Imagine: You are the kicker on a successful DI football team, about to attempt a field goal that will determine whether your team will win the most important game of the season. Where is your mind? What are you thinking about amongst the chaos of noise from the fans and the hopes of your entire team riding on your back?
Of course this situation elicits a number of different reactions, thoughts, and responses unique to the athlete you ask. However, a most unexpected response came from Brendan Gibbons of Michigan’s football team after he kicked the game winning field goal to lead his team to victory in the Sugar Bowl. So what was Gibbons thinking about before he made the kick? Brunette girls.
I think this is a great example of the importance that assessment holds in working with athletes. Gibbons is quoted saying “Every time we were struggling in kicking, coach always tells me to think about girls on a beach or brunette girls. So that’s what we did”. I imagine a consultant, sport psychologist, or coach might typically focus on mental tools that Gibbons could utilize before kicking, such as imagery, positive self-talk, or relaxation techniques. While each of these might just as well be helpful, the most beneficial advice came from a coach who had time to assess Gibbons, be it through observation, conversing, etc. This advice to “think about brunette girls” proved to stick with Gibbons and be effective, most likely due to the fact that the coach understood Gibbons as an athlete and as a person, and Gibbons understood the coach, all of which come through the process of assessment. To tell a player to think about something so unrelated and trivial to football, the coach had to have a good understanding of the athlete, and for the athlete to utilize this advice has to mean he understands and trusts the coach. It seems that an accurate assessment of this player would conclude that he performs best, or better, when he is able to take his mind away from the intensity of the game for a period of time. Since the coach was able to foster this in practice, Gibbons was able to step up when it came down to the wire.