The WRONG WAY to Win the Locker Room

A team locker room is a sacred place.

Basically, what is said there, when you leave there, leave it there.

Sorry, but here’s the wrong way to win over the locker room.

New Buffalo Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott felt that setting the tone of the locker room was important.


Coach Sean McDermott is all about “culture” and leading by example. He’s a 3:30AM fitness guy. 


He is a driven, hard-nosed, accountability coach whose locker room culture begins with him.


Coach stated that “this is a business”, so he removed the pool table and video games from the locker room.


Players don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Hall of Fame coach, Bill Walsh, set up a fishing tournament amongst his players during pre-season. He stated, a “team that can laugh together, can get serious together.”

Hard nosed, two time Super-Bowl winning coach, Tom Coughlin, spent the very first day of a training camp by having a bowling tournament. He changed his tyrant approach because  he “wanted his players to see him as his grandchildren did.” 

Super Bowl Winning coach, Dick Vermeil was known for his “boot camp” practices and discipline, but only after he started to develop a relationship with his players did he finally reach the pinnacle.

Look, there is nothing sexier than discipline, accountability, hard work, grit, perseverance, and a culture of excellence.

However, in order to win, coaches have to win their hearts as well. In order to do that, they need to win the locker room.

Here are 5 ways to win the locker room

1. Develop a TEAM culture-  

Every coach would agree that when you have players willing to fight for one another, there is nothing more powerful. Practices should be difficult and demanding, but developing team chemistry also takes place in between practices and games. You hang out so much together, that either bonds or cliques get formed in various ways. 

Developing a locker room where players can unwind, relax, be themselves, and hang-out is crucial.

Who wants a locker room where players simply dash out after showering and changing?

A pool table or ping-pong table encourages players an outlet to bond over a competitive activity that is not directly related to their own sport. The Cornell basketball team that made the sweet sixteen and finished 29-5 all lived together and touted their Super Mario bros. and table-tennis competitions. 

2. Allow the players to take ownership-

Jeff Van Gundy allowed all minor decisions like where to eat, which music and movie to play on the bus up to the players. He granted them a voice in their own culture. 

3. Have a leadership council-


In all pick-up games, kids self-govern themselves.

You can’t break the written and unwritten rules of the court and expect to be welcomed back. A leadership council of players should make decisions on certain disciplines that coach doesn’t have to. That creates more ownership among players and takes more off of the coach. 

4. Orchestrate the cohesion-

Teams become cohesive over the task at hand (winning), or socially (togetherness). Ultimately, task-cohesion is king. However, these task-cohesive teams are only fostered through extremely strong peer-leadership.

Social cohesion is queen.

Teams full of mutual respect for one another have more trust and uphold standards within the team. Usually, the best teams have BOTH task and social cohesion. These bonds can be enhanced through scheduled sessions intended to do so. 

5. Foster organic cohesion-  

Yes, it is a business. Winning is a habit. But, allow play to be a part of the culture. Allowing athletes to express themselves through free-play is as old as the cave-man days. We thrive on working hard toward a goal and also having fun along the journey. 

I’ve been in the team locker room at the end of a season with such tears of joy from winning because they all knew of the effort and sacrifice and bond. I’ve been in the other locker room as well, that tears flowed because the loss was so heartbreaking because of the sacrifice and bond.

If you’re in the game long enough, these moments will happen. That’s life.

The way to a winning team locker room begins way before these moments of joy or heartbreak. It begins with the culture of the team and finding ways to win the locker room. 


This is Just ONE way to Build Mental Toughness. If you are interested in learning more Mental Toughness Techniques. Check out RING THE BELL FOR Mental Toughness. 

win the locker room

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & Associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out all the books.   

Please check out the podcast 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness as we interview expert athletes and coaches about Mental Strength and their Hinge Moment.

Mental Toughness is built off of the field?

Not only does our best change as we get better, but Mental Toughness also becomes more about what takes place off the field than on the field. We are who we are when we are alone.

