Here are the 6 ugly mistakes most coaches make that de-motivates their athletes – and how to avoid them.
Have you ever noticed that most athletes don’t respond that well to the ‘super-nice’ coaches?
I’m sure you have.
Why does this happen?
This is actually pretty straightforward.
The reason why being overly nice to your athletes doesn’t work is because you’re usually trying to do one of two things:
Either you’re being nice in an attempt to make them like you so they’ll perform…
OR you’re trying to get their approval.
The problem is that athletes don’t get motivated to train, follow your team system, or go to the wall to win based on how “nice” a coach is.
They do these things based on how confident and mentally tough they are from the inside out.
Also, if an athlete perceives you as looking for his approval, he’ll get annoyed – and be even less likely to follow your coaching in a motivated way.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to treat your athletes harshly to get results.
It’s perfectly okay to be pleasant and good company to your athletes.
What I am pointing out is that often our “niceness” as coaches is really a feigned attempt to get our athletes to do what we want. They see this as manipulation, and they rarely respond to it. And the more we do it, the less motivated they are to buy into our systems and advice.
(Want to help your athletes overcome your nerves so they can perform at your best and never choke again? Download our Never Choke Again Handbook Sports Mental Toughness Handbook here.)
This is the opposite of mistake #1.
Instead of being too nice, you are negative with your athletes in an effort to get them perform.
You think this motivates your athletes because you’re giving them “tough love.”
The truth is that a negative coach is #1 nightmare of athletes everywhere.
I know because I hear their distress daily.
“My coach yells all game. How is our team supposed to stay confident?”
“I’m trying to learn a new swing but my golf pro constantly corrects me.”
“As soon as I take a shot my coach doesn’t like, he subs me out. I can’t stand it.”
We all know that negativity doesn’t work.
What we don’t know is WHY.
Negativity doesn’t work because it’s mental and emotional blackmail. “If you perform for me, I’ll approve of you / love you.”
This is classic conditional love.
The problem with conditional love is that your athletes cannot earn it for their unique selves. It’s based solely on how they stack up against someone else.
That’s why 97% of athletes will mentally fold in the face of negativity.
They realize that conditional love is not a game they want to win.
Even if they DO manage to get your approval, they know it is highly temporary and based on stuff they can’t control, like whether they score or win.
So if the coach criticizes, threatens, over-corrects, they implode. Their performance goes from bad to worse.
Am I saying there is never a place for negativity?
No, of course not.
I’m merely pointing out that if you are negative because you want to get recognition out of this athlete’s performance, or you’re scared because your job is on the line, or you’re embarrassed of your athlete, it will never work.
But if you’re genuinely concerned FOR him, it will fire him up.
World class hockey coach Shannon Miller has a great line. Whenever she is mad at her athletes she’ll say, “You’re better than this. I want you to get the puck and keep it in the other team’s end. DO A BETTER JOB.”
Worked like charm.
They all knew she was mad FOR them, not AT them.
What do most coaches do when they see an athlete make a mistake?
Right! They try to “help” the athlete perform better, usually by correcting them.
The problem with this approach is that it rarely works.
It’s true that about 5-10% of athletes (usually the best ones) will take a verbal correction and implement it immediately.
The rest will nod, smile, say “Okay, Coach!” and then pretty much go back to exactly what they were doing.
This doesn’t work for two reasons.
First, you are sending them the message, “You’re not doing it right. And if you want the answer on how to do it right, listen to me.”
This violates the athlete’s basic code, which is: “I want to figure it out on my own by FEELING the move.”
The second reason this doesn’t work is that your athlete actually does not REALLY understand your correction.
Let’s say you’re trying to get a hockey player to skate with her knees more bent, because he’ll get more power and speed that way.
“Tom, bend your knees!” you might say.
Only, here’s the problem.
In Tom’s brain, his knees ALREADY ARE bent.
In his mind, he’s skating perfectly (or he wouldn’t be skating that way in the first place.
No athlete makes an error on purpose).
See, Tom’s BODY doesn’t know what it feels like to skate with his knees super-bent.
But he THINKS he does.
Am I saying you can never correct your athletes?
Not at all.
I’m saying that the vast majority of VERBAL corrections won’t work, and there is a better way.
How many times have you given a struggling athlete extra attention, pep talks, and compliments to boost her confidence – only to watch her get worse and worse?
