In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, UCLA women’s basketball head coach Cori Close joins the Basketball Podcast to discuss their mental performance plan. Cori Close was named UCLA Women’s Head Basketball Coach on April 21, 2011, and is currently 198-104 (.656) overall. The 2020-21 campaign will mark Close’s milestone 10th season at the helm of the Bruins.
2019-20 was an historic year for Close and the Bruins. UCLA won its first 13 games of the campaign, setting a new program record for the most consecutive wins to start a season. The Bruins’ win over then-No. 6 Stanford marked Close’s 100th-career Pac-12 victory. A win over the Trojans in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals won the Bruins the season series over their crosstown rival. UCLA would, ultimately, finish the year 26-5 and was set to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The national postseason schedule, however, was canceled due to COVID-19.
Cori Close helped the USA to a gold medal as an assistant coach for the 2019 USA women’s team that won a gold medal with a 7-0 record at the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand. Previously, she served as an assistant coach for the 2018 USA Women’s U18 National Team, which she helped lead to a 6-0 record and a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, and she was a court coach at the 2017 USA Women’s U23 National Team Training Camp.
Before UCLA, Close spent time as an assistant coach at Florida State University and her alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. In total she has worked as associate head coach or assistant on teams that have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 16 seasons, won at least 20 games in 16 of the previous 18 seasons and won or shared a total of 11 conference championships.
“The last time you coached a workout . . how much of that did you integrate a mental training philosophy?”
“I think the same thing needs to happen on the mental side of the game. So, how often are you going to teach it? From what angle? What percentage is going to be off the court? How is it going to be integrated into drills?”
“”Our philosophy is that we’re going to treat mental training with the proportionality of its importance to our performance, which is high.”
“Joshua Medcalf started working with our team and his biggest thing was . . coaching me how to integrate it [mental aspect] in everything I do, in my language, in how I hold people accountable, how I affirm things.”
“Just like I develop a glossary for terms of offense, I develop a philosophy of how we teach a growth mindset and how we teach mental conditioning. There’s a language that all of the coaches use.”
“We talk about getting to the edge. The edge is when your talent runs out and you are forced to develop the discipline and the skill to truly reach your potential.”
“Every Monday when we go over player development, we talk about every player’s mental state as well as their skill state and what they need to work on. And then we evaluate each other on how we’re carrying it through to practice.”
“We spend the first four minutes when we meet in the film room on visualization . . we have our players watch themselves doing what we want to see more of . . I’m going to find one time, even if it’s their weakness, that I can catch them doing it right and then I’m going to put it on their visualization film.”
“One of the things we do in our mental training is we write down, before they leave the gym, 12 things that went well that day that were under their control so that we try to interrupt that mental negativity loop before they leave the gym.”
“They [authors of Rare Leadership] studied great learning environments . . where they saw really rapid rates of improvement. There were two characteristics that were present; there was joy and struggle in the environments where the most improvement in growth took place.”
“Jordin Canada, who now plays for the Seattle Storm, I asked her before the year, ‘What are some of your uncommon choices going to be?’ One of them was really simple that she was going to try to win every sprint by going three feet past the line . . she never said anything, but every WNBA coach that came and watched practice that year, they noticed it right away.”
“The more you work through it with the individual and they choose it, the more ownership. They’re having a conscious choice, right? And then it becomes an unconscious habit because they do it over and over again. We have a phrase, ‘We never get tired of doing it right.’”
“”We have proficient skills that apply to everyone. Then we have advanced skills that are a little bit more positional and then we have elite skills that we say, ‘What’s going to be your elite skill that you’re going to be better at than everybody else.”
“One of the three core values in our program is a great growth mindset.”
“If leadership and mental conditioning are two of the biggest indicators of a team success, we are going to have a plan for those and we are not going to rely on ‘they have it or they don’t’ . . I’m going to recruit to it, I’m going to teach it, I’m going to reward it, I’m going to hold people accountable for it . . We aren’t leaving those things to chance.”
“All of our language is about developing discipline; all of our language is about giving to each other and being a great teammate and growing that day, both of which are completely under your control. And both of which are the actual process of what gives you the equipment to choose discipline over default.”
“I’m still a work in progress. I think that that’s a challenge as a teacher is to look in the mirror every year and go, ‘Oh, man, that’s a weakness of mine.’ And I’ve really invited my coaches . . to tell me, ‘Hey, this is getting in the way of your teaching . . You have to invite truth tellers around you.”
“The more you have players that can find their own solutions, the more quickly they adjust . . you have to teach players to have awareness and to be solution-minded and fix things.”
“What I tell my team is that the relationship you have with me off the court is completely up to you, but the relationship you have with me on the court is up to me . . so, I really tried to tell our players, ‘Look, the standard is not going to change. The standard is going to be consistent from person to person but the style in which we hold you accountable to that standard will vary and that’s intentional.’”
“For us, it’s not just about that team and that season, it’s about giving them skills that are going to stay with them long after the ball goes flat and long after I’m around.”
“If you really trust and you develop relationships and they trust that you have their best interests at heart, you do have more freedom . . as a coach to move those pieces around. But it starts with a hard choice that we’re all going to put the mission of the team first.”
“That’s what I ask of every player when they come in the gym that day . . to give their best mentally and physically, to give to a teammate, and to grow with intentionality. If they’re doing those three things, they’re going to be fine. But if I don’t see them giving and growing, that’s where I’ll remove them for the day.”
“That’s a big time teamwork thing, linking together. I do not think you can be an elite basketball program that doesn’t talk with purpose in between the lines. And it’s completely controllable.”
“The mistake happened, what’s it going to take to get better? The focus is let’s just get better . . what’s the next right step you can make? . . it’s a build to the next play mentality.”
“Our goal is to strengthen your ‘R’ [Response] to be stronger than an ‘E’ [Event] you’re ever going to have to face.”
Selected Links from the Podcast:
1:00 – Mental Performance Development Philosophy
3:00 – Importance of Integration
6:30 – Teaching Mental Skill
9:00 – Coping Skills
13:00 – Rare Leadership
17:00 – Teaching the Whole
22:00 – Mental Toughness
25:00 – Normalizing the Struggle
28:00 – Creating Discipline Without Demeaning Others
32:00 – Interventions
36:00 – Meeting Standards
39:00 – Independent Performers
42:00 – Interactions and Interventions
45:00 – Be the Best You Can Be
47:30 – Tangible and Subjective
49:00 – Applying Mental Skills in Life
52:30 – BCD = Blame, Complain, Defend
56:00 – Conclusion
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