What happens when the door comes off the Hinges? If you hear a creaky door, it’s not the door at all, it’s The Hinge.  Here is a story about the athlete that you know because he/she is simply the best athlete in town.



Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- 50 Ways to Win: pro Football’s Hinge Moments 

Al Bundy

I was in Tennessee with a golfer at the PGA tour event. On wednesday afternoon, We were all standing around the chipping green while I was talking with my players’ caddy.

From literally nowhere, this guy, drove a gator tractor over my foot with the front tire and then just stopped with the back tires now on my foot!!

I yelled at the guy to “KEEP GOING” because he just had a blank stare on his face. He looked like he couldn’t believe he just did that. I couldn’t believe it was happening.

Time does stand still for the precious seconds that a gator tractor is on top of your foot while you try to lift it up.

The entire process took less than 10 seconds, although it felt like minutes.

He pulled forward and I didn’t have shooting pain down my foot, so I knew it wasn’t broken.

Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I was still a bit embarrassed. 

I said “Man, I hope you don’t drive like this is real life.”

After the commotion was over and people asking if I was okay and such, The guy walked back over to me and apologized.

I apologized as well!

I know he didn’t do it on purpose!

I said “I hope I didn’t say anything derogatory to you, I was just upset.”  I also said, “If this is the worst thing we ever have, we will be okay.” He laughed.

He made a mistake and was embarrassed as well. I could have blown him off or yelled at him some more, but what would that have accomplished? It would have made the issue way worse!

I wanted to use this situation as a quick lesson on how I want to conduct myself and stay calm. If I lost my cool, maybe I would have been viewed as an idiot.

How can we make our mess, our message?  Mental Toughness is doing the next right thing and apologizing is a big part.


Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness   

A participation trophy does not build mental toughness 

participation trophy hurts

FOX 59 interviewed me… click on the image above to watch the story…

Kids are not to blame. We are.

We’ve become obsessed not with their own medals, but our own. We run a 5k and expect a medal. A coach even told me a runner who didn’t even run, wanted their finisher medal for a 5k!

Trophies don’t mean anything.  Many Olympians have their Gold medals in a sock drawer. We are the one’s who give meaning to the trophy and what it represents.

Olympians didn’t participate for a medal, it was not the driver. They wanted to test themselves against the best. Their own mental toughness and talent are the reasons for their success.

When we give kids a participation trophy, it is more about the adults than it is the kids. Check out our article on the most costly mistake that  Sport Parents make

I doubt if even one kid ever began to play sports because they thought, “Hey, I get a trophy at the end.” They play for the fun, and the Capri Sun. 

Awarding a participation trophy actually can do more harm than good. 

We think that providing an external reward for hard work will build motivation, but the opposite may be the case. It may diminish their motivation. Is it a reason why 80% of kids stop playing by age 14?

Not sure.

Yale researcher, Amy Wrzesniewski examined the motives of over 11,000 West Point cadets across the span of 14 years.

They wanted to assess the impact of cadets “why” for entering the academy. Cadets that had internal motivators were more likely to graduate, receive promotions, commissions, and stay in the military. Cadets that entered with BOTH strong internal and external motivators (such as get a good job later in life) revealed drastically less success.

The external factors such as get a better job and make more money had a negative impact on overall success.

Think about it, we all have different internal motivators and are more likely to accomplish a task when we tap into our own “why” rather than a carrot or stick approach.  (i.e., I find a wallet- I’ll return the wallet because it’s the right thing to do, rather than the possible reward I could get.) 

Adults don’t need to give a participation trophy to kids, they just need praise their effort and allow them to have fun and also fail.

We don’t make everyone a winner by making everyone not a loser. It may even create more losers.

top mental toughness coachDr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness   

Herschel Walker Mental Toughness

Herschel Walker was made fun at school and never went out to recess because he was afraid of getting beat up. His teacher used to put him in the corner of the room because he had a speech impediment, and called him “special.” His father used to give him a quarter to buy a snack at school. Herschel would give it to another kid, so they could buy a snack as long as they would talk to him. After the kid had finished his snack, he would go back to making fun of him.

