It’s simple…. we all seek to experience pleasure and avoid pain. We do what feels good and fight ‘tooth and nail’ to stay away from what doesn’t. The only reason for choosing to endure pain is to experience pleasure in the end. Athletes, in particular, will suffer through intense training and treacherous conditions to earn the reward of a medal or positive praise from a coach. These rewards are the carrots on the stick and can either stop your athletes from improving or encourage them to reach the next level of performance.
The most effective way to coach your athletes is to provide frequent praise for new tasks and limited praise for tasks they already have acquired. If Johnny, a 15 year old golfer, is learning how to hit the ball out of the sand (i.e. bunker shot) for the first time, his golf pro will want to praise Johnny every time he makes contact with the sand, just in front of the ball, regardless of whether the ball makes it out of the bunker or not. Once Johnny can consistently make appropriate contact with the sand, his golf pro will want to offer less praise for that performance. He’ll move on to provide frequent praise for the new task of swinging through the sand. Once that skill is consistent, Johnny’s golf pro will limit his praise for swinging through the sand and offer lots of praise for when the ball actually makes it out of the sand. This coaching technique will continue as Johnny progresses as a golfer.
Why does this coaching technique work? Once again, athletes want to experience pleasure in the form of praise. If Johnny’s golf pro continues to provide frequent praise for making contact with the sand, just in front of the ball, Johnny will have little reason to put forth the effort to improve. He is already experiencing pleasure so why do anything different? Conversely, if Johnny’s pro reduces his praise for appropriate sand contact and begins to provide lots of praise for swinging through the sand, Johnny will put forth the effort to perform that skill in order to feel the pleasure from his pro’s praise.
Call to Action
Think about your sport and the athletes you coach. How could you begin to incorporate this coaching technique? Inform your co-coaches of your ‘praise’ plan and work together to decide what task each athlete is improving. You and your co-coaches will want to limit the praise you give your athletes for tasks they have already mastered and increase the amount of praise you give them for tasks they are currently working on.
Believe and Achieve,
P.S. Leave a comment to tell me what you think or if you have any questions.
P.P.S. Click here to download a copy of this article to share with a friend