Encourage Athletes [ARTICLE]
|By: Wade Gilbert
Originally Published in: Coaching Better Every Season
Provided by: Human Kinetics
Another major role of the coach during competitions is to recognize and praise athletes. According to world-renowned soccer coach Sir Alex Ferguson, the two best words a coach can say to an athlete are "well done." Praising athletes when they perform well is easy, and deserving. Scoring against an opponent and winning a race are obvious examples of successful performances. Praise given by coaches at these moments serves to build the athlete's confidence even more.
Effective coaches, however, focus more on recognizing athletes for off-the-ball performances, such as giving extra effort when playing defense, using proper technique when executing a skill, or showing mental toughness by closing a gap between themselves and the next competitor late in a race. In addition, when athletes are performing well but results are not coming, they most need their coach's encouragement. For example, in softball an athlete may not earn a hit, but she may be helping the team by forcing the pitcher to throw more pitches by letting bad pitches go by and by fouling off difficult pitches. Coaches must remember to focus on reinforcing and encouraging quality performance (process), not just successful performance (outcome).
Frequent encouragement that is focused more on the process (quality) of the performance as opposed to the result (outcome) of the performance consistently leads to improved athlete performance. When given regular praise for quality performance during competitions, athletes not only perform better but also report higher levels of enjoyment, rate their coaches as more effective, and put greater effort into their performances.
Great coaches such as Ric Charlesworth make regular encouragement a priority during competitions because they understand that "every player, even the greatest champion, responds to positive encouragement and feedback. This can be the fuel of better and greater effort every time. When coaches encourage their athletes during competition, they are building a culture of trust. This support enhances athletes' confidence and their willingness to risk failure.
Coaches should also make a deliberate effort to praise less prominent athletes during competitions. John Wooden rarely praised his star players because he knew they were receiving frequent praise from teammates, peers, and the media. He focused instead of finding reasons to praise the less visible players on the team. For Coach Wooden then, "Most of the compliments and the praise...would be given to those that aren't playing too much."
These athletes are important to the team even though they may not receive much playing time in competitions or may finish near the back of the race. Coaches should pay particular attention to these athletes and look for praiseworthy aspects of their performance. Although these athletes may not play a prominent role, if they are coached well, noticeable improvements should occur in aspects of their performance during competitions.
One of the most difficult challenges that coaches of team sports face during competitions is keeping bench players engaged during the game, particularly when coaching young athletes. Athletes must be coached to understand that regardless of their position on the team, they could be called on at any moment to enter the game and must be mentally ready to help the team. Augie Garrido preaches to his players that the game is always on. He reminds them that if they are wearing the uniform, they must be mentally engaged in the competition and ready to play.2' Athletes on the bench can imagine making the same plays that they see their teammates making. In the case of failure, they can visualize themselves making the correct play when they get their chance to get in the game.
One way for coaches to encourage and engage athletes who don't play much is to assign them an important observation task:3 For example, in soccer a player could be given a tablet or a clipboard and asked to chart the number of successful passes made. Another bench player could be asked to chart the number of times the opponent regains possession by stealing the ball.
A final word on praise during competitions. Make no mistake: Praise must be genuine-"earned and deserved," as Coach Wooden liked to say. Surely, in some competitions athlete performance is not praiseworthy. But coaches should make a deliberate effort to notice even small aspects of athlete performance that are praiseworthy and then recognize the athlete for the performance. Acknowledgment may not always be possible in the moment, which is another reason that coaches should have a strategy for taking notes during competitions. If praising the athlete during the competition is not possible, the coach can praise the athlete either in private later or during the post competition debriefing.