indicated by Randy Rossi in the Psychology section in the coacheseducation.com
web site the use of positive feedback is essential to the effective
development of athletes. At all levels, positive statements (i.e.,
words of encouragement and support) are associated with enhanced
performance in training and competition, less stress and anxiety,
greater enthusiasm to pursue sports, greater motivation to train
hard, greater resistance and recovery to injuries, longer and
more pleasant sport careers, and better team cohesion. Of course,
the use of negative statements (harsh criticism, pointing out
weaknesses) usually lead to opposite effects. Given the benefits
of positive statements in athletics, the focus of this article
will be on the use of positive statements that may be administered
to athletes immediately prior to, and during, athletic training
or competitive events.
in sports are usually best administered to athletes immediately
before, during, or after sport specific actions/events, but may
also be provided during non-athletic situations. Ideally, positive
statements should be individualized because a statement that is
motivating to one athlete may be aversive to another athlete due
to unique associations of the statement with past events. Indeed,
one athlete may experience stress when his coach tells him that
he's going to win the upcoming race, but for another athlete this
statement may instill confidence. Moreover, statements are often
experienced differently by athletes depending on who provides
the statements. For instance, an athlete may get distracted due
to embarrassment if her father exclaims, "You go girl!" But, if
a teammate states, "You go girl" this may be interpreted very
favorably by the athlete (i.e., feelings of support lead to comfort
and relaxation). Athletes also have different preferences regarding
the types of statements that are provided to them. Some athletes
prefer statements that are associated with relaxation ("focus
on being warm and relaxed," "God's looking down on you"), while
others prefer statements that assist them in focusing on tasks
that are relevant to the event ("remember to run through the finish
line"). Of course, coaches can use positive statements in both
training/practice and competitive situations. Although athletes
usually prefer the same statements in both situations, differences
do sometimes exist. For instance, some athletes prefer statements
that help them to lower their arousal during "competition" due
to excessive anxiety, but prefer feedback to arouse them during
"training" due to relatively lower motivation to perform in training.
positive statements appear to be beneficial to athletes, maximum
benefits may be derived if coaches and other significant others
(e.g., teammates, parents) are selective in their choice of statements,
perhaps by asking athletes what statements they would like to
hear in various situations (e.g., before, during, and after competition
and training), or verifying from the athlete that statements provided
are indeed "positive." The following strategies may assist in
deriving maximum benefits in using positive statements with athletes
by creating an environment that fosters a high rate of supportive,
encouraging, and motivating statements. It is expected that coaches
will modify these strategies to best fit their unique styles.
1) In a team
meeting have athletes, coaches, and perhaps relevant family members
talk about the importance of using positive statements and not
using negative statements (let athletes define positive and negative
statements in this process).
2) In a team
meeting have athletes brainstorm a list of statements they want
to hear immediately prior to, during, and after training/competition.
a. get specific as to what type of statements each athlete
would like to hear in particular situations.
b. point out similarities and differences in statements
that are preferred or not preferred among teammates.
c. distribute copies of the developed list to all teammates,
parents, and relevant family members, and instruct these persons
to disclose these statements more often.
3) In a team
meeting with teammates, coaches, and perhaps relevant family members
disclose at least one positive behavior or characteristic that
is appreciated about all teammates (e.g., things each athlete
does to contribute to the team, personal strengths).
a. have athletes practice accepting these statements appropriately
(i.e., "thank you, I appreciate you saying that to me.").
4) In a team
meeting with teammates, coaches, and perhaps relevant family members,
establish a team rule that negative statements (e.g., "You need
to get better or you're going to sit the bench," "You're looking
lazy today") or behaviors (e.g., frowns, walking away, derogatory
comments) are not permitted. This includes negative self-statements
by the athlete (e.g., "I always mess up in pressure situations").
a. in general, get in the habit of saying what was liked
about the athlete's performance, not what wasn't like.
b. if corrective feedback must be provided to the athlete,
start by stating something that was liked about the athlete's
performance, then ask the athlete if there is anything the athlete
can think of that could be done to improve performance, and then
add corrective feedback, if necessary.
5) In a team
meeting, teach athletes (and coaches) to end tasks, practices,
or competitions by stating what they learned or liked about their
performance (e.g., "I liked how I got off at the start of the
race"), NOT what they wished or desired they do better in the
future (e.g., "I should have maintained my pace at the end"),
or much worse, what they didn't like about their performance (e.g.,
"I dropped back too early).
a. It is easier to memorize, and subsequently repeat, positively
experienced images. There is plenty of time to discuss/practice
things that need to be improved the next day by viewing objective
films or gaining feedback from others. What is most important
is to reinforce the positive aspects of performance immediately
after the event, since focusing on things to improve the next
time, or things that were not liked about performance, increases
the chances of "choking" or performing worse in the future.