As you prepare your athletes for tough challenges, pressures, and competition, they will struggle, they will worry. They ALL do it. So remember, choose your words wisely, because your words have impact.
It’s a fact, for an athlete to feel confident in practice and competition, they need to say to themselves over and over, “I can do this! I’m strong! I’m gonna nail this.” But the biggest issue is many coaches have a habit of saying things like, “No, do it again,” or “No, you’re too slow,” “You keep making the same mistake,” “We’re going to stay on this drill until you make five.” The message athletes get: No. No. I keep making mistakes. Stay…I keep failing.
Words stick in their minds.
What coaches and parents can become more aware of is the balance of pushing an athlete to improve–which challenges them–and acknowledging their effort and strengths–which focuses on the positive. Too many notes on the critical mistakes does not build confidence. It builds negative self-talk.
I have two sons. They played Pop Warner (tackle) football. Players from ages six to sixteen practiced hard and played for the Vikings from August to November. I was a Viking mom for six years. I also have a daughter. Long, thick, curly hair. My jock-daughter played three years (believe it or not)—full pads, helmet, tackle football—she was the girl on the football team. I wasn’t thrilled at first, my girl getting hit and tackled, but she was strong and fast. Determined like no one else, and faster than most of the boys. Yep. I also knew the coaches, and I listened to their messages. They were all about safety, encouragement, and team spirit. Those messages trickled down to the parents and the players. Everyone supported each other. We felt like family.
My daughter is grown up now, in college. I asked her what she liked about playing football and what sticks in her mind the most. You know what she recalled? She said, “I remember seeing our opponents at games, looking at me and saying to my teammates with a sneer: You gotta girl on your team? And the boys stood up for me. They said, Yeah…and you better watch out. She’s fast.”
This article is from a section in CHAP 4: “Let’s be Partners” of my new book: Focused and Inspired: Keeping Our Athletes Safe in a Win-at-All-Costs World.