IN THIS ISSUE:
“PERFECTIONISM REVISITED” – (See October 2001 edition) “If you can’t do something right then you shouldn’t do it at all!” Ever hear those ill-advised words before? That’s the motto of the perfectionist, the individual who always believes that his efforts and results need to be flawless, ALL of the time, and anything short of this is a clear failure. To the perfectionist, mistakes, losses and second place finishes are totally unacceptable outcomes. The perfectionist examines his efforts and performance results with an electron microscope, hunting for anything that smacks of imperfection. Interesting enough, the true perfectionist can always find something that is wrong, even when those around him can’t. That’s because the perfectionist views the world of his performances through “flaw-finding,” red-tinted glasses. As a consequence, everything he sees has that red, flawed tinge to it. Coaches and teammates may be thrilled with the perfectionist’s performance. His parents may be proud and beaming. The media may sing his praises. However, the perfectionist is an unhappy camper because he can clearly “see” the obvious that everyone else seems to have missed: he screwed up and he could’ve done better. The perfectionist sets unrealistically high standards for himself that he brutally holds himself to. When he falls below these standards, he rips himself apart emotionally. He is totally unforgiving. He is his harshest critic. Because the achievement of perfection is fleeting at best, even when the perfectionist achieves that perfect performance, he is rarely satisfied. Why? Because he knows that right around the corner is another big performance that he may screw up. As a result, most perfectionists suffer from deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and low self-confidence. On the surface they may seem pretty talented and together. However, you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to get to how they really feel about themselves. Awful! Perfectionists like to justify their unrealistic striving for excellence with sensible logic: “By striving to be the best, you’ll always get better. (I agree!) By having high standards you’re more likely to successfully reach your goals and dreams than those who set their sights lower. (Absolutely true!) If I didn’t expect more from myself I might get comfortable being mediocre. (This one’s a bit more questionable.) The only way to really get better is to look for and work on everything that you did badly. (Right on!)” On the surface, these arguments certainly make good sense. In fact, to a degree the perfectionist is absolutely right! To a degree! Unfortunately the perfectionist has a hard time tempering his efforts and quest for perfection. He has difficulty distinguishing between what’s reasonable self-criticism and what’s off the wall hypercritical. He’s a black and white kind of person. I.e. I either did a good job or I totally sucked! There is nothing in between. The true perfectionist doesn’t know how to pat himself on the back for a job well done. When he does find a performance that meets his unreasonably high standards, he quickly dismisses whatever good feelings he might have had because, “that’s what’s expected of me” or “now I have to get ready for the next big one.” Often times, he’ll diminish the good feelings he should experience by qualifying his victory or great performance. “Oh, I was just on today,” or “My toughest opponent was sick and couldn’t play to his potential.” In these ways, perfectionism is a joy stealer. It will rob you of all the satisfaction and happiness that you could get from your sport and life. In this issue of The Mental Toughness Newsletter we will once more go after this devastating problem.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Is this you?”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “In the blink of an eye.”
COACH’S OFFICE – “A ridiculously simple success strategy”
DR G’S TEACHING TALES – “The inspiration of the football huddle”
“Is this you?”
