There is a big difference between “You Can Do More!” and “You could have done more!” One is an entreat, a plea to ignore what your brain and body are telling you and push on and persevere. The other is an admonishment for not doing your best and results in guilt and diminished performance.
The human brain has a way of amplifying the negative. From my experience, both personally and in coaching others, I believe that for most people, the negative “voice” in our head always seems louder and more persistent than the positive one. We tend to focus on and remember the negative thought more than we do the positive. I don’t think it is the result of either bad parenting or coaching, but something that is “hard wired” into most of our brains. As coaches and teachers, that concept is something we need to be aware of.
I was visiting with a student-athlete this week, complimenting him on having a great day at the plate in his baseball game. His immediate response, the first words out of his mouth, were “yea, but I gave up more runs than I drove in”. Not “thank you”, not “yeah, man that was FUN!” not “my swing felt good” but, “I could have done more.” How long had that negative thought been residing in the forefront of his brain, forcing to the back all the good, fun stuff he had done, should be remembering, and should take pride in?
My own brain does this same thing and always has. I am very competitive… in ALL things. The site I use for this blog provides up to the minute stats on views, referrers, search terms, etc. It compiles it daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. On Wednesday, I had a GREAT day for views on the blog, my best day to date, more than doubling my previous single day high. DOUBLING! The next day, the views went down by half – which was still better than my previous one day high! Instead of rejoicing and thinking things like “this is my best two day total” or “things are really picking up steam this week” or “the readers must have really liked that topic” , the first thought that popped into my head was, “crap, why did it go down so much?… what happened… I could have done more”
A couple of weeks ago a reader (and former player of mine) wrote and asked how he might be able to help his daughter. She is a very good athlete, participating on the varsity teams in both basketball and soccer as a freshman. Many athletes would consider that an excellent accomplishment, but she was still lacking confidence. This lack of confidence was not allowing her to use her full athletic potential, especially in direct competition with the older (more confident) athletes. My advice, though not earth shaking, and probably not particularly helpful, was to just keep focusing on the positive and make a “big deal” about her playing varsity at a young age.
The mantra “You Can Do More” really is a double edge sword that needs to be wielded carefully. I do believe an important part of our job as coaches is to get our athletes to do more than what they believe (or their brain is telling them) they can. I also believe that is an equally important job to acknowledge, praise, and rejoice when our athletes are successful, have given great effort, and have done all that we asked. They sometimes need to hear your loud positive “voice” in their head to drown out their own (and other) negative “voices” that are often so pervasive.
Questions and Comments are always welcome!
Jeff Floyd – firstname.lastname@example.org