Behind the Whistle: Better Every Day


Shannon Algeo, the head coach at Gwynedd Mercy, wants her players to improve by 1 percent every day.

This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Shannon Algeo is the head coach at Gwynedd Mercy University.

One percent better every day. That is our goal here at Gwynedd Mercy. We all understand that our goal is to improve at lacrosse, but how? When? What do we focus on?

Everyone that has ever played for me knows that I am huge advocate for mental health, and I incorporate sport psychology into my program all the time (whether the players realize it or not). A lot of people have never heard of sport psychology. Others have heard of it but misunderstand what it is.

Sometimes sport psychology looks like sitting down as a team to set SMART goals after rating ourselves using a performance profile, an easy tool I highly recommend to anyone that practices goal setting.

Sometimes sport psychology is evaluating the “predator or prey” mindset. My players ask themselves certain questions designed to raise their awareness, and then they evaluate their answers to decide if they are attacking their goals (predator) or playing timid (prey). The real change comes when they identify recurring “prey” thoughts, overcome their fears and figure out how to change those “prey” thoughts/actions into those of a “predator.”

Sometimes sport psychology is a blindfolded Easter egg hunt. I choose partners by pairing two players that have may some trust and/or communication issues or just don’t spend much time together usually. To them, it’s a fun game. But to me it’s an important team building activity.

The most important thing about incorporating sport psychology activities into your program is the timing and the debrief: a discussion on why you did that activity, why you partnered certain people, what were the challenges, what was fun, etc. A debrief will take an activity from silly to powerful/meaningful every time! The timing is important because if your team (or certain players) don’t need to work on communication/trust at the moment, than that particular activity will be fun, but not super impactful. I cannot stress enough how important a debrief is because otherwise your players may not understand the lesson. It also gives them an opportunity to open up with each other.

One of the statistics I learned while earning my master’s degree in sport psychology was that the most effective ratio for athletes to reach peak performance is 80 percent physical training and 20 percent mental training. For me, that translates into incorporating mental training consistently all season, teaching my athletes tools so that they can use it in the offseason, and always learning different techniques to bring to my program.  

This is where the line, “1 percent better every day,” comes in. A few years ago, my husband sent me an article about Kaizen, which is a Japanese concept that is centered around continuous improvement. The idea of getting better in small increments each day takes away the pressure to be perfect. Everyone can commit to a 1 percent improvement! It’s not scary! One percent each day is manageable. Even on your worst days, you can accomplish getting 1 percent better!

The beautiful thing, though, is that 1 percent every day is A LOT. Imagine a freshman coming into a program committing to 1 percent every day. That woman will be an all-star by the time she graduates because the effects of getting better are compounding. When you commit to getting 1 percent better every day, you will be 37.8 times better by the end of the year. That is a huge improvement!

Think about that. If you commit to getting 1 percent better every single day, you will be almost THIRTY-EIGHT times better a year from today. That is incredibly inspirational!

We all know that our motivation ebbs and flows from day to day and week to week, but if we want to reach our goals, we need to commit to improving all the time. Not sometimes. Not just when we feel like it. Every day! On the days when motivation is at an all-time low, you can do something to improve by 1 percent. Hit the wall lefty 50 times, run 10 hills, read an article on mental training, watch some film. Whatever you must give, you do it knowing that the effects will be tremendous by the time the season rolls around. Then on game day you will know you are ready because you prepared! That also feeds into the predator mindset that I want my players to always have. Preparation breeds confidence!

A few years ago, when I first took over the program at Gwynedd, I knew it was going to be a tough road to rebuild the program. My dad (a long-time football coach) told me to watch Al Pacino’s speech from the movie “Any Given Sunday.” Pacino is in the locker room with his team and tells them they need to keep going. They need to work hard if they want to win.

“Inch by inch, play by play, until we’re finished.”

The inches will add up. It won’t be easy; you will have to fight for every single one of them. But each inch will make a difference between victory and defeat. Very much like Kaizen! Very much like building a program! Very much like reaching your full potential on the field or in life!

I share the concept of Kaizen with anyone who will listen because I think it is that impactful. The concept is simple, and anyone can learn it, incorporate it and teach it. You just need to be passionate and walk the walk. When your players see you always working to be 1 percent better, they will buy in and know that they can do that, too. It will look different for everyone, but the results will be the same. Massive improvement over time!

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