Is this you? You’re having a great game. You’ve already gone 2 for 3 with two singles and a run batted in. Your only out was a sharp line drive that you hit right up the third base line that the third baseman made an unbelievable, leaping, ESPN-type catch to rob you of what would have easily been an extra base hit and another RBI. You’re having a good game in the field as well and only one ball has gotten by you at shortstop. Actually the fact that you got credited with the error on that play was iffy. Even your coach told you that it was hit really well and should’ve been listed as a base hit, not your error. For the most part, you haven’t let that get to you even though you know you could’ve and should’ve had that ball. Plus, if you had made that stop, the other team wouldn’t have scored that run that put them ahead. But that’s ok because it was an error and not your responsibility….Still,….you really should have made that play and as the game goes on, you can’t stop that stupid error from bopping around inside your head. Yeah, the coach said that it wasn’t really an error, but if you had made it, then your team wouldn’t be down a two runs right now. The funny thing is that in your next at-bat, you’re in a position to get the tying run into scoring position. You have a chance to make up for it. When you get behind in the count, that’s exactly what you’re thinking. You can erase that error right here, right now! You start to bear down, becoming even more determined to get a hit. Your trying too hard gets you much too tight and you strike out chasing a really ugly pitch, ending your team’s chances of pulling even. In their half of the inning, the opponents load the bases. With one out, the next batter hits a screaming line drive three feet to your left. You make a diving catch for the second out and turn the double play to get your team out of the inning. Your coaches and teammates go crazy, high fiving you and slapping you on the back. The crowd is own their feet howling their approval. What a defensive stop! You’re pumped as you take your seat in the dug out and the good feelings from that play last exactly 35 seconds. And then that crumby error in the back of your mind starts to worm it’s way forward into your consciousness. “If only you had made that stop…” The game eventually ends. Your team loses by one run. You went 2 for 4, hit the ball well 3 out of the four at-bats, played solid defense and yet you walk off the field feeling disgusted with yourself and responsible for the loss. You’re telling yourself you suck even though somewhere in your mind you don’t completely believe it. But that’s how you feel inside. You don’t take in the praise from your coaches. Your teammates’ positive comments don’t mean anything to you. Your parents’ “attaboys” fall on deaf ears. Bottom line: You screwed up and cost the team the game. Plain and simple! That’s all that counts.
Is this you? You go to your meet feeling somewhat ready and confident. Your warm-ups are good and you stick everything. You’re hoping for a decent all around score and perhaps a chance to qualify for States. After all, this is your last chance for this season. It turns out that you have one of the better meets of your life. Everything feels on. The first three events go great and floor, your best event is last. All you need to get to qualify is an 8.3, a score that is easily within your reach. It doesn’t seem like that much, especially today with how well you’ve been performing. However, on one of your tumbling passes you step out of bounds and then, on your last tumbling pass, you take an extra step on your landing. Two annoying, yet minor mistakes. Despite the fact that this was still an absolutely great meet for you, you end up missing qualifying for States by a lousy .1 of a point. You can’t believe it! You are bumming big time! You can’t help but feel that you’re a loser. Never mind that your coach is positively thrilled with your performance. She felt like States was a bit of a long stretch for you this year, especially since you had just gotten to this level. There was nothing that she was unhappy with, even floor! In fact, she felt that your floor routine was excellent, one of your best by far! She’s telling you how proud she is of you but you just can’t seem to really concentrate on what she’s saying. You’re far too disappointed. Why? Deep down inside of you, you still feel like, BIG DEAL! I had a chance to make States and I blew it! I must not be that good. If I was, then I would’ve qualified.
Is this you? You have an unbelievable season. You almost single handedly carry your team to the finals of the State High School championships. You are the glue that holds the team together. And then, in the biggest game of your life, you play out of your mind. You score 24 points and help your team stay in the game right up until the final seconds. Then with less than 10 seconds on the clock and your squad down by one point, you bring the ball up court, fake out and dribble around two defenders, and with 3 seconds left in regulation, you pull up for a 15 footer to win the game. The crowd is on their feet. A packed gymnasium is holding their collective breath in excited anticipation. You have a defender right in your face when you release your shot. It looks perfect. It feels perfect. And then the ball clanks off the back of the rim, goes in and then pops out as time expires and the crowd erupts. The opposing players race around you wildly in celebration. You and your teammates are too stunned to move. And then the tears come. You suddenly feel like you’ve just been kicked in the stomach. You can’t believe it’s all over. And then it hits you even harder. You lost the game. You missed the shot. You had the State Championship in your hands and you blew it! How could you have let that happen? Forget the fact that you scored all those points. Forget the defense you played. Forget the kind of season that you had. You lost the game. You missed the shot. You are so upset with yourself that you want to scream. You can’t really hear anything being said to you by the coaches, parents, or other players. You have no idea what the reporters are asking you. All you know is that you blew it and you don’t deserve to be playing on this team. That night you seriously think about quitting the sport and not bothering to play in college.