The last day of school in 8th grade, he went out to recess and got beat up, bad. He said to himself “never again….When your name is called, you have to stand up.”

Mental Toughness is often caught rather than taught. From that Hinge moment in school, he didn’t train to become a great athlete, he trained to become a super hero. How did he do it?

He did 5,000 sit-ups & 5,000 push-ups every day! Herschel also ran on a dirt track every day, with a rope tied to his waist dragging a tire.

He transformed himself from one of the slowest guys in the school, to one of the fastest in the state of Georgia by the 9th grade.

During an interview with Jim Rome, Herschel was asked when was the last day he missed a workout? He replied “NEVER.”

Sometimes, our mess becomes our message. Mental Toughness means doing what others aren’t willing to do.
Rob Bell revised slide3Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology coach. DRB & Associates based in Indianapolis works with professional athletes & corporate athletes, coaches, and teams building their Mental Toughness. His 2nd book is titled The Hinge:: The Importance of Mental Toughness
 Follow on twitter @drrobbell or contact

Check out the new film & e-book, NO FEAR: A simple guide to mental toughness .


When it comes to parenting, your example isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing. As a professional speaker and author who studies and writes about what the best do better than the rest, I was blown away by what was possibly the most amazing audience I’ve ever spoken to.

I recently spoke at the Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association annual convention. Those folks are leadership personified. The biggest, fastest, strongest, healthiest group of people you’ll ever meet.

What they do in their daily work with the people they lead (college athletes) applies to each and every one of us in the work we do leading our children at home and our employees in the workplace. As I thought about the phenomenal impression they all made on me it got me thinking about precisely what leadership is at its core. Even more so, it made me take a long hard look in the mirror.

You’ve probably hear the expression he or she “just gets it”. Well, when it comes to leadership these coaches ALL “get it”. I didn’t see any negative, lazy, disengaged, unhappy, overweight or unhealthy looking people sitting in that audience anywhere. ZERO… not a single one. I also didn’t see them drinking at the bar late into the night which is a common occurrence at most conventions. These folks were the epitome of high performance. They didn’t live vicariously through the success of their athletes either. They were too busy creating their own success. They were the epitome of mental toughness and simply walked their talk.

The entire experience was a great reminder that when it comes to parenting, your example isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing. Think about it… How do these coaches convince world-class athletes they are capable of being bigger, faster and stronger? Quite simply they do it by being bigger, faster and stronger themselves.

“Our lives are a mirror, what we give out gets reflected back to us by others.”

Whatever you’re doing is contagious. We are all living proof of that statement. I know from experience:

  • Balance is contagious. I found that when I wasn’t modeling balance for my team, they weren’t balanced.
  • Conversely, when they were nervous during a big game or a key timeout, if I was calm their nerves would settle and they’d become calm. Calm is contagious.

Think again before criticizing your child, their coach, or the officials. Bite your tongue instead of yelling at your child to run faster or work harder. Besides, yelling is a poor excuse for coaching and for parenting.

I recently had an executive coaching client complain to me that most of his employees were “negative and low effort” (his words not mine). I encouraged him to stop keeping “banker’s hours” and be more positive and kind to them. Which, to his credit he did, it’s no small surprise that they just posted their best quarter since 2006.

We need to be the change we wish to see in others. Kids need a model to see not just a motto to say. They crave authenticity and can sniff out B.S. a mile away.  Their B.S. meter is calibrated with even more sensitivity and is more accurate than the adults you lead.

I share this with you because being at the CSCCa convention was an important reminder that I need to heed this advice as much as anyone. I have a 9 year old who is ADHD. If I want her to be less impulsive and more mindful, I need to practice mindfulness and emulate it better for her. I also have an 11 year old child who is entering a very emotional stage and prone to drama and outbursts. If I want her to be calm and patient, guess what I have to get better at.

