In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Problems in Youth Sports

So here’s the theory behind it: You as the coach regularly put down the athlete, convince them that YOU don’t really believe that they can do something, and then they’ll get so ticked off at you, that they’ll go out of their way to prove you wrong! Some people call this “reverse psychology.” Me, I just call this bad coaching!

I don’t much care if you occasionally get yourself some good results with an athlete or two playing this little head game. The problem, the way I see it is this: Young athletes, from adolescent age on down, are extremely vulnerable emotionally. That is, their self-esteem and self-image are in the process of being developed and, as a result, they are very sensitive to the voiced opinions and behaviors of the important adults in their lives. Besides parents, coaches are critically important to young athletes.

There is nothing more in the world that an athlete wants than to have the respect and appreciation of the coach. Telling a young athlete that you think they suck, or can’t do something, in the hopes that this will fire them up to prove you wrong may actually succeed once in a while in getting them to perform better. However, for the athlete, this success is always quite shallow because, deep down, he/she has taken in the more powerful negative message couched in your mind game: i.e. that you really don’t believe in them.

Now I know the argument. You were just trying to motivate them and it’s not really how you feel about them. Telling an adolescent that you think they’re not that good, or can’t do something tends to reinforce the natural feelings of inadequacy so common to this age group. If you REALLY want to motivate the young athlete, then be direct with them and try catching them doing things right! Use positive reinforcement NOT head games to motivate them. Tell them really profound things like, “I believe in you!,” “I know you can do this!,” “If you keep plugging away, you’ll get there!” etc.

Bag the “reverse psychology.” It’s nothing more than an emotionally abusive mind game that does far more damage than good.


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