Is this you? Can you see yourself in these stories? Are you that unbelievably hard on yourself? Are you never satisfied with your results, even when everyone around you is? Are your standards so high and unrealistic that you find yourself constantly feeling unhappy and like a failure? Are you having a hard time remembering when the last time was that you actually enjoyed yourself at a competition? If you can relate to these examples and answer “yes” to these questions, then chances are pretty good that you might be suffering from the dreaded “perfectionism” bug. It’s a nasty “dis-ease” with one primary symptom. You always feel that no matter what you do, whatever you accomplish, how many points you score or how good you play, it’s never quite good enough! There was always something wrong that you could’ve done better.
Perfectionism is like a very sharp, double-edged sword. When you stay in control of it, you can cut down any obstacles in your path, overcome any fears and blocks and carve yourself out a place at the top. Staying in control of perfectionism means that you take a realistic look at your shortcomings and work on them constructively. It means that you keep your performance and your skills in the proper perspective. It also means that you acknowledge your positive points and accomplishments. This means that you allow yourself the time and emotional space to celebrate how “way cool” you actually are. Being able to pat yourself on the back is a critically important “mental skill” for all athletes. When you can appropriately acknowledge a job well done, you’ll end up feeling much better about yourself and more confident. It’s these good feelings that then fuel your motivation and enjoyment of the sport. When you have fun playing, you will then be more willing to work harder and ultimately, go much further as an athlete.
However, when your perfectionism controls you, when you wield that sword in the wrong direction and become a victim to your own harsh self-criticism, when you blow your failures and mistakes way out of proportion and shrink your successes down to meaningless nothings, then that sword of perfectionism will shred your self-esteem and confidence, puncture your motivation and kill your joy and passion for the sport. When left unchecked, perfectionism will ruin your performances, causing you to continually choke and underachieve. Ultimately, your unrealistic expectations and inability to keep your skills and talent in perspective will prematurely drive you out of your sport. In extreme cases, when you continuously turn the wrong edge of the perfectionistic blade on yourself, you will end up feeling depressed, hopeless and without the power to change things for the better.
On the surface, any athlete could very easily and mistakenly believe that striving to be the very best is not such a bad thing. In fact, how else can you possibly rise to the top of the heap without challenging yourself on a daily basis and never being satisfied with anything that resembles mediocrity? After all, you can’t become the best without doing your best all the time, right? Well, sort of, yes and no. Let me explain: To reach your potential as an athlete and a performer in your life you have to start with big goals. You have to dare to dream big. You have to have expectations for yourself that will stretch you out of your comfort zone. Challenging yourself on a daily basis to rise to the occasion is one way to get the very best that you have to come out. The tricky part comes in when you fail to meet those goals or expectations, when you fall short of them, when you have a bad day or two or three.
As you may or may not know, success in sports is always built on a foundation of failure. ALWAYS! You can’t go from beginner to expert, from chump to champ without enough failures. Failure is an important mechanism that provides you with very specific feedback on exactly what you need to change to get better. Failure steers us in the right direction for improvement and later, ultimate success. In fact, consider this: THERE IS NO REAL FAILURE. THERE IS ONLY FEEDBACK AND LESSONS from all these disappointing experiences. The fact of the matter is that failure is nothing more than a disguised lesson. It’s like a box of Cracker Jacks: There’s always a surprise inside, only the surprise inside of a failure is a whole lot more valuable than that crumby piece of worthless plastic or paper inside of that Cracker Jacks box. The more important question to ask yourself is, “what lesson will I take away from this unpleasant experience?” Will you learn what you did wrong and what you need to do differently next time? Will you learn what weaknesses you have that need to be strengthened? Will you learn the specific direction that you need to head in to improve your performance and get closer to your goals? Or will you do what the perfectionist does and learn all the wrong things? Let me explain:
The perfectionist demands perfect from himself ALL of the time, and therefore he has little to no tolerance for anything short of perfection. When this kind of an athlete somehow falls short of his perfect ideals, he becomes upset with himself. Anything that doesn’t measure up to his unrealistic expectations is cause for him to get down on himself big time. As a consequence, the perfectionist completely misses the positive, constructive learning in a failure. He doesn’t focus on what he did wrong to help him plan for what he could do differently next time. Instead, he concentrates on what he thinks is wrong with him right now. The primary lesson that he takes away is an emotional, personal one. It has very little to do with specifics like mistakes in technique, strategy or execution. Instead, the lesson is a global one about what’s wrong with him. I.e. “I suck,” “I’m just not as good as I thought I was,” “I always choke under pressure.” Thus the perfectionist is left feeling diminished and inadequate. If you view every loss, setback or mistake as concrete evidence of your inadequacy and shortcomings as an athlete and a person, then you have nowhere constructive to go with this “lesson.” It doesn’t point you in the right direction. It doesn’t motivate you to practice harder for the right reasons. IT DOESN’T MAKE YOU BETTER IN ANY WAY! In fact it does just the opposite! The perfectionist’s intolerance for mistakes and failures, and inability to find the important lessons in his setbacks trip him up and actually slow down his development as an athlete.
