PEP TALKS #2 Praise is not always helpful!

Praise is not always helpful!

I remember one day during my first season in Spain I was sitting on the sideline with a pro level Coach. We were observing several head coaches and assistant coaches during a session, and we discussed the exercises taking notes on what we liked and how we would alter them to suit different levels. I always appreciated my time spent with this coach as he always seemed to drop something philosophical that would question your whole approach to coaching.

I’m guessing his ears pricked up after he heard something as he began to discuss how coaches communicate with both their players and other coaches, and he brought up what he called “Empty Words”.

Be honest… how often do you hear:

  • “Well done”
  • “We need to play harder”
  • “We need a stop”
  • “We need a score”
  • “Good job”

The Coach began to translate what was being said by the coaches. After each translation he would ask me what I thought and whether I thought it was a useful message or not. There was mix of good and bad, but of course we could not judge it’s not easy in the moment to always give the helpful advice, and we have no idea what sort of day the Coach was having etc. It did make me think about the messages that are sent and how they are received.

Say what you see…

The secret is to be more descriptive. Instead of “good job” etc, Coaches will send a much clearer message if we are more specific. Here are some examples:

Rather than an assessment:

Player: “Is my shooting technique ok?”

Coach: “Excellent, well done”

Player is thinking: “Coach said that to everyone and I can see that Emilio has a better technique than me and Charlie does not have a good follow through”

You can describe:

Player: “Is my shooting technique ok?”

Coach: “You got your elbow higher than your eye, the fingers on your non-shooting hand are following the flight of the ball, and your follow through leaves your fingers pointing to the floor”

Player is thinking: “I know have a good technique as these are the teaching points we were given”

Rather than an assessment:

Coach: “We are playing good defense, good job”

Player is thinking: “I’m not, I have missed rotations. I know that we are tired and not denying as well as we could”

You can describe:

Coach: “When defending the ball we have attacked the ball, had active feet, had their feet between ours. This is making it difficult for them to get into a rhythm”

Player is thinking: “I can see we are dropping off in some areas but Coach is right, we are making up for it in other areas”

Rather than an assessment:

Coach (Time out): “We need a score”

Player is thinking: “Insightful”

You can describe:

Coach: “Next time down the floor lets see if we can get a quick exchange on both sides of the floor, make sure you sprint, as you come out of the corner we can get a dribble hand off and get the the basket at speed to draw a foul, if it’s too crowded, kick it out for a three, use touch passes if the first three is not open”

Player is thinking: “Clear instructions”

In sum…

As I mentioned, it is not always easy in the moment, so it may be better to save your voice and keep what you have to say for the right moment. Rather than saying empty words that do not offer your player much in terms of value, if you can be a tad more descriptive when speaking to players, it may be more beneficial for player understanding at crucial moments or help with player learning in the long term.

Further Reading:

Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (2010). How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk.

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