About John Brubaker | Performance Consultant
John is the author of two award-winning books:

John_Brubaker_high_resJohn Brubaker is a nationally renowned performance consultant, speaker and award-winning author. More importantly he’s a husband and a father. John teaches audiences how to obtain better results in business with straightforward tools that turbo charge performance. Using a multidisciplinary approach, “Coach Bru” helps organizations and individuals develop their competitive edge.

everyone gets a mental toughness trophyAs a parent of an athlete, there is really only one responsibility, support your son or daughter. Problem is many parents get the tonic of support mixed up with liquor of critiquing the game or practice. Tonic is fine, Liquor, never sicker…I wonder do kids lose the passion for sports or do their parents kill that passion with all the expectations, criticisms, and post-game rants?

I watch it after every game. Parents come over and immediately start talking about how they could have done this better, should have made this play, or performed a certain skill. I have made a conscious effort after each performance to do two things with my own kids.

1. Compliment their effort and tell them I love watching them play.

Believe me it is not always easy, but after having a conversation with my daughter, I will continue to stick to two things post-game. After listening and I watched a couple families do their thing after the game was over and tell their kid about not fouling, how to pass, when to dribble, proper shooting technique, moving their feet faster on defense, etc. I thought, holy crap, this is their first real game of basketball EVER! One parent went so far as to take his daughter out on the court and give her a lesson in boxing out the opponent to get the rebound.

2. ASK your child on how they want to be coached: 

I asked my daughter if she liked it when I have critiqued her play in the past. Again, she said, “No.” It felt like a fist to my face!

So, I changed… I merely referred to a couple of loose balls she dove for on the ground and how she hustled up and down the court each time on defense.  I never once talked about something she could have done better. I will leave that up to the coaches. I did tell her if she ever wants my opinion about anything I will give it to her, but she has to ask. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

dr rob bell mental toughness article. Coach Justin Dehmer holds Back-to-Back-to-Back State Championships and 3x Coach of the Year 2010, 2011, 2012. National Record 87 Game Winning Streak in 2011 ended in 2012 at 88. Contact   Twitter @1PitchWarrior

dominate that fear

dominate that fear

5 Ways to Dominate that FEAR

Fear takes us further than we want to go and keeps us longer than we want to stay.

Fears underline almost all emotions, disappointment, sadness, motivation, anger, even getting angry. Because it dominates our lives, this list is 5 ways to kill that FEAR.

It was the impetus to produce my film & eBook NO FEAR: A Simple Guide to Mental Toughness.


If we can’t identify where the fright is coming from or what it is about, how can we possibly begin to challenge it? One way or another, our fears stem from the belief that “it” won’t work out how I want it to.

Romans 8:1 states, there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. If you believe in that verse, then any thoughts of fear, self-ridicule, or not being good enough are certainly not from God, the source is coming from someplace else.

Hint: it’s not ourselves


Think of it as a person, not an emotion.

He will try to show us why we should be afraid! That individual will direct our attention to the outcome, the result, and something out of our control. Fears want us to become obsessed with some event or person in the future, a year, a month, even a day. It also wants us to look backward not at our successes, but our shortcomings and our failures.  Fear loses its grip when we stay in the now.

It’s one way that we dominate that fear!


Fear is not all or nothing. Yes, your son or daughter may get injured, not play DI in college, or get in an accident. Yes, we may fail. 

If we take a game-winning shot and miss, it will hurt. If we attempt a change in our business, we may get stuck! All truths. But fears do not stop there.

It keeps going and going; fear catastrophizes.

It takes us down a road of imagining the worst-case scenario. Imagining that if we try and fail, not ONLY will it suck, but also my friends will think I am a failure and I will lose my job.

We can dominate that fear by ranking it from 1-10, if it’s higher than a 6, go to the next step. 