Strive to be the best. Don’t accept mediocrity and a half-hearted effort from yourself. Do everything in your power to make yourself better. However, change your measuring stick! Stop demanding that you be perfect ALL of the time. There is no real perfect. You are human. You will make mistakes. You will fall short of your goals. You will fail, over and over again. Accept this fact as part of the process. Understand that it’s an important part of the journey and without the failures and hardships you can never truly achieve real success. When you think you have failed, check it out with those that you trust. Ask your teammates, coaches and parents for feedback. If everyone around you is celebrating a performance that you think is terrible, ask yourself why you can’t enjoy it. When you do screw up, learn to forgive yourself. Learn to be a better coach to yourself. Lose the harsh task master routine. That part of you won’t drive you to perfection. Instead, he/she will ultimately kill your enjoyment and drive you out of the sport. Learn to celebrate your victories no matter how small. Get in the habit of catching yourself doing things right. You don’t have to accomplish earth-shattering things to feel good about yourself. You only need to have small, personal victories. Remember that no matter what level you compete at in your sport, this is just a game. It’s for FUN! It is not a life and death struggle. The fate of the entire free world is not hanging in the balance here. If you have made your sport that important, then you and your performances are in big trouble.
If you are struggling with a performance difficulty, or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!
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“In the blink of the eye”
It’s coming up to the first year anniversary of my mother’s death and not too surprisingly, it’s making me think a whole lot about life. First of all, it’s totally unbelievable to me how quickly the time seems to have flown. How can my mom be gone for an entire year!? Just how is that even possible? Growing up, I remember my dad wistfully talking about how quickly time passes. When I was a lot younger I would either not really pay much attention to what he was saying or, when I was a tad older, just simply dismiss his musings as some kind of sentimental ramblings from some old, out of touch dude. How could I possibly understand what he was talking about? I was too young to really understand. But you know what? Everyone gets older and now that some may consider me to be that older, out of touch dude, he was right! Time flies, whether you’re having fun or NOT! It moves and when you have kids, it goes by in what seems like the blink of an eye.
You’re engaged, you’re excited and you’re head over heels in love. The world is your oyster and your whole adult life seems to be spread out endlessly in front of you. Blink and you’ve been married three whole years, struggling to pay the bills and pregnant with your first child. Blink again and that little girl is taking her very first steps and you’re trying to figure out what you want to do when you grow up. Blink once more and your oldest is now three, you’re pregnant for a second time and now you have a brand new house mortgage to worry about. Blink again and your six year old is starting first grade, your two year old is talking up a storm and some slick salesman wants you to think about life insurance? Life insurance! Now that’s stuff that old people deal with! Blink once more and now the kids are in 6th and 2nd grades, you’ve been married 15 years and the house is surprisingly quiet and empty during the day. How could you possibly be married 15 years already? Blink again and before you know it you have two adolescents in your house, at least when they’re home, and life as you knew it has ceased to exist! It’s totally mind-boggling. Where did those giggling, easy to handle toddlers go that you used to carry around perched on top of your shoulders?
Your kids are growing up right in front of you and the more time passes, the more time passes and faster it seems to go. Are you aware of what’s going on? Are you really experiencing and enjoying your kids as they race through life and subtly change each and every day? Are you able to keep things in perspective and appreciate the unbelievable process that is involved in raising kids? What’s that you say? Your oldest just got her license and now you have to let her take the car out ALL BY HERSELF! Are you kidding me? You think, “How can that be possible?” I swear she was 5 years old just yesterday? Five year olds can’t drive. It’s against the law!” Blink yet again and now they’re both behind the wheel and your oldest kid’s bedroom is quiet and very empty. She’s living away from the house now, a junior in college! You know what that means? In less than two years they’ll both be gone and you and your spouse/partner will be all alone!
There’s an old saying, “when your ass-deep in alligators it’s easy to lose sight that your original job was to drain the swamp.” Somehow that’s related to raising kids. As parents we get so caught up in the day to day grind of school, piano lessons, child maintenance, soccer practices and games, ballet classes and recitals, helping with homework, volunteering for a class field trip, cub scouts and brownies, travel team try-outs, you name it, that we lose sight of what’s really important here. It’s not the activities. It’s not the performances. It’s not how many homeruns little Johnny slugs or how many ground balls trickle through his legs. It’s not whether Janice qualifies for States and gets to compete with all the best gymnasts in the area. How important is it really if your kid consistently outperforms someone else’s kid? In the long run, when they’re all grown up, will all the trophies, medals, ribbons and failures really matter? Not one iota!
The sports our kids engage in now are all just games, kid’s games. All this competitive stuff we get so caught up in when our children are younger is ultimately so unimportant in the larger scheme of life. Before you can even blink, your kids will be putting away the hockey sticks, basketballs, tennis rackets and soft balls and getting on with the rest of their lives. They will be leaving your house and partner/spouse to start the adult version of their life for themselves. It makes you wonder why you got so upset at your 12 year old daughter when she let in that game-winning goal, struck out with bases loaded or fell on her double axle. What could you possibly have been thinking when you angrily laid into her and made her feel so badly about herself for disappointing you? It makes you feel pretty silly about how you acted that day on the sidelines when you were screaming at your 10 year old boy to “suck it up” and play better, harassing the refs for their “rotten, idiotic” calls and arguing with your kid’s coach over your boy’s playing time. “When you’re ass deep in alligators….”
So what’s really important? Life is both unbelievably fragile and precious. The more time you spend on this planet, the more you’ll come to appreciate this bittersweet fact of life. What’s here today is gone tomorrow. Change is the only constant in our lives and sometimes we don’t want to have anything to do with these changes because they involve some type of loss. Perhaps this is why it always seems that you can’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone. You see, our problem is that we all have a tendency to take far too much for granted. Call it the general human condition (at least in the United States) or whatever. We take the daily miracles of our lives and treat them as “ho-hum,” no biggies. We take our health, kid’s health, and our relationships with those we love for granted, as if they’re no big deal and will last forever. Unfortunately it sometimes takes a tragedy before we realize how truly blessed we really were.
So what’s important? The very simple, little things like spending time with your children without trying to make them into high achievers. Loving your children for the unique human beings that they are. Appreciating what makes your child or children special. Taking delight in everything that they do without tying up their lovability and self-worth with their performances and having to always please you. What’s really important is the relationship that you develop with your children and how you conduct yourself in relation to them. Want them to really be peak performers? Then love them unconditionally, take an active, no-strings-attached interest in their lives and really listen to them and try to truly hear what they’re saying.
What I’m saying here is something that you already know. It’s simple and basic and very critical to your children’s and ultimately your own happiness. Unfortunately it’s so basic and simple that we tend to continually forget its’ importance. Life is fragile and precious. Childhood and the child-rearing years are fleeting at best. As a consequence you want to embrace the experience every day. You want to truly appreciate the precious gifts that you have in your children, rather than focus on what you don’t have or who they’re NOT. Simply put, you want to celebrate your kids every day. You want to help them feel better about themselves. You want to take joy in the unique individuals that they’re becoming. Stop trying to do the “extreme makeover” on them. When you do, you completely lose sight of them as individuals and in the process, deeply hurt them by indirectly giving them the message that they just aren’t good enough in your eyes. That if only they did this a little better or ran just a tad faster than Jessica, or were more aggressive, then “everything” and they would be so much better. This is not so great a message to be continually feeding your kids.
