It was an honor to be part of this article, and to talk about JAX JAG’s Coach, Gus Bradley as a Sports Psychologist!
By Hays Carlyon Sat, Nov 16, 2013 @ 6:47 pm | updated Sat, Nov 16, 2013 @ 9:09 pm
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley isn’t alone in his belief that a positive approach to coaching is the most effective way to get results.
Sports psychologists are on his side as well.
Trent Petrie is the director of The Center for Sports Psychology and Performance Excellence at the University of North Texas. He says there is ample evidence to support Bradley’s philosophy.
“We do know from research across many performance domains that taking this type of positive approach has long-term benefits,” Petrie said. “The approach is focused on learning and growth. The ability to make mistakes, but learning from those mistakes. Focusing on long-term goals with positive feedback. All those things that are part of this climate that he’s creating and is one in which athletes can thrive.”
As a first-year head coach, Bradley has developed a reputation for his high-energy style. Bradley remained upbeat despite the Jaguars 0-8 start, in which they lost every game by double digits. More important, the belief he generated from his players grew during the adversity. That was evident after the Jaguars beat Tennessee 29-27 last Sunday for their first win of the season.
Following the game, three-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew said Bradley has a special way of thinking. The players were universal in their praise of Bradley and their joy in getting him his first victory.
“He finds a positive in everything,” Jones-Drew said. “It’s easy to go negative, but Gus finds a positive. Instead of saying ‘This is what we didn’t do well,’ he says ‘This is what we need to improve on.’ The way he uses words, it works. Guys have learned a lot. When you hit adversity or what we call Murphy, your true colors show. He never changed.”
The Jaguars will try to keep their momentum going when they host Arizona (5-4) Sunday at EverBank Field.
“Our players have been great during the whole process we’ve gone through since I first got hired,” Bradley said. “I have great appreciation for their intent [after the win]. It was awesome. But, on the other hand, I was happy for them. That’s what you do as a team. Everyone is happy for each other. So you appreciate that.”
WHY IT WORKS
Experts in the field of sports psychology appear to be in agreement that Bradley’s method works because it helps eliminate stress on the athlete.
“We want athletes to focus on what they’re doing well,” said Patrick Cohn, sports psychology expert for Peak Performance Sports in Orlando.
“It’s a form of confidence enhancement. We find with younger athletes, they tend to be very harsh, very critical of themselves.”
Petrie says mistakes magnify stress in an athlete, so by creating an environment in which mistakes are looked upon as teachable moments, a coach releases that stress from his team.
“One of the things that get in the way of an athlete’s performance is when they start to overthink situations,” Petrie said. “One of the reasons they overthink is they worry. What they worry about often is mistakes. If I’m worried about making mistakes or failing, I’m usually going to have a poorer performance. If I’m in an environment where a mistake helps me get better, that frees me up to do the things I’ve trained my body to do in the moment.”
Bradley’s approach is different from older methods of coaching. Many coaches use fear of making a mistake as motivation.
“That dictatorship style of coaching I don’t think works for the majority of athletes today,” Cohn said.
Bradley’s mantra is enhanced by the fact that it isn’t doesn’t go against his personality. Justin D’Arienzo, who practices locally at D’Arienzo Psychological Group, has met Bradley.
“There’s a whole movement about positive coaching,” D’Arienzo said. “There’s been a lot of research that says it’s more effective than the more authoritative or dictatorship model. With Gus Bradley even more so, because I think it’s an integral part of his personality. He’s a tremendously positive person anyway. I think that comes off on and off the field with them. I do think while it’s a method he uses, I think it’s genuinely who he is.”
Patricia Moore, lead sports therapist at Mandarin Cove Sports Psychology, believes to unlock an athlete’s full potential, what she labels as “interferences” need to be minimal. She describes interferences as lack of confidence, a nagging injury and a negative relationship with a coach.
“Gus Bradley is not going to be one of those interferences,” Moore said. “By taking his approach, he’s removing himself from being an interference. That’s not to say the players won’t have different interferences going on in their lives, but he’s making it so that he isn’t going to be one.”
D’Arienzo references a study regarding the six factors in positive coaching.
The research concluded that to achieve a positive environment, a coach had to hit six key points.
■ Have an open-door policy.
■ Trust players from the start, don’t make them earn it.
■ Demonstrate an interest in every player.
■ Have regular dialogue with each player.
■ Establish a family atmosphere.
■ Maintain a professional relationship.
“It reminded me of Gus Bradley when I read it,” D’Arienzo said.
The sixth factor in the study is critical. Coaches can be positive, but there is a line that can’t be crossed.
“The problem is when we get too friendly,” D’Arienzo said. “Positive coaching doesn’t work if we get too friendly and boundaries get lost. There still has to be the delineation on who the coach is and who the player is.”
Bradley realizes the fine line he must adhere to.
“Our philosophy is this: If it’s something they can control, then we can really be hard on them,” Bradley said. “We can really challenge our guys and demand those things. Things like effort. They can control their effort, so we can demand high things on them and be aggressive in our coaching. If it’s something that they cannot control, then it’s unfair to be aggressive in those areas. That’s where you create strain in players and we try to avoid being there.”
The experts also agree that the phrase “positive approach” can be misunderstood.
“Being positive isn’t all about rainbows,” Petrie said. “It’s about being able to focus on the things that help an athlete bring themselves fully to practice and competition. The reality is if you’re being positive in an unrealistic way, you can be almost deluded that we’re better than we are, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with him.”
Moore says a coach can conduct hard and competitive practices, while maintaining a positive atmosphere. The difference is the positive coach doesn’t shame or embarrass players to get results.
“It’s not a patty-cake approach; that’s not what positive approach means,” Moore said. “It’s that you have faith and belief in your athlete. The athlete can correct their own errors. That empowers them. It doesn’t mean that he’s treating them with kid gloves. The belief is: I believe in you even more than you believe in you right now.”
The NFL is paying more attention to science and numbers than ever before. The Jaguars have an analytics team devoted to providing cutting-edge data for Bradley and his staff to use.
With the field of sports psychology embracing a new style of coaching, more NFL teams could do the same. Especially if Bradley can deliver a winner with the Jaguars in future seasons.
“I do think coaches are being targeted and people are looking for coaches with that style,” D’Arienzo said. “We know from research it does increase athletic performance. Also, I don’t think this method ever gets stale. The shelf life is permanent with really positive coaching. It leaves the most lasting impression.”
Bradley believes a new way of coaching is coming to the league.
“There’s a lot of merit to it,” Bradley said. “I think the NFL is gravitating towards some of that, because it’s such a competitive area. Everyone is looking for that edge. All of us want our athletes to have a clear mind in order to perform at their highest ability. Now, how you go about doing it, that could make us unique.”
Jones-Drew says Bradley’s influence has changed his parenting techniques in the way he voices disapproval to his children.
The eighth-year veteran was also surprised when Bradley chose not to practice during the bye week, despite losing to San Francisco 42-10 in London to drop to 0-8.
“He gave us the week off because he said ‘You deserve it,’ ” Jones-Drew said. “He told us we’ve been busting our butts, we just haven’t gotten the results we wanted. So when you have a coach like that you tend to want to do more and do better.”
Hays Carlyon: (904) 359-4377