California Teacher Guy, (See blogroll) asked me a question concerning my post about establishing a positive atmosphere in coaching sports. It was a good question and really got me to thinking about being able to verbalize my thoughts.
I think first it is important to let the players know that mistakes are OK. Every successful athlete and person is not afraid to take risks. Risks sometimes end in mistakes. It seemed to us that the players had been conditioned to be risk averse because a mistake resulted in a negative response from the coaches. Therefore, if taking a risk results in making a mistake, it only makes sense not to risk the negative response to the mistake.
In other words, the natural response is to stay in your comfort zone and continue to do only those things you feel confident will not result in a mistake. I emphasize the response to mistakes because as anyone who has coached/taught teenagers knows, their self-confidence hangs by a thread. Seldom will humans find themselves in a situation where they can fail more publicly than in sports.
Having said all that, coaching/teaching necessarily involves criticism. But I have found that you can convey this criticism in a positive way by emphasizing how the player can improve their play, not that they made a mistake. The player knows she made a mistake. Emphasize the possibility of improvement not that the player made a mistake. This then begins to build trust between players and coaches. Once the player can trust that you will not embarrass them and more importantly that you want them to succeed, they will respond positively. The coaches/teachers set the standard for behavior between player and coaches and just as important, players and players.
You noticed that I haven't talked about wins and losses. I think if the atmosphere is positive, the players will want to be there and they'll want to improve and grow as players and people. They then feel comfortable enough to take risks in their play and consequently improve. The wins and losses are secondary and will take care of themselves.
Lastly, do not fall into the trap of giving false praise. Kids are too wise for that. They will feel you don't respect them enough to give them the truth, therefore they will lose respect for you as a coach. Another component of respect is to communicate high expectations for them. Give them clearly stated goals and hold them accountable. Now will this atmosphere lead to better play? Yes, I think so. Will your team become state champions? That depends alas, on their talent as players. But when it's all said and done, I think this approach will make them better and more confident players and people. Confident that they can achieve great things in their lives, with a good dose of hard work thrown in. That is, after all what this is all about, no?
Thanks for the visit and the question. I hope I have explained myself clearly. Sorry about bloviating, but this is something I strongly believe in and have seen succeed over the course of the last 20 years of coaching.