There is no question that as a caring, loving parent you always want what’s best for your kids. However, sometimes we want this more for us and less for them. In the process of our wanting them to be better, stronger, smarter, faster, we lose sight of who they really are. This is when we tend to get into some hot water as parents, when we say and do things that are hurtful and insensitive to our kids. If you can continually keep the bigger picture in mind, then you will be less likely to fall into this trap. If you can keep their sport in perspective, that it is simply a game that children play along the road to growing up, nothing more, nothing less, then you will be more likely to be attuned to their needs and sensitivities. Life is simply too short and unpredictable to be continually sweating the small stuff like whether your kid hits .350, breaks the team scoring record, or finally beats that kid who’s always beating her.
We get so caught up in wanting the best for our child and trying to be the best parent that we lose sight of the very basic understanding that it’s not so much what we do for them that’s important as much as who we are in our interactions with them. What I’m saying is that what your child really needs from you is already inside of you. All they want is your unconditional love and acceptance. They want to see the delight in your face when you interact with them. They want to feel that you truly care about them for who they are, NOT what they do or how they perform. They want to feel like you think that they’re the cat’s meow.
I know that many parents reading this will dismiss my words as being cute but a little unrealistic given today’s highly competitive world. These parents know that in their heart of hearts they must help their child achieve a lot so that their boy or girl will be successful later in life. So we have to apply for the very best preschools so we can get into the very best elementary schools so that we can get into the very best high schools, etc. We have to stay on top of our kids so that they get only A’s. We have to make sure that our child has the very best coaching and training on the athletic field and off. Get him extra, private coaching. Make sure she has a trainer that she can work with three to four times a week. Don’t forget that the piano lessons have to be with the top teacher in the county. So what if she’s mean, abusive and a harsh taskmaster. It’s a cold world out there and sometimes you just have to learn to suck it up! These things are important and will give your child the competitive edge in that highly cutthroat world out there.
Unfortunately, what gets lost in all of this insane striving to be the best and make the competitive grade, is your child’s well-being and happiness. Her feelings get lost in the equation. Her welfare gets ignored and therefore sacrificed in a quest for perfection. As a result, well meaning parents with the best of intentions inadvertently hurt their kids through neglect. That’s right, neglect! With all the attention you focus on achievement and getting to be the best, you end up neglecting your child’s feelings and who she is as a person.
Believe it or not, it doesn’t take that much to raise a happy, healthy child-athlete. All they require are the proper limits and loving parents who know that their child’s mental health and happiness is vastly more important than whether that son or daughter is always number 1!
“A ridiculously simple success strategy”
There are a lot of great coaching books out there that will provide you with some exceptionally brilliant success strategies that you can use to boost your winning percentage. Some of these tombs deal specifically with the x’s and o’s of your sport. Others provide motivational techniques to inspire your athletes to take their game to the next level. Still others address the differences between the sexes and what you as a coach need to do differently with each to be successful. All of these books have useful, if not valuable information. However, you don’t really need anything sophisticated to raise your athletes’ intensity and confidence levels. In fact, it really doesn’t take that much to motivate and inspire your players to greatness. What it does take, you already have inside of you. It’s an embarrassingly simple strategy that you can effortlessly use every single day to get your athletes on your side and motivate them to give that little extra.
Think about your job as a coach. What are you really trying to accomplish? Do you want to build physical and technical skills? Do you want to impart a solid strategic knowledge of the game to your athletes? Are you trying to inspire your athletes to work their butts off and do whatever it takes to be successful? Do you want to instill a sense of team and mission to your athletes so that they pull together for the common good? My guess is that most coaches are really trying to do all of the above in one way or another. In sum, most coaches are trying to get their athletes to embrace hard work and the pursuit of excellence. They want their players to buy into the idea that struggle, hard work and sacrifice breed success.
However, if you look a little closer, you will also see that a lot of very successful coaches deliberately take these lessons one step further. That is, they teach the game and the pursuit of excellence while changing their athletes mentally and emotionally in the process. Of course, the changes that these coaches catalyze are positive and constructive. Athletes leave their programs feeling better about themselves as individuals, emotionally stronger and more confident. These players become better people because of their relationship with these kinds of coaches. And yes, these coaches make very good use of that simple, success strategy every day.
