Should You Encourage Your Students to Think Positively?

I often get the question” Steve, where do you get your topics to blog on?” . . . No I don’t; that’s a lie. No one ever asks me that. I do, however, ask you to send your questions in as they give me something to write about, but since the pandemic, I don’t hear from my students, nor do I hear from you, so . . . I was reading a blog post today (Ah hah!) and I came across this statement.

The problem with much positive thinking is that it’s instrumentalized. It’s a small, easy step from perceiving positivity as a virtue in itself to believing that thinking positively makes good things happen. Then the inverse also seems true: Thinking negatively makes bad things happen. The implication of this train of thought is that people deserve their lot. Translated into economic terms, it means that the rich deserve their wealth, and the poor also earned their impoverishment.” (Susannah Crockford)

I suspect that, like many of you, I had bought the positive thinking meme hook, line, and sinker without giving it much thought. Being positive seemed like such a good thing, the opposite of “being negative.” But I am also aware that ever since the book and movie “The Secret” came out people have been making it clear that they think as if it actually could manifest real things, which is clearly magical thinking. I know this what people do. They take an idea and run with it.

By the way, manifesting changes in your life is entirely possible and it involves thinking. As Lanny Bassham says, over and over and over “the more we think about, talk about, and write about something happening, we improve the probability of that thing happening” (The Principle of Reinforcement). But the thinking doesn’t make it happen, you do. The thinking energizes, motