Mt. Everest climber on taking your coaching skills to new heights
By Greg Bach
Jamie Clarke is one of only a handful who have scaled the Seven Summits, which are the tallest mountain on each continent.
So, he’s developed a unique perspective on teamwork, leadership, performing under pressure and facing imposing foes – because mistakes made on icy patches at 25,000 feet in the air can cost lives.
Hockey Canada was so intrigued and impressed by his outlook that they asked him to work with their men’s Olympic hockey team on the mental side of the game.
We were equally fascinated and caught up with the avid adventurer, who has climbed Mt. Everest twice, to talk youth sports coaching, impacting young lives and yes, what drives him to scale the most imposing mountains on the planet. Check out what he had to say:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Should coaches be teaching and incorporating mental training into their practice sessions?
CLARKE: Knowing how to play the physical game is paramount to performing well but knowing how to play the mental game is paramount to being a champion. Like I told the athletes in Korea, everyone in the village knows how to play the physical game, but it’s the mental game that wins gold medals. So, no matter the age, learning to master the mental game will lead to better performance in sport and life. And yes, coaches should teach the mental game in conjunction with the physical game. There are countless drills to help players move the puck or ball out of their own end, but what about the drills to enhance concentration? What about creating stress, so athletes learn to deal with it? This can be done in a myriad of ways, but one simple way might be purposely disrupting a warm up routine—shorten it during a pre-season game and force players to adapt. Interrupt pre-game rituals by taking away a player's favorite piece of gear, for example, and force them to adapt. These things help the player learn that all they need to play well resides within them and that under any threat they can calm themselves, focus and execute. Other pressure situations can be created in practice in many ways and each sport has unique opportunities to do so.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Many young athletes who fail in the big game become enveloped in negative thoughts, affecting how they perform in future competitions. How can coaches help kids break free of this thinking and compete with confidence?
CLARKE: This takes times and comes from the understanding that in order to be a great success we must be willing to be a master of failure. Re-frame failure as a part of the process. A way to learn. Discover. Failure is a means to achieve success. Storytelling can be a powerful tool here. There are countless examples of great success that only came on the heels of tremendous failure. This lesson is best taught as part of a team's core values. This philosophy of learning to fail should be examined before, and during the season in small ways—not just addressed when big failure is encountered. This is one of the keys to effective leadership—being proactive.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Can the type of mental toughness be taught in which young athletes learn how to deal with physical discomfort, such as competing in a game that goes into overtime?
CLARKE: Toughness is a learned behavior, not an innate ability. So, yes, anyone can learn grit. Anyone can learn to suffer. But they must first understand why. Pointless suffering is just that. Suffering must be embraced in the name of a greater cause.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Cultivating that true team bond where players stick together, even when a game or season is going bad, poses a real challenge for coaches. How can they make that happen?
CLARKE: This is something that starts Day One of the season. This comes from a team covenant—an agreement among the group—a code of conduct agreed to before mistakes are made and blame gets assigned. The best lessons are learned in low stress situations, such as before the first game of the season a team discusses how it wants to manage setbacks and how it will handle individual mistakes. And this agreement will be practiced in low consequence situations and revisited over time. Then, when the stakes are higher, and a mistake is made, and human tendency kicks in where we want to start pointing fingers and assigning blame—the team will already know that this is not their culture. Rather, the mistake is made and everyone learns. And moves on. That said, emotions will rise. Anger will come. Acknowledge it. Move on.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What drives you to do these amazing climbs?
CLARKE: In a word: Curiosity. I’m curious about whether it’s possible and what it would be like. The unknown is both terrifying and inspiring.
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In recognition of Children’s Cardiomyopathy Awareness Month, check out Part Two of our conversation with Lisa Yue, Board President of the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation