There are two times my brain is quiet and still:
- when I’m sleeping
- when I’m training.
See, I’m a processor.
I am constantly taking in information whether spoken or sensory or relational dynamics or environmental or that mosquito that just landed on your leg and now I’m focused on … (slap. sorry).
I don’t try to process all that information on purpose, but being introverted and introspective with a ridiculously keen sense of hearing lends itself to some extra perks, I guess.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to take in more information, process it more quickly and move on instead of getting stuck or slapping flies off strangers when they least expect it.
But, so what? Who cares? Why does this matter?
Here’s why. Because at some point you will have quiet athletes that you coach or play with and they won’t give you the feedback during training, practice or games that you typically see in team players. They might look mad, upset or like they aren’t listening, but it could be that when they are playing, their mind is completely quiet and that quiet is good for them.
As a coach, when I see these players, I don’t try to transform them into cheerleaders or change their game completely, but I do try to move the needle a few degrees and get them connected – after all, a team sport does require interaction with other people and having a coach (or boss, spouse, children of your own someday) means responding to feedback isn’t just being nice, it’s actually a life skill that transcends playing sports. Here are some examples that may help you understand more of what I’m talking about:
-> “BY MYSELF” IN THE GROUP: I like being in a group on most days, I don’t mind being in a class, but I am constantly keeping track of people (processor, remember). Whether it’s my family, my kid’s schedules, my own schedule, the team I coach or any other information I am tracking, when I get to the gym, I don’t want to keep track of anyone else. Some days that means I do a group class, some days that means being in a quiet gym with no other people and no music. It really depends on the day and what I’m carrying around in my head at that moment. Players can be this way too. Maybe tracking a million things in their mind and their sport is the only time their head is quiet and still. They might seem distant or “by themselves” but it could be they need some time to assimilate before they jump right in.
-> I’M NOT TRYING TO BE COUNTER-CULTURE: Understanding yourself as a coach or a player can help your whole team. When I first came back in to coaching and had my first all-day tournament in a loud gym with non-stop stimulus, I asked my head coach if I could go somewhere quiet and just shut my eyes and put in my ear buds. I explained that I wasn’t trying to be apart from the team, but that I just needed a little time away. In my first year, I didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t on board with the team or the culture, but my brain needed some peace. I can handle a bit more these days in noisy gyms, but now the head coach and I both know when I pull my sweatshirt hood up over my head and put my ear buds in, it’s time for my “sensory nap.” I try to recognize this in players as well and distinguish between a player who needs a break from the noise to refocus and a player who has a bad attitude and is destructive for the team – it can look similar, but it’s two totally different things.
-> I LIKE PEOPLE, I LIKE GROUPS AND I LIKE QUIET TOO: I truly enjoy people. I enjoy listening to their stories and processing all the unspoken information so I can ask follow-up questions. I am a sucker for a good story. But at the end of a long day, perhaps at my child’s 7:30 start for a baseball game, I’m just going to sit by myself and enjoy that I have nothing to do but watch my kid. Some players are this way too. All of their social credits have been used up before they get to practice. It’s never an excuse to be rude or take things out on your teammates (sorry to everyone I played with when I was younger), but knowing this about ourselves or the players we coach can help us utilize that valuable 10-15 minutes of warm-up to not only warm up our bodies, but our minds and our emotions as well (yes, athletes have emotions too).
What to do if you think you might be like this:
- remember there are other people outside of your quiet mind that are depending on you.
- give yourself a high five count and stick to it. Like “I’ll give my teammates at least 15 high fives during this match” – this encourages and communicates connection.
- make an effort to look up and at your teammates. Make eye contact during your match to remind your team, I’m still here.
- use your warm-up to warm-up everything from your body, to your mind to your emotions – yes, athletes have emotions too.
- be thankful for your quiet time when you get it and charge up when you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not being the loud one.
BOTTOM LINE is this: being an introvert or being quiet is not an excuse to be a jerk (again, my apologies to my former teammates), but awareness of how to best utilize this part of your personality will help you become a better teammate AND probably help you win more games – just sayin’ because most of us still care about winning too.
Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury, The CrossFit Games and OPEX Fitness. She was an 2x All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia, NCAA statistical leader, SEC Player of the year and was inducted into UGA’s Circle of Honor in 2006. She has played on the US National Team and enjoyed a bit of professional ball in Europe and on the beach. She is married with two children and currently coaches high school beach and indoor volleyball.