The brain registers 20,000 snap-shots (memories) every day. Those memories will be filed as either positive or negative memories. Positive memories Fill our Emotional Tanks while negative memories will drain it. When people (and players specifically) feel better due to full E-Tanks they have a more positive attitude. When we are more positive, we are more open to ideas, more optimistic, and will work harder…with the emotional energy to deal with setbacks. More confident…and more coachable based on how we categorize our memories.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts one of the key principles in the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coaching philosophy is to Fill Emotional Tanks of the players. The principle is based on trying to achieve the “Magic Ratio” of five positives for every criticism or correction. There is plenty of research to support this ratio in athletics, as well as academics, business, and even relationships or marriage.
Five to one seems like a daunting task to many coaches at first glance, but with some effort is very achievable. We must critique, but do it in such a way that the player is being taught – not scolded. Remember Coach Wooden’s line about taking the time to teach implies confidence, and in some ways that is a tank-filler.
I broke down the statistics on Coach Wooden’s acts of coaching his final year at UCLA. In 1975 Tharp and Gallimore found that 83% of his words and actions were either positive or contained information designed to teach – almost exactly 5 to 1.
This Magic-Ratio is not necessarily 5:1 every play, every day, and not just what you say. Not five warm and fuzzies and one pice of coaching. It is rather the total experience the athlete recieves during their participation on the team. This ratio is achieved by not only what you say, and what you do (nonverbals), but also whatever you provide that will create a positive memory.
What other kind of things can we do as coaches, or parents, to provide positive memories for a child? Things we do like recognition, pictures, videos, awards, nice uniforms, fields, facilities and the like all provide a positive memory that Fills Emotional Tanks.
As a coach, when things go bad or after a tough loss we often tend to over-analyze, correct, and drain our players’ tanks even more. That is the time when we need to do our job and try to make up for that.
I was speaking to the athletic staff at Loyola University of Chicago and Brandon Eitz, the Women’s Soccer Coach, said his team comes to practice every day because of deficiencies in their facilities at the time. He said, “...and I can’t do anything about that right now…so I need to make up for it!
The other very important point about the Magic Ratio, is it is not just the coaches job, but everyone involved: the teammates, parents, fans, all can contribute. As a parent, if the coach has been particularly tough on the players that day, deserved or not, we can’t do anything about that – but we can make up for it.
It is important to encourage teammates to pitch in with positive communication. PCA suggests using the “Buddy System”. Players can partner up with a teammate and spend that day praising their teammate for everything they do well, and their partner can do the same for them. This get’s players to pay attention, think about what’s right and wrong – AND communicate in a positive manner. That only leads to a better practice.
When discussing player-to-player relationships, I like to talk about “The Golden Rule X 2”. Everyone knows “The Golden Rule” is "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Good teammates say good things to other teammates. “The Golden Rule X 2” states not to say anything to yourself that a good teammate wouldn’t say to you.
We all have that voice of judgment that, at times, say’s we’re not good enough. That negative self-talk is detrimental to a players’ confidence – and sometimes it’s the biggest culprit. So how do we fight that feeling?
The first step is to recognize that it is just that – a feeling. Most negative self-talk is not true, but the feeling is very real. We talk about “The Power of the Big But.” Yes – that is with ONE “T” not two.
The word “but” makes us think in a way that devalues everything that is said before it. “That was a good paper, but…”, “That is a nice outfit, but…, or “That was a good play, but…” all make us put more importance on what is said next.
When players’ say to themselves, “I can’t guard that girl” or I can’t block that guy” they probably really can, they just “feel’ like they can’t. So we are going to use “The Power of the Big But” for good instead of evil to give our confidence a shot in the arm.
Since the word “but” erases what is before it, get them to think about the negative as a feeling first. Then insert the big but. “I feel like I can’t (whatever the doubt is)…BUT...(insert the specific coaches instruction here). It might sound like this “I feel like I can’t guard that girl BUT if I stay in stance and pick good angles, I can contain her!”
Essentially, as William James said, “If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.” In a New York Times article “First Step in Becoming a Winner: Act Like One” it says,
It’s a method — a learned skill for convincing your mind that you already are what you want to become. The body follows where the mind leads.
“Act as if you’re a great shooter,” she would instruct. “Act as if you love the drill. Act as if when you hit the deck it doesn’t hurt.” Negativity, even in the form of body language, was not tolerated.
It’s basically a decision. If I’m tired, Act As If I’m not. If I’m hot, decide it’s not going to bother me. If my confidence is shaken, “Fake it til you make it.” Coachability is, in large part, a decision too.
To be coachable a player must open their mind to help and accept they don’t know everything and be willing to listen and do what your coach says. Be able to accept criticism and not get “defensive” every time someone suggests something different is a decision. Being patient and in it for the long haul, not expecting or demanding quick results. Endure the plateaus, the highs and lows, mistakes and setbacks and be mentally tough.
Many people have tried to define “toughness” and I believe it is entirely a mental decision. Toughness is "The ability to mentally focus on, and physically execute, the ONE single thing that's MOST important right NOW!" (Remember What’s Important Now?) Players who are mentally tough are confident they attend to the task at hand and embrace the challenge.
When a Double-Goal Coach® strives to reach that Gold Standard of Coaching they help there players build their confidence, put them in a coachable state of mind by fostering the mental toughness necessary to be a Triple-Impact Competitor®.
If we expect our players to try to be good teammates, listen and try to learn, and give their best effort then we need to work as hard as he expects them to, show that we are knowledgeable, and care about them on and off the court . We need to acknowledge their efforts and make all players feel like an important piece of the puzzle.
I came across a great piece I adapted for my teams when I sensed some players were questioning their contributions to the team:
YoX are a ValXable
Even thoXgh my compXter is a beat-Xp, rXndown, and Xgly model, when I Xse it, it works wonderfXlly - oXtside of one key. YoX woXld think that with all the other keys fXnctioning sXitably, one key slipping Xp and not working woXld hardly be noticed, bXt jXst one key oXt of whack seems to rXin the whole effort.
YoX may say to yoXrself, “I’m jXst one gXy. No one will notice if I don’t pXt forth my very best.” BXt it does make a difference, becaXse a groXp mXst Xnderstand that throXgh every individXal giving their very best is how yXu Xltimately achieve sXccess.
So the next time yoX think yoX are not valXable, remember my old compXter. YoX ARE crXcial to our sXccess!
THE ONLY THING MISSING IS U
When we can create an environment where it is fun to try, without the fear of failure, kids will begin to give us a little better effort every day. And it doesn't really change much as they get older.
In an interview a few years ago with the Washington State basketball team’s point guard, Derrick Lowe. Lowe was asked why they were having such a great season after being picked last in the Pac 10 preseason poll. The legendary coach Dick Bennett had just retired, and the job was passed to his son, Tony. Both are GREAT coaches. He said, "Last year we tried to play hard because we were afraid of what would happen if we didn't. This year we are playing hard because it's a little more fun, and we are not as afraid of making a mistake."
Just last weekend Frank Gore, of the surprising San Francisco 49ers, was asked the difference in the locker room between this year under Jim Harbaugh and last year’s team who struggled under Mike Singletary, both former Chicago Bear teammates. Gore replied, “instead of being told how BAD we were, we are told WE CAN DO IT"
Whether it is Youth Sports, High School, or Pro, the player needs the coach to help them with their confidence and put the player in a “coachable” state of mind. I know all coaches want confident and coachable players, so it’s in their best interest to meet that Gold Standard of Coaching to maximize the players improvement on the climb to their personal best.