So what’s all the suspense about? What is this painfully simple and obvious success strategy that you can use to raise the level of your coaching, and, in turn, your won-loss record? I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it, but here goes: Positive feedback. Yup! That’s what all this dramatic lead-up has been for: Catching your athletes on a daily basis doing things right. When your players give the proper effort, do something special, or in any way go down the path that you’re steering them towards, acknowledge them. Let them know that you know. Make them aware that you’re aware of what they did and how they performed and that you appreciate it. Pat them on the back. Tell them directly. Give them an “attababy!”
There is nothing that builds motivation in an athlete quite like consistent recognition FROM YOU. There is nothing that bolsters self-esteem and self-confidence quite like having your coach acknowledge you for a job well done. I hear from too many athletes that all they get from their coaches is what they’ve done wrong.
These players complain about how stingy the coach is with positive feedback. Some claim their coaches never say anything positive. As a consequence, these athletes are left doubting themselves and struggling confidence- wise. I don’t care what level you coach at or what sport you’re in. Consistently catching your athletes doing things right and clearly acknowledging them for it will take you much further with your team than being a negative hard-ass who is always pointing out where they screwed up.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I am very aware that an important part of your job is to push your athletes out of their comfort zone. You need to challenge them to go beyond what they think their limits are. This means that sometimes you have to be tough on them. I have absolutely no problem with that. However, being demanding and tough on your players has absolutely no relationship at all to being positive and providing encouraging feedback when it’s rightly due for a job well done. Some coaches see these two as mutually exclusive. They reason, “If I tell them how good they are or how proud I am of them, then it’ll make them soft!” or “If I’m always giving them positive feedback they’ll get too complacent.” I don’t think so. You can demand excellence and hard work from your players and still regularly provide them with positive feedback. In fact, I think you will get far more from your athletes and teams when you recognize their efforts instead of ignoring them and only pointing out what they did wrong.
As a coach you have to try not to get too caught up in the perfectionism trap. There is no question that your athletes’ and team’s performances can almost always be better. There is always work to be done to go to the next level. However, be careful that you don’t focus too much on what they did wrong at the expense of what they did right. If you completely avoid providing your team with any kind of positive feedback, then they’ll begin to question and doubt themselves, and your approach will backfire. Athletes that play without a good sense of themselves will play tentatively. Everyone needs positive feedback including YOU. Everyone needs to feel recognized by someone who they respect and look up to. As a coach, you are IT. You are very often THE most important person in an athlete’s young life. They want and need to feel recognized by you. They need to hear it directly from you.
Unfortunately coaching is frequently a thankless job and the only time that you happen to get feedback yourself, it’s usually on the negative side. Parents are always quick to point out to you all that’s wrong with what you’re doing. It’s quite rare when a parent will, unsolicited, track you down and tell you all that they appreciate about what you’re doing for their kid and the team. If you’ve ever had this totally bizarre experience, remember what you felt like after you got over the initially shock of unexpectedly hearing something positive? That’s right, you felt good! That’s because it’s important for us to get direct feedback when we’re on the right track. It’s important for us to feel good about what we’re doing. No, it’s not a sign of weakness that you might actually like hearing something positive.
Now your athletes are no different than you. In fact, not being adults, they need the positive feedback much more than you. Positive feedback builds their self-esteem and this in turn will get them to work harder and perform better. When they do things right, point it out. Be positive with them. Let them see you get excited when they run a drill the right way. Your positive feedback will indirectly make them more coachable. When you’re consistently positive with them, they will be far more open to your all-important negative feedback.
Dr. G’s Teaching Tales
“The Inspiration of the Football Huddle”
By Jack Kemp (From Chicken Soup For The Sports Fan’s Soul)
I saw my first professional football game at age twelve, when the Los Angeles Rams were playing in the Coliseum. This experience fueled my dream of one day playing pro football. I wanted to be like my heroes-quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin and halfback Kenny Washington, who became one of the first African Americans to play in the NFL.
