By: April Luesby
The Thunder women’s basketball team had a highly successful year, going undefeated in the regular season and capturing an OCAA championship and finishing as the fifth-ranked team in the country.
And while the players that contributed to that success got the credit, their coaches played a pivotal role.
“When you think about it, you’ve got a head coach, which is John, and you’ve got me doing the psyche side, and then you’ve actually got at least one if not two assistant coaches,” said Kelly Adams, performance psychologist for the team. “That’s like a little mini team within the team, so it’s got to be important that those three or four individuals can work really well together as a team and that everybody understands what their role is.”
The coaching staff, including Adams, head coach John MacInnis and assistant coach Laura Bond, consider it vital to work well together and understand their own roles in contributing to the team’s success.
“If we aren’t a role-modeling team as a team of coaches, we can’t expect our team to act like a team,” said Adams.
“To be a top-fledged program you need to recruit, identify athletes and individuals that you want to be part of your program,” said MacInnis. He personally recruits and identifies not only players, but potential coaches.
“John does a fair bit of work and research on (recruiting),” said Adams.
Ask coach MacInnis, though, and he’ll tell you that the team’s talent and chemistry couldn’t have come together without Adams’ help.
“It’s something that, for the last several years that I’ve been coaching, I realized it was important we dealt with the mental side of the game.” said MacInnis. “A lot of what separates a lot of teams at this level is more the mental side of the game than necessarily the skill and the physical side of the game.”
Adams’ job as a performance psychologist mostly focuses on keeping up performance skills with exercises like deep diaphragm breathing and visualization exercises to help deal with performance anxiety.
“I’m there to work with the staff and the athletes with regard to anything that could conceivably impede them from giving a top performance,” said Adams.
That can cover many aspects of the performance, Adams said. If there are personal issues that athletes have, her background in counselling gives her the ability to talk them through issues that may arise at the last moment during a tournament or game so that the athletes can focus on the game.
“I act as a resource,” said Adams. “We do have a counselling center right on campus – a good one – so if they’re really in-depth things I would refer people to that counselling center.”
Mostly, Adams’ job centers around dealing with performance anxiety.
“Even the coaches sometimes can feel that pressure of performance,” said Adams. She says specific exercises, such as visualization, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation helps with such anxieties.
“And with this particular team, the coaches have allowed me to get into other areas that affect performance too, like nutrition for instance.” said Adams. “So you’ve got athletes and they’re away from home for the first time some of them are on low budgets.”
She has gone over self-care aspects of nutrition with the athletes such as proper eating and sleeping habits and even the role of alcohol to educate the players.
“This is not necessarily always part of the role at all,” said Adams, “but it just happens that because I’m really big on nutrition, I do tend to supply healthy snacks for games like fruit at halftime.”
Since Adams has a background in adult learning styles, she is able to assist the coaches determine the most effective ways to work with players.
“I could end up meeting with the coaches or an athlete and realizing that, oh my gosh, this person’s actually a visual learner instead of an auditory learner,” said Adams.
This means that, for a visual learner, it would be easier for them if MacInnis explained the play in pictures rather than words. Adams helps point out these learners to MacInnis in order to strengthen the team.
“Everyone has their role and their responsibility but Kelly’s come in and helped with a lot of different situations that have helped turn negative situations into positive situations that have then helped build the team and the chemistry of the group,” said MacInnis. “Her role has evolved as time goes on for need, for development and for leveraging strength.
“We’re always open to seeing how else we can expand and evolve the role as time goes on.”
Having Adams on staff gives both players and coaches a more neutral person to deal with problems from a different angle.
“It’s just a lot of different areas that coaches wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of expertise in and the end goal of it all is to make sure everybody, coaches and athletes, are all in great shape,” said Adams. “It’s all about the mental skills required to give an optimum performance so it’s all about how to get yourself psyched into the zone where you’re going to perform really well.”