In my private Sport Psychology practice, I am constantly hearing young athletes tell me they want to quit and that playing their sport is no longer fun.
We all have known coaches throughout our lives who have used “fear” as a motivator. Whether they insulted the athlete or threatened not to play him, the key component of their style was insulting, threatening and punitive screaming. Often such coaches believed in that style because that’s how their coaches treated them and “look how well I did in my sport.”
Now, research reported in the Monitor on Psychology shows that the best way to develop athletic motivation and effort is to focus on skill development and anxiety reduction. This method involves creating an environment where athletes have fun and keep their anxiety levels acceptable. In this environment, they’re trying to improve, give maximum effort and have good relationships with their coaches, so they are more likely to listen to what you tell them.
Essentially, the method involves the coaches completing a self-monitoring form after each practice and this monitoring system enables them to estimate the percentage of times they provided technical instruction when a player made a mistake, offered encouragement, and praised good performance and effort. This method can be eye opening for the coach, since most do not praise good effort; instead, they criticize performance. The authors have developed a coaching technique that coaches can learn, entitled “the positive sandwich.” When a player makes a mistake during a game, the coach does NOT get angry or insulting. Instead, he or she finds some behavior to compliment about the play, then gives a specific technical correction and ends it with a note of encouragement.
On the average, 35 percent of young athletes drop out of sports following one season of “traditional coaching.” When the positive sandwich technique is employed, only 5 percent dropped out of the sport the following year.
With this method, even children with low self-esteem responded positively to highly supportive coaches.
Although most coaches have the goal of winning as a priority, using this method they will “save” some potential superstars who would otherwise have quit and never realized their potential.
I am also available for phone consultations with athletes around the U.S. and in-person visits with athletes in Southern California.
Jack N. Singer, Ph.D.
Certified and Licensed Sport and Clinical Psychologist
Diplomate, National Institute of Sports Professionals, Division of Psychologists
Diplomate, American Academy of Behavioral Medicine
Certified Hypnotherapist, American Academy of Clinical Hypnosis