I just love hearing heart-warming stories about high school and youth sport coaches who subscribe to this insane idea that being negative with and putting down your athletes actually helps them get mentally tougher and play better. I don’t know what cave they’ve been living in, but I do know this: Emotionally beating up on pre-adolescent and adolescent athletes is the best way that I know to kill their self-confidence, stifle their motivation and completely wreck their performance!
Let’s shatter the myths right here, right now. Putting kids down, telling them they suck, embarrassing them in front of their peers, etc, does NOT, and I repeat, DOES NOT AND NEVER WILL inspire them to greatness. Instead, that kind of demeaning, unintelligent behavior will insure that your athletes feel like crap and play like crap. We’re not talking about rocket science here!
So a high school freshman comes off the mound after pitching five innings, leaving the game with a 4-3 lead. He has pitched strongly, giving up only 2 walks and three hits while recording 9 strikeouts over the course of the game. The kid felt really good about himself and his parents were also thrilled with how well he had done.
The coach reluctantly had to pull him from the game because his pitch count was too high. How did the coach respond to this kid’s great outing? Well, according to the coach, the team lost the game because of his star pitcher! It was the kid’s fault that he let his pitch count get too high and so forced the coach to replace him with a weaker thrower! The reliever got rocked and gave up the tying and winning runs, but the coach blamed his starter! In front of the whole team he yelled at his pitcher and angrily put him down. The kid was reduced to tears, not to mention totally baffled by his coach’s interpretation of his perceived success!
The questions I ask myself when I hear this kind of coaching insanity is “COACH, ARE YOU ON DRUGS, OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY OR JUST PLAIN STUPID!? Did you really think that your very public and negative interpretation of this kid’s success was going to build his self-confidence? Perhaps it was going to get him to relax more on the mound and keep his pitch count low the next time he goes out to throw for you?
With all due respect coach, because I don’t know you as a person, if you thought that, then you’re either totally out of touch with how to work with young athletes or you’re interpersonally and intellectually challenged!
Then there’s the high school LAX coach who spent the practice the day before his team was to face a very tough opponent, berating his players, telling them how much they sucked, how bad they were executing and then warning them that if they played tomorrow the way they were playing right then, they would lose big time. He spent the entire practice dumping on his players and then, 30 minutes before practice was to end, he walked off the field in disgust pulling the assistant coach with him. His explanation as he walked off the field: “You guys suck so bad I can’t stand watching you anymore!”
Tell me something. Is this infantile behavior motivational? Does it build self-confidence and a belief in oneself? Does it make his players feel more relaxed and willing to take risks and play freely on the field? The very next day the team went out and to a man, played one of the worst games of their lives! The coach’s response to this poor performance? “I told you so!” Of course, the primary reason that these kids played so badly wasn’t that they sucked. It was because the coach had actually sucked! Here’s a man who was very knowledgeable about the game, but who didn’t have CLUE ONE how to appropriately convey this knowledge to adolescent athletes.
When you think you’re being inspirational, teaching mental toughness and creating game toughness in your kids by consistently humiliating them, putting their abilities down and being negative understand this: YOU ARE WAY OFF BASE! This is not how you work with kids. This doesn’t toughen them up. You may think it does, but you’re terribly misguided. Instead, try something different like catching your players doing things well, underscoring their good performances and calling attention to great plays. You will not make your kids soft by doing this. Instead, you will help them feel even better about themselves and this will pay off in gutsy, mentally tough performances.