The title of this post is a great word in my coaching dictionary as I work to educate coaches on the approach we want to take with our players and their growth process.
I have been doing a lot of research lately into coaching methodology and how we can continue to grow our players holistically in everything that we do. I came across a blog post on Player Development Project titled Praise vs. Affirmations by Stephen Rollnick and it really made me think. As a father and a coach, I think about the game of soccer in an environment similar to how I want to raise my children. Ultimately, my guiding principle is to help my players/children make good decisions that will positively impact whatever they are doing for today and the future. This can be done a bunch of different ways. You can praise, punish, reward and change tone to get the child's attention. What I have learned is we are all praise junkies. We love being praised as people young and old and often will do whatever it takes to get more praise. This, however, in soccer terms and in anything that involves the player/child making their own decisions can be detrimental to long-term growth. Let me give you a few examples to explain.
1 -Coaching through praise – “Great goal! I want you to take that shot every time you get it!”
2 - Coaching through affirmations – “Can you see that you saw the space that opened up and you struck the ball clean in that space to score. Your hard work is really helping you grow as a player.”
3 - Coaching through “prais-firmations” – “Great goal! You recognized the space to take there and the decision to shoot was a great one. Your ability to survey the field and make quick decisions is really getting better. Hard work does pay off – keep it up!
You may be saying those are all great comments from the coach and they are. But, they all have different outcomes, and if we look at the development of each player, lets dig into each comment further.
1 – All players want to please their coaches and parents. Trust me, they listen and recognize your actions while they are playing. Because of this desire to make people happy, they look for praise as much as they can. Here is why it hurts. The shot in this situation was a great shot, however, they should not take the shot every time. What if they are too far from goal, what if a teammate is in a better spot, what if their body is not in balance? The decision is the critical part and that decision is the player's. We want to empower our players to make those decisions in the game because it is their game.
2 – A straight affirmation is great, however, it may not give enough joy to the player. We do want to reward players for positive decisions.
3 – If we can give them the praise and tell them more about why it was awesome adding in the affirmations, the better it will be. If you see with the affirmations there are character traits that we can add in there that will benefit the long-term development of our players. “Hard work does pay off – keep it up” this hopefully, if said enough, to the players will affirm the belief that they need to work for what they want.
I am not saying to stop praising your children or players. That is what they are looking for and, in their mind, that is a reward. We want to reward them but also take into consideration how we can shape that reward the right way that it will have a lasting effect on who they become. Soccer is a great teacher and can lead to a ton of other traits we want from our children long term. I would love to hear about conversations people have with their players and the effects it has on them. If we are mindful about how we go about our conversations we can be more impactful with how we teach our players and children.