Five Things to Avoid Saying to Your Athletes

This article is courtesy of Coaches Network

Coaches can often walk a fine line when trying to motivate their young athletes. Choosing the right words to get the most out of your players can be challenging when also trying to instill lessons that go beyond winning and losing. Janis Meredith of CouchUp.com outlines various ways that coaches can inspire their team without creating tension or emotional harm. Specifically, Meredith identifies five phrases that can put undue pressure on young athletes and should therefore be avoided.

1. “This is a MUST win!”

Even if your team is about to compete in a playoff or tournament game, it does not usually help to emphasize that winning is all that matters. Players already understand that it’s an important game that needs to be one if they want to keep playing, reiterating this probably wont help them. There is so much more to be gained from such a competitive game that focusing only on winning can keep your athletes from getting the most out of the experience. “They will play another season, other games, and reminding them that this is a “must-win” will not help them play any better; it will only help them worry all the more about messing up,” writes Meredith.

2. “Watch how (insert name here) does it! You can do it too!”

It makes sense to occasionally use players on your team as examples when trying to teach a certain skill or technique. Yet this type of tactic can also have a negative psychological effect on the other players. Though coaching tactics like this usually come from good intentions, they can easily do more harm than good. Try to avoid comparing players to each other, or singling out a certain person. Instead, motivate the entire team to get better together.

3. “You’re the best player out there! Go show them how it’s done!”

Even if the athlete is the best player on the team, telling them that they need to prove this can put provide unnecessary pressure. Meredith writes, “That mindset may work for older athletes, but for young athletes it is an unnecessary burden to bear.” Keep in mind that it is easy for young athletes to feel overburdened by pressure from their coaches, making it important to avoid singling out specific players. Provide this type of encouragement to the entire team and they will likely share the responsibility together instead of one person feeling like they have to do it all themselves.

4. “Remember what happened last game?”

Most of the time, players remember their mistakes and therefore coaches don’t need to provide constant reminders. Mistakes should be addressed in a way that athletes can learn from them, and one of the main responsibilities of coaches is to help in the learning process. Don’t let your players dwell on their mistakes by reminding them what happened. Instead, give them the knowledge and confidence needed to avoid those mistakes in the future.

5. “Destroy the other team!”

This puts the focus on the opponent instead of the actual performance of your own team. It may just seem like a classic way to motivate your players and get them fired up, but it does nothing to help them visualize succeeding. Encourage your team to play their best, regardless of the opponent. “The object of the game is to win (with integrity) and not to intentionally hurt opponents,” writes Meredith.

Instead of focusing energy towards these last minute motivational speeches, try to just encourage your young athletes to play their best and enjoy the game.


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