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It is often told that 'If you tell somebody something enough times, they may just end up believing it.’That’s pretty true too.I meet new athletes all of the time on my travels, and quite often i’m introduced to them by their coaches.
Quite often it goes a little bit like this - ‘This is Ella, she’s 9 and has the worst legs in the world.’‘This is Caitlin, she’s the one I was telling you about who can’t jump.’'This is Sarah, she doesn’t like to straighten her legs.’You get the gist.
All of our sudden, the athletes' poorer qualities suddenly become their identity, and I cannot help but wonder what that is doing to their belief system and self esteem.How many times does an athlete need to be told this before they end up believing it? More importantly, how many times do they need to hear it before they choose to become powerless to their weaker qualities, and develop a fixed mindset as opposed to growth mindset?What can be gained from a 9 year old believing that their legs aren’t ‘designed’ to jump?We all know that everybody has weaknesses, but we’ve got to ‘frame’ these right in the mindset of young athletes. After all, we’re teaching life skills as well as sporting performance.Now on reflection, i’ve been pretty guilty of this too. Many years ago I had the pleasure of working with a fantastic athlete who but was pretty slow to do just about anything. Going to the bathroom, moving between apparatus, reading her programmes, fetching equipment, all were at snails pace.I appropriately nicknamed this athlete ‘Sloth,’ much to my (former) amusement. But I now wonder if that made her even slower, and if she’s carried that belief in her now adult life.Young athletes are extremely influential, with coaches playing a huge role in forming the unconscious and subconscious thought patterns and belief systems that will be embedded into their behaviours, thoughts and habits as they go through life. In short, the mind hears more than we think, and it stores that information too for later use.What stories have you told of your athletes?What comments have you been told of yourself which have defined your current thoughts, behaviours and habits also?
Next time you introduce your athletes, how about focusing on their qualities -‘This is Ella, she’s working on superhuman legs that will one day allow her to do a Yurchenko double twist.’Just watch the magic that will do for her self esteem and beliefs.Food for thought as always.
Coaches need to consider their language consistently to avoid the wrong message being sent to athletes. Focusing on the positive has many benefits even when giving feedback. Thanks for the article.
Language and messages are so important! My Ice hockey playing son was told at age 12 that he didn't have good "hands" (an expression in ice hockey for skilled at puck handling) and should therefore focus on developing his other strengths, versus this weakness. My son therefore didn't practice his puck skills - as after all he wasn't good at it, and never would be. He repeatedly told himself - "I'm never going to be good at puck handling, so why bother practicing that". Fast forward a few years, and he struggled to make the top team - as his puck handling was not developed - an important skill for hockey. Had this coach helped him develop those skills, rather than tell him he was no good at it, may have had a huge impact on his hockey development and self-esteem!
As coaches we must constantly remind ourselves to use positive language when teaching skills to children. One very popular mistake made by soccer coaches is asking children to use their weaker foot to pass the ball. This automatically gives the children a sense of doubt about their ability as they are using the weaker or bad foot. Because coach called it weak,there is no point in using it as its not as good as my stronger foot and I will be no good. Be careful what we say and the language or terminology we use,the impact could be very damaging in the long run.
Interesting stuff. I have been guilty of incorrect language. This makes me ponder if we concentrate on the athletes' positives and label them appropriately. Example, label a kid speedy, warrior, brave and no doubt the athlete will come to believe. Trick is to use good coaching language which focuses on the athletes strengths.
Slightly off track here, but how often do coaches tell players to concentrate on eliminating their weaknesses and neglect to remind them to continue to work on the strengths that may be the things that currently make them stand out? Of course players need to broaden their skill sets, but should also try to turn their strengths into super-strengths!Back to the main message, current thinking says that the +ve:_ve message ratio should be at least 5:1 and ideally 8:1
Maybe we're ahead of the game in Olympic shooting sports.... even as an athlete (about 25 years ago!) after training (or a match) we were encouraged to write down what went well.... then what we needed to work on next time. We still do that (as coaches) and our athletes write down feelings as well as results in their training diaries - it is SO important to have those positive words to look back on - and in the athlete's words which they will understand.
Along with what is said about an athlete is how it is said. I agree the negative consequences of misplaced humour can be significant. "What went well" and "what could you do differently" questions tend to remove coach judgement.
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