We keep our biggest fears to ourselves and when we do that, it can grow legs.

Most people share with their friends, hairdressers, or bartenders so why not share fears with them? They aren’t experts and won’t be able to provide quality solutions,

but a problem shared becomes half a problem.

The 4th way we dominate that fear is to say it aloud! Once we verbalize aloud and can hear our own voice, the fears actually diminish instantly. Try it!


Mental toughness is not about doing it alone, it is about surrendering to the things out of our control. Having worked with many successful high achievers, I am convinced the biggest worry is simply not being good enough.

The expectations and pressure to succeed often become overwhelming and even if it is good enough, it doesn’t last for very long.

The fear returns, knocking on our door, saying, “remember me?” When we let go of the it, it let’s go of us…

For more in-depth strategies on dominating that fear, check out my film & eBook. NO FEAR: A Simple Guide to Mental Toughness.


dr rob bell speakerDr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. DRB & associates coach executives and professional athletes. Some clients have included three different winners on the PGA Tour, Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. 

I was told early on in life to use “I” statements. I was also instructed to use feeling words like frustrated, upset, and agitated. Yep, those seem accurate descriptors when I am pissed. The key is to train and remember this linguistic skill during stressful times especially when having arguments (growth moments) with my wife.

However, I was never properly instructed on how I should talk to myself.

We rarely talk negative to ourselves when we are thriving and doing well; frankly that’s not mental toughness! When we are on track, we can basically say anything to ourselves that will help us focus.

Mental Toughness however occurs when we are struggling, when things are not going well. The inner chatter, inner voice, and dialogue that we have can take a dramatically different tone.

We are also poor at diagnosing our own self-talk. So, check this out and let me know if you agree.

YOU idiot, YOU suck today, YOU should know better…You, You, You…

These dominate the negative thoughts. I think the YOU statements occupy about 80% of the negativity.

The YOU voice can also ask rhetorical, outcome-based questions. “Are you sure you should be here?” ” You think that is correct?” “Suppose you fail?”

It doesn’t mean we don’t use negative I statements, but if we had a negative parent, or a negative coach, chances are, the YOU negativity, are the statements we will hear. I’ve even heard pro’s at the end of a season just berate themselves, and say things like “you’ve never had it.” Who told him that?

When we hear that inner voice utter YOU, it’s a red flag. The YOU voice is accusatory, its judgmental, and it saps our confidence and focus. It is the same reason why we don’t use it in discussions with our spouse.

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kid: Build Their Mental Toughness   


There’s a Huge MYTH about Trust

The best part about sports is that it is NOT like life. In athletics, A team or player won or lost, period.  Wash and wear. There is little ambiguity, because the Ball Don’t Lie.

Life on the other hand has tons of ambiguity to it. It is not as clear cut, nor clean. In fact, it’s messy.  In Life, there is a lot of gray.

Trust is the most important mental skill. (e.g., confidence) for success because it impacts all the other mental skills, but we automatically think in all or nothing terms…We have trust or we don’t. There’s the huge myth about trust. 

Trust is a continuum, It’s not ALL or NOTHING! Addicts think that way, ALL or NOTHING. I am either the best ever, or I am a horrible loser and no one is there for me.

I trust my pastor, but not for him to cut my hair. I trust myself with helping high-performers and athletes, but not for me to fix my own deck or garage door.

It’s not a question of IF I trust, it’s a question of HOW MUCH do I trust?

Trust is a process… HOW MUCH do we trust our coaches and loved one’s?  Trust affects everything because the more we trust and have confidence, the better focused, relaxed, and honest we become. Think about it, if we give a task to someone and know that it will be done, it frees us up to focus on something else.

How much do we trust our gut, and our own instincts?

Life teaches us that we are going to struggle and also be under pressure moments. When we mess up, how much of our trust and confidence is left, and how do we continue to build and work on it.

Proverbs 3:5-Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

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Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kid: Build Their Mental Toughness