In Choking/Fears/Slumps and Blocks, Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Problems in Youth Sports

So we know that one of the many jobs of a GOOD coach is to help his/her athletes feel more confident. GOOD coaches regularly catch their athletes doing things well. They emphasize the positive and when they provide negative feedback, they do it in a way that helps the athlete learn what they did wrong and exactly what they need to do to correct the mistake and lift their level of performance. Good coaches do this is an way that doesn’t kill the athlete’s self-confidence. This builds an athlete’s self-esteem. It helps the athlete feel safe inside and when you as an athlete feel safe around the coach, then the sky is the limit, performance-wise!

Unfortunately, far too many coaches are completely unaware of the effect that they have on their athletes. They say and do things which regularly tear the athlete down, undermine his/herconfidence and leave that player feeling unsafe inside. The softball coach who yells negative things at her pitcher during the game, impatiently and loudly instructing her to “JUST THROW STRIKES!!!” (DUHHHH!!), showing her visible frustration every time the pitcher walks a batter, regardless of the circumstances of the walk, sets this pitcher up to fail big time!

The track coach who comes up to a talented runner the night before a big meet and with exquisitely poor timing, chooses that time to unfairly put his runner down and let her know that she has been running “LIKE CRAP ALL SEASON LONG!” (completely untrue – the kid had just won two races, running great times at the League Championship meet three days before!) insures that the next day his runner will totally implode and perform poorly!

When a coach is insensitive to an athlete as a person, when he/she is unfair, overly critical, demeaning and negative, the athlete responds by feeling totally unsafe inside. When that happens, the resultant inner sense of danger sets this athlete up to shut down in the upcoming performance. Our biology takes over and our survival reflexes kick in, responding to the felt sense of danger by causing us to either go into fight/flight, or more often times, FREEZE!! When this happens, the athlete’s performance is disrupted and they become a shell of their normal selves. They no longer can get their body to do what it’s been trained to do.

Of course, the icing on the cake is the coach then becomes even more critical and demeaning when the athlete performs badly, when in truth, that coach and his/her behavior towards the athlete is LARGELY resonsible for the athlete’s poor performance! The pitcher in the above exmple get more and more nervous and distracted, and then ultimatley couldn’t through strikes anymore. The runner got so demoralized and confused, questioning herself and abilities that she ran the next day, without even truing, finishing way off her normal times!

If you as a coach act in such a way that your athletes feel unsafe, then you will never get consistently good performances out of them! NEVER! If you really want to be successful and field winning teams, then your priority as a coach needs to be helping your athletes feel safe inside interpersonally in relation to YOU! You have to be aware of the impact your words and actions have on your players! You have to be tuned in to the consequences of your actions in relation to your players. You are working with very sensitive and developing nervous systems! You can’t be a “bull in a china shop” with your young athletes and expect thm to robotically still perform well! It doesn’t work that way!


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