time at the start of practice to socialize and discuss their day. The 1 dominant athlete needed time looking over my practice plan and to see the time-layout of practice. Once I incorporated that into the start of my practice time, I began to notice an immediate change in the level of their mental performance. 

Fast forward to today and this simple DISC assessment has developed into coach’s dream.

AthleteAssessments.com now provides a detailed tool called the AthleteDISC Profile. I’m not a salesman, so this is not a shameless plug, but simply an assessment review and one I encourage you to explore to help cognitively train your athletes. The AthleteDISC Profile is a personalized, comprehensive tool that assists your athletes to perform more consistently by discovering the behaviors equating to their best performances. This information supports you in applying more of your natural strengths, while recognizing, then improving upon, the behaviors not producing the results you or your athletes desire.

Now, I know what you might be thinking…Dr.G, how can this help me become a better coach? The psychology involved here is in how you, the coach, communicate with your athletes to maximize cognitive performance. After all, it’s not what you said, it’s what they heard. A tool like the AthleteDISC Profile assessment enables the athlete to understand the behaviors leading to optimal performance and it provides the coach the ability to get the most out of the athlete’s motivation. Here is how the data can be used to improve how you connect with your athletes, the motivation you provide them, and the individual behavioral change each athlete wants to see.

This is an example of AthleteDISC Profile where the person scored very high in the D/S category. 

Get Psych'd 2/25/2019

Dominance (D style) measures and identifies how assertively an individual prefers to deal with the PROBLEMS they encounter. Someone with a “high D” (greater than 50) will actively pursue and attack problems. Individuals who plot in the upper right “D” Dominant quadrant of the behavioral diamond will typically exhibit a more assertive, direct, guarded and results oriented behavioral style.

The Influence (I style) measures and identifies how an individual prefers to deal with the PEOPLE they encounter. Someone with a “high I” will be outgoing, seek personal connections and enjoy frequent interactions with others. Individuals whose integrated plot is in the lower right “I” Influence/Extroversion quadrant of the behavioral diamond will typically exhibit a more people oriented, direct but open behavioral style.

By applying this data to the way a coach communicates and motivates the athlete many helpful details emerge. For starters, a high “D” serves as a great leader; very result driven. If I was recruiting this might be what I look for in a setter. In this example I can see that the athlete demands a lot from her team and herself, but at the same time enjoys the team setting (which is what the high “I” shares with me).

This data tells me that I could be stronger in my tone on the court with this athlete. She can take and appreciate a little more “yelling”, whereas others on the DISC may view yelling as a sign the coach does not appreciate me or like me. A high ‘D” will display a lion-sort of mentality in her dominance to attack the game and take her team with her. I want this athlete getting the ball on the final set. Chances are, she’ll ask for it. If this athlete was only a high ‘I” then I would learn that the social environment of the team is the most important thing for her.

When coaching a high “I” I would have to motivate her based on her interaction and involvement in team settings. Welcome to the social committee leader. Honestly, the high “I” can be an incredible motivator within the team, at times helping others reduce their anxiety by keeping things light in the midst of opposition. A high “I” on the team tends to make a coach’s job fun and can help keep the focus on the true nature of the game; having fun. 

In the next example, we can see that this athlete scored as a high S/C in the AthleteDISC Profile. 

Get Psych'd 2/25/2019

The Steadiness (S style) measures and identifies how an individual prefers to deal with the ACTIVITY LEVEL or PACE of their daily agenda. Someone with a “high S” will exhibit a great deal of patience and prefers a stable, focused and consistent workload preferring not to frequently shift gears and alter direction mid-stream. Individuals whose integrated plot is in the lower left “S” Steadiness/Patient quadrant of the behavioral diamond will typically exhibit a more indirect but open, patient and team-focused behavioral style.

The Conscientious/Compliance (C style) measures and identifies how an individual prefers to deal with the RULES, attention to detail, accuracy and data. Someone with a “high C” will insist on accuracy, reliable facts, precision and high standards. Individuals plotting in the upper left “C” Conscientious/Compliant quadrant will typically exhibit a more indirect and guarded, data focused detailed and analytical behavioral style.

With this knowledge you can begin to see that this athlete is a loyal member of the team. She is willing to serve and is probably the first athlete at practice to ask you if you need help setting up the court or getting the equipment out. At the same time the high “C” lets you know that this athlete will look at an offense, or defense, and begin to pick it apart and see patterns based on how she analyzes the situation. So, when I have a high “C” on my team I enjoy, in between games, having her talk with me as we watch other teams play. Typically, the conversation is about the analysis of the gaps in their defense and how we can attack them.

I have also learned not to be surprised when a high “I” asks multiple “Why?” questions during practice. A high “C” is not trying to be difficult; she is simply trying to grasp the concept you are teaching her by gathering further information. As a high “S” as well I can motivate and communicate with this athlete from a loyalty standpoint. She probably is one of the athletes I want meeting and greeting new recruits coming in for a visit. If you have ever done the “pit” drill, then a high “S” probably will be the one that will fight through this drill to ensure “her” team does not have to run. 

What I wouldn’t have given those many years ago to have had a deeper understanding of my little 15-3 volleyball team.

Lessons learned and tools like the DISC can be invaluable in helping coaches motivate and athletes stay motivated in their behavioral change. In my day-to-day work with California Baptist University the AthleteDISC Profile is an easy assessment that provides a great deal of information both the athlete and coach can work through in hopes of bringing about the cognitive and behavioral changes desired in one’s training.

I encourage you to explore the assessment options out there in hopes of gaining the mental edge and getting the most from your coaching. As I say, “Get Psych’d!”

For more information on the AthleteDISC Profile please visit: www.AthleteAssessments.com.

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