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Coaching Tips

Two Things to Never Say to an Athlete

Some words build up. Others tear down. Craig Sigl, a mental toughness trainer, goes into it beautifully. Here’s a recent article of his, passed along by iCoachConnect.com:

There are so many clichés floating around the sports world that are often repeated by unknowing coaches. Some of them are very useful and when communicated consistently can ingrain solid beliefs and habits that lead to becoming great performers like: “You are relentless” (a positive way of saying “never give up”) or “You can do this.” Notice the elegance of simplicity in those two encouraging messages. That’s what works for athletes.

On the other hand, I have heard countless stories from athletes of coaches using words they think are going to motivate and help an athlete but actually do the opposite:

1. “Stop Overthinking” This one is classic and I hear it all the time. Let me ask you this, coach … How do you stop overthinking? I am a mental toughness trainer teaching people how to direct their thinking in ways that are useful for achieving peak sports performance and I don’t know how to “stop overthinking” and neither do you. When you say this to an athlete, you actually create MORE OVERTHINKING because you’ve injected confusion into their thinking. The truth is nobody has to stop overthinking anyway in order to use their brain in ways that support their best performances. What you want to say instead is: “I want you to think about all of things your 5 senses are bringing to mind right now. What can your eyes, ears, feet, nose, hands, notice right now about what they are experiencing?” What this does is bring the athlete into the present moment (where Fear cannot exist) and gives their mind something useful (or at least neutral) to think about. Or you could just simply say: “Get in the present moment with me right now” if you’ve already taught them HOW to do it. In a meaningful situation such as competition, the brain is hard-wired to think even faster than normal. You’re not going to slow it down let alone “stop” anything. Instead, think of it like a car and tell the athlete to DRIVE IT instead of being a passive passenger.

2. “You’ve Got to Believe in Yourself” This is another destructive comment to deliver to an athlete because not only does it create confusion, but it creates feelings of failure for not being able to do the thing you are telling the athlete to do. You end up hurting their confidence more than if you said nothing. The truth about this is that nobody needs to “believe in themselves” to accomplish great things anyway! People do amazing things in sports and everywhere else without believing in themselves all of the time! The way that happens is they ACT WITHOUT FEARS holding them back. Fear is the big interference to performance.

Get rid of the fear and some of the time the athlete (or anyone) will achieve a great accomplishment if they just go for it. If you really want to say something along these lines that will boost an athlete’s confidence, then look your athlete in the eye and say: “I believe in you no matter what happens here.”

Coach: Think about what you are about to say to an athlete before you say it. Ask yourself if you were a teenager and heard this, would you understand it? Would you know what to do with it? Is it simple and clear? If you want to get to the next level of bringing out athletes’ best performances, you’ve got to go inside their mind and operate from their model of the world, not yours.

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com.

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Thank you for visiting Total Game Plan. If your team, group or business needs a motivational speaker, please email coachtully @ totalgameplan.com. Here are some other resources for your success:

Think Better, Win More!” will give you a mental game to match your physical game.

To get better at anything, check out “The Improvement Factor: How Winners Turn Practice into Success.”

Do you coach females? Are you a female athlete, or the parent of one? Here’s “Was It Something I Said? A Guide to Coaching Female Athletes” by Vanessa Sullivan and Mike Tully

Need some motivation? Everyone needs it now and then. Open any page of “Thank God You’re Lazy! The Instant Cure for What’s Holding You Back” by Dr. Rob Gilbert and Mike Tully.

Are you a teacher, boss or sports coach? Here’s “Ten Things Great Coaches Know” by Mike Tully and Gary Pritchard.

Want to have your best basketball season ever? Here’s “Basketball: What Great Players Know that You Don’t Know,” by Mike Tully and Gio Grassi.


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