If Self-Image Determines Performance, Then …

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.


Filed under For All Coaches

4 responses to “If Self-Image Determines Performance, Then …

  1. Tom Dorigatti

    Well done, Steve! My Master’s thesis was “Improving Student Motivation Through Goal Setting.” What you say above is indeed spot on! You sum it up very well with your last sentences; no doubt about it.


  2. Hey – I gotta question – what would you do if an athlete would lose motivation after a period of high motivation, heavy training, outstanding performance etc.?

    Motivation is a dynamic thing, so what to do then, you think?


    • Motivation is not only dynamic it is cyclical. If there is a lull after a particularly stressful period like this, it is time for a sit down. Often athletes are so caught up in the day to day process of getting better, that they do not see the big picture, so a review of current efforts and results is in order. An athlete should be assessing these things regularly because how much effort they put out needs to be based upon what the results are from the previous efforts, otherwise they are living in a fantasy world, ungrounded in reality. Often goals are met that don’t get noticed or celebrated, now is the time. Plus it is normal to have a letdown following a major effort. Rick McKinney is very honest in describing how let down he felt after meeting his life’s goal (a World Championship) at the age of 23. A feeling of “Is that it?” or “Is that all there is?” is normal. (McKinney recommends to always have additional goals on one’s list.)


    • Tom Dorigatti

      Holy Smokes, are you reading my Master’s Thesis, Steve Ruis? It so happens that “Improving Student Motivation Through Goal Setting” is the title of our Master’s Thesis. Although most experts say that students only do well when they are “intrinsically motivated”, our study indicated clearly that there are ways to tap the “intrinsic” motivation with a bit of “extrinsic motivation” tossed in. The “program” I set up had actually been done years before the Master’s Thesis study, but never really quantified. I knew it worked, but of course the thing with the Master’s Thesis was to “prove” or “disprove” the hypothesis with solid data. It is too involved to write down here, but this intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is an interesting subject. How to “remotivate” either an archery student or even yourself as an archer takes a bit of ingenuity at times, and the ability to tap some outside interests that you or the student(s) can use to channel into the subject at hand.
      NEVER just toss one or two goals out there, and when they are achieved, you are left with that pit in your stomach and the question: “Now that I have done this, what is next?” Nobody is perfect, scores can be perfect one day and in the toilet the next. You can be positively motivated and on course to goal achievement one day, and the next, your motivation just gets up and leaves. You have to have plan(s) to front that off and maybe take a diversionary path for a short time. That diversionary path must also have a goal or two along with the plan. Much like writer’s block, this can work for you if you plan it right and keep establishing new goals while on the unbeaten path.


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