Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Team and players often want to be intense. In many a huddle, I have heard "We need to raise the intensity!". I think we all have an idea that intensity is a positive thing, but do we all have a common understanding of what intensity actually is? I am not sure. I just finished reading Phil Jackson's book "The Last Season", and there is a definition of intensity that made me question my assumptions about the meaning of this word. I think I have mostly associated intensity with aggressiveness, and, I guess, I sort of thought that full intensity walked close to the line of lack of emotional control. I also have felt that emotion and intensity are difficult to manufacture on the spot. You either have it or you don't. The team is either fired up or not.

Phil Jackson's definition of intensity is a much more empowering concept than the assumptions I outlined above. He says "Intensity is full alertness and a commitment to execution and fundamentals". Powerful stuff. So, let's break down the two components of this definition.

-Full alertness--Many Ultimate players are habitually driven. This is a natural result of training-based muscle memory. However, habitual mental behavior shows a lack of awareness or alertness. I have been working with my girls on not habitually running to the same place on the field when receiving a pull. They need to be actively aware of the situation: where is the disc going, what is my job, how fast is the D coming down, are they playing zone, how do I clear for my cutter, etc. A player needs to process all this information quickly and then get into the place they need to be.

Being alert also means having the ability to concentrate. Concentrating while playing without thinking too much is a challenging paradox. We are trying to work on our ability to concentrate during focused, short periods. We will identify that we were able to concentrate of good marking for 3-4 points at the last practice, so our goal for the next practice will be to achieve focus for 5-6 points.

I think alertness is very important for the sideline players. An alert sideline player will be helpful to her on-field teammates, but will also be aware of the game "environment" when it is time for them to play.

-Commitment to execution and fundamentals-- I think these are included as part of the definition of intensity because they place the player within the context of the team's systems with the skills necessary to fulfill the team's plan.

I find this definition of intensity to be a potentially greater positive and empowering means of encouraging players to be at their best when compared with the more emotional and aggressive definitions of the word.


_dusty_ said...

Great book. I've read it three times and pick up new things every time. It helps that I'm a big basketball fan, but I still find looking into the mind of an all-time great coach is fascinating. I remember the passage, but could you provide a page reference? I'd like to go back and re-read that section.

gcooke said...

Hi Dusty,

I couldn't fiund the quote when I went back and looked.



Marshall said...

Good thoughts, and I like the way you try to turn theory into practice whilst coaching.

As a slight tangent, it always strikes me as funny when I hear people in huddles saying "you have to be into this" or various other forms of telling people to get excited. I think it's really comical to think that telling people to be motivated will get them motivated. Want them motivated? Motivate them, don't just tell them to do it. But what do I know...

gcooke said...

Marshall, I agree, and we both know that you do know.

To a certain extent, I think that variance in energy and emotion is a natural occurance, but not something that is very controllable. So, while it is important to have high energy, depending upon that for execution is problematic.

We discussed this a bit at NUTC camp. It seems that mature teams are able to maintain a high level of sustained energy, while teams that have wild fluctuations are not consistent.

So, I think that lack of motivation (and energy) implies a lack of focus, and by the definition of Phil Jackson, intensity. If we are to take this definition seriously, then instead of saying "You guys have to get the energy up", maybe it is better to touch base on your system and fundamentals as well as to remind folks about being alert.


Marco said...

This is actually something that I've thought about a lot,
and for me, it ends meaning that I'm not reacting to
anything anymore. Sounds a little corny, I guess, but
it feels like a lot of players end up trying to psyche
themselves up by getting "angry" at the opposite team,
trying to "shame" themselves into playing better,
or simply trying to generate some sort of emotion
that will increase how "intensely" they feel.

For me, it turns out that the less time I spend
thinking about "the other team", and the more time
I spend being aware of everything going on
in the game (the more I "enjoy" the game, some
might say), the better I play. Of course, you have
to be able to let go/rise above/ignore tension that you
have with your teammates as well..

just my 2 cents..

gcooke said...


You raise some interesting points. I agree that it is common practice to get "angry" with the other team, or to demean them in an effort to pump yourself up, and this is what I was alluding to when I discussed my former understanding of the word intensity. I think, though, that PJ's definition opens us up to a bigger perspective, though. I try, at my core, to maintain the understanding espoused by the "Inner Game of Tennis", which is that competition is a cooperative effort by the opponents to reach their full potential. If this is the case, then you actually welcome the full challenge as presented by your opponent, and it might not be necessary, or even productive, to demean your opponent as a source of energy. This is not to say, though, that I won't joke around about "crushing" or "making them give up the game forever", but these jokes are said with proper perspective, and, I hope, not taken too seriously.

I think there is a post about the cliche "thinking about the other team" (Idris goes into this a bit when discussing scouting...which is a fine post). I think you say it well, though, and it could be constured that being of aware of everything also includes adjusting and trying to take away your opponenets strengths (which is, after all, thinking about the other team).

As far as your annoying teammates go....I got nothing......


Derrick said...

You have a terrific blog. I really enjoy your well thought out and aware posts. I've learned a lot from reading it.