The Cookie Jar

Warning: This article includes quotations that contain profanity.

The whispers are more persistent than I care to admit. They follow every close loss, coaching mistake, and decision that doesn't work out.

You're not good enough. You don't know what you're doing. This stuff doesn't work. Your player weren't prepared. You failed them with the game on the line. Everybody knows, this is your fault.

This internal dialogue is rarely far from the surface, and often echoes phrases from critical emails, parent meetings, and comments from past experiences. However, if I'm not careful it can erode my confidence and cause debilitating self-doubt. 

What I need is another story to tell.

In 2005, former Navy Seal David Goggins found himself alone 81 miles into a 100 mile race that he did not train to run. Faced with with a broken-down body, multiple stress fractures in his feet, toenails falling off, and urine tinged with blood, he wondered to himself... Why are you still doing this to yourself, Goggins?!

His goal of running 100 miles in 24 hours was fading fast as his body screamed to quit. His mind flooded with doubt and condemnation. 

"It was an all-out war against me." 

It was here - in the midst of incredible pain, suffering, and overwhelming self-doubt that he discovered the Cookie Jar.

"The Cookie Jar became a concept I've employed whenever I need a reminder of who I am and what I'm capable of."

In our most vulnerable moments, it's important to craft a new narrative to compete with the critic's refrain. Goggins rewrote his internal dialogue by recalling previous moments where he triumphed over himselfHe flashed back to losing 100 pounds in 90 days to qualify for Seal training, then enduring Hell Week three times before becoming a Navy Seal. 

"We must create a system that constantly reminds us who the fuck we are when we are at our best, because life is not going to pick us up when we fall."

This is not a narrative for others, or boasting for an audience. It's a reminder of who you are in your best moments. It's a recalling of the evidence that you are capable, and with practice, you can learn to savor these "cookies" when you need them most.

There's a simple phrase that's lifted me during my lowest points this season.

"They were 1-20." 

It's a simple reminder of how far we've come, how much we've improved, how we have benefited from our approach and the process we are dedicated to. Over and over when the critic's voice starts to whisper, this has been my counter, and it reminds me that what we do works.

Your players can take advantage of this as well. We have a few players on our team that occasionally miss point blank layups, and while this can be embarrassing, they are learning to respond internally with their own cookies. For example, one player started the year splitting time between JV and varsity. She has since become a varsity starter, and recently scored 20 points against a top-5 team in the state. Her go-to phrase, "I put 20 on so-and-so" (names have redacted to protect the innocent).

As Goggins writes in his book Can't Hurt Me, "I'm not talking about bullshitting about the glory days here. I'm not suggesting you crawl up your own ass and bore friends with all your stories about what a badass you used to be. I'm talking about past success to fuel you to new and bigger ones. Because in the heat of battle, when shit gets real, we need to draw inspiration to push through our own exhaustion, depression, pain, and misery. We need to spark a bunch of small fires to become the mother fucking inferno."

You've got to put the cookies in the jar so they are there when you feel like an imposter, and your confidence starts to waiver. Your cookies are there to remind you that you are capable, that you have done hard things before, and that you at your best is exactly what the situation requires.

Voice of the critics be damned.

Food for thought.

Nate Sanderson



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