If you’re like most coaches, then you’ve done this a LOT.
Well, I have a newsflash for you.
It’s perfectly LIKELY that this would occur.
Correct, I said LIKELY.
When you do these things with an athlete, what you are actually saying to her is: “I don’t really believe in you, but maybe I can pep-talk you into showing me a reason to believe in you.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Lisa, you’re crazy. I’ve given this athlete more attention than all of my athletes combined! I’ve even given her chances to perform that I shouldn’t have!”
Let me explain…
When you’re coaching an athlete who is under-performing, it’s perfectly natural to start to doubt him.
And when we feel fear, we tend to go into over-drive.
We want to “fix” the fear by taking external action – action outside ourselves.
So we pep-talk, encourage, correct, and cajole the athlete.
We’re desperate find the right thing to say get him performing.
We rarely stop to deal with our doubt internally, at the root.
In fact, this never even occurs to us.
Yet it’s the simplest and easiest way to get your athlete to BELIEVE in herself.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey reveals that his son was doing poorly – socially, academically, and athletically.
Consumed with a desire to help him, Covey would give him tips: “Come on, son! You can do it! We know you can. Put your hands a little higher on the bat and keep your eye on the ball.’
No amount of positive feedback worked. That’s when the Coveys pulled back and started to examine how they SAW their boy:
“When we honestly examined our deepest feelings, we realized that our perception was that he was basically inadequate, somehow “behind.”
Our efforts were ineffective because, despite our actions and our words, what we really communicated to him was, “You aren’t capable. You have to be protected.”
We began to see our son in terms of his own uniqueness. We SAW within him layers and layers of potential that would be realized at his own pace and speed.
We decided to relax and get out of his way and let his own personality emerge. We SAW our natural role as being to affirm, enjoy, and value him.”
Within months, Covey’s son developed a quiet confidence and blossomed academically, athletically, and socially.
What about you?
How do you SEE your struggling athletes?
Do you really see and believe in them, or are you waiting for them to perform first?
For years I was messed up because I thought the way out of a slump was to think positively.
All my coaches told me this.
There I’d be, in the middle of a scoring slump, frustrated to the max, desperately trying to think of something positive to say to myself.
You know what I’m talking about…that fake, artificial, sterile positive self-talk that just can’t sink in?
Good thing I woke up.
I finally realized that trying to get yourself to feel good in the middle of a slump is a DEADLY inner game mistake.
It’s a deadly mistake because as a competitive athlete, when you slump, you are going to get mad.
This is perfectly natural.
So rather than tell your athletes to be positive, ask them to be OPTIMISTIC instead.
What’s the difference?
Positive thinking is looking for something good in the slump, such as: ‘It’s great I lost because I need a day off.’
The problem with positive thinking is there might NOT be anything good about your slump.
Optimism is different.
Optimism is finding a reason to believe your slump is temporary.
One time I came off a playoff series pretty discouraged. I had been shut out for three straight games. No goals…zero, zip, zilch.
My coach is usually pretty quiet. But when he saw how down I was, he said, “I do not want to criticize but it is pretty obvious why you are not scoring – you stopped driving to the net. You took maybe two shots and the defense was already set up.”
My coach handed me, on a silver platter, THE reason my slump could be temporary.
I actually had not noticed how passive I was being on offense.
Find the REASON why your athlete’s slump is temporary, and then get him to channel his anger into fixing it, and he’ll be right as rain.
This is the worst mistake of all.
This is the mistake that prevents most coaches from achieving the kind of success they really want.
As the leader, the one everyone looks to for answers, it can be very difficult to ask for help. However, if you want to gain the edge, it’s quite easy with the right resources.
If you want to learn how to create mentally tough, winning, superstar athletes and teams, I strongly recommend you snap up a copy of my free guide, The Never Choke Again Sports Mental Toughness Handbook. You and your athletes will love it. Download it here:
Lisa Brown is the founder of the Courage to Win and is considered the world's leading expert on deep mental toughness for success in career, love, and sport. She has personally coached over 7,200 achievers to new heights and conducted over 1,300 live seminars on mental toughness across North America. She has been featured by major media including the New York Times and Entrepreneur Magazine, who called the Courage to Win “a straight-forward guide to success, highly recommended.”