I just read a wonderful piece on self-image by Lanny Bassham over at the Mental Management website (“Nutrients of Self-Image”) which I recommend you go read. What I want to comment on in this post is the role of the coach in all of this. Lanny’s main points (said and unsaid) are 1) that self-image determines performance, and 2) that to grow or boost one’s self-image, one needs praise from others as well as from one’s self.
Now you can’t magically become a winner by hypnotizing yourself to believe that you are a great archer, magically creating a non-existent self-image and equally non-existent expert archer. The way to the winner’s circle is not through dedicated bullshit. One’s self-image needs to be rooted in reality. If you regularly shoot in the 270’s on indoor 300 rounds, there is no way to develop a self-image of being a 300-shooter without actually becoming one. But the path to that state is hindered greatly if all you or your student gets is criticism. Praise is positive reinforcement and studies show that works better. It motivates people to work harder and that gets them closer to their goal.
Praise is Positive Reinforcement
So, what should you, as coach, do to supply praise? The keys to me are to praise effort first and foremost. And all praise needs to be rooted in reality. If you have a student who seems to be allergic to practice, praising them on how hard they work is not going to change their behavior, plus onlookers will think you are a bullshit artist or incompetent or both. All praise must be delivered based upon reality. And the important reality is on good work performed. (If they are doing all of the wrong things, they need advice, not praise.) It is up to the athlete to determine if the amount of effort they are putting out justifies itself. Most people “get off of the bus” when they realize that the amount of effort needed to reach their goals is not within them. The ones who stay on the bus are those that see that their efforts will get them to or near their goals.
Business people will tell you that you praise in public, but criticize in private. Hearing another athlete get praised for working hard delivers a message to others nearby. Hearing someone getting hammered by their coach may encourage some others, but it is more likely to discourage more. I think this is wise advice.
In a recent coaching website I saw an article entitled, “How to Deal with Athletes Who Do Not Take Advice.” (That may be inaccurate as I am working from memory but the gist is correct.) I have no problem with these athletes. Bo Jackson was criticized as being an athlete who didn’t take coaching advice. He did okay, don’t you think? (In American football and baseball.) Some athletes are self-directed almost completely and need very little from outside of themselves. The question itself brings up in my mind coaches whose reputation or remuneration is based on whether his team wins or loses and so this seems to be a question for the coach and not the athlete. If an athlete doesn’t want advice, I don’t give them any. Simple. Archery is an individual sport, so pressure from teammates to perform will not be much and the athlete is left to him-/her-self to determine if the effort they are putting out is worth what they are getting back.
I learned this in my teaching days. I made a rule I shared with my students that “I would work as hard for you as you do for yourself.” I did this to save my sanity because I had spent a lot of hours working for students who didn’t give a damn. Do I praise such students on their effort? Of course I did, and still do; it’s my job.