Playing sports taught me early that nothing great happens without discipline, perspiration and inspiration. My inspiration came one day when, as a freshman at Occidental College, Coach Payton Jordan called me into his office. “Jack,” he said, “I watched you play at Fairfax (High School, Los Angeles) and now here at Occidental. You’ve got great potential. You should know, confidentially, that if you work hard, real hard, you can reach the NFL someday.” I walked out of his office on cloud nine, promising myself I would work harder than ever. I wasn’t going to let down Coach Jordan, or myself.
Years later, I learned that Coach Jordan had the same “confidential” talk with most of his players, but it didn’t matter. He had inspired not only me; he inspired the whole team. We were all for playing under Coach Jordan, and because of that extra measure my dream came true: I was drafted out of Occidental by the Detroit Lions. I was a seventeenth-round pick, but it didn’t matter. I had my chance to prove myself in pro football.
For me, I saw it as a case of putting in the effort and achieving my boyhood dream. I saw clearly, though, that it wasn’t an even playing field. The American dream of equal opportunity didn’t exist for everyone. My African-American teammates dealt with the ignorant, hateful attitudes of many people, which meant they were treated unfairly. This prejudice was at odds with what was good for our nation and our declaration of equity and freedom of opportunity.
In 1961, when I was quarterback and captain of the San Diego Chargers, we were scheduled to play the Oilers in Houston for the AFL Championship. Traditionally, the night before the game, Coach Sid Gilman took the entire team to a movie. Shortly after we sat down in our seats, I noticed that Paul Lowe, Ernie Wright, Ernie Ladd and Charlie McNeil were missing. I asked around and discovered they had been sent to the “blacks-only” balcony. When I told Coach Gilman, he stood immediately and said, “Gather the team. Get all the guys. We’re out of here.” In a silent, powerful demonstration of our belief in equality, living and working as a team, we walked out as a team. I was very proud of Coach Gilman, but so much more needed to be done.
Four years later, after I had joined the Buffalo Bills and been elected captain, we were at the 1965 AFL All-Star Game in New Orleans. Our black teammates had trouble getting a taxi or even basic service at restaurants. Here: again, the wisdom of team unity, and, admittedly, the popularity of pro football, gave us the leverage needed to combat discrimination. We discussed the situation at our team meeting and agreed to boycott the game as a statement against the racial climate in the city. As a result, the game was moved to Houston, which by that time had made progress toward more equal treatment in public accommodations. This was the first boycott of a city by any professional sporting event in history.
We didn’t tolerate bigotry on the field, either. Any difference in race, creed and class immediately dissolved in the common aim of a team win. Divisiveness only weakens a team. It has no place in a huddle, on or off the field.
Every team requires unity. A team has to move as one unit, one force, with each person understanding and assisting the roles of his teammates. If the team doesn’t do this, whatever the reason, it goes down in defeat. You win or lose as a team, as a family. A successful team walks onto the field with issues of race, religion and all societal pressures ratcheted down to inconsequential by the strength of common goals.
That became the case in 1947 when Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, informed his team that he was bringing Jackie Robinson up from the minors-the first black man to play in the majors. Rickey wanted Robinson’s talent at the plate and his speed on the base paths. Some players circulated a petition stating they would not take the field with a black man. Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers shortstop and team captain, refused to sign and tore up the petition, effectively putting an end to a stupid and ignorant idea that was wrong, as well as bad for the team.
Reese showed his character many times that season. At one point, he’d had enough of the fans heckling, spitting and throwing things at Robinson. During a game in Cincinnati Pee Wee walked over to Jackie, put his arm around him and there they stood. They stared down the crowd until the stadium was near silent. Then the game resumed. Robinson may have been the first black man to play major-league baseball, but more important to Pee Wee was, “He’s a Dodger, our teammate.”
The power of one man or one woman doing the right thing for the right reason, and at the right time, is the greatest influence in our society. Individually, we may not be captains of our teams, but we are always captains of our own souls and collectively the soul of America. The soul of America rests in our hands, as we seek reconciliation and racial healing in America at the dawn of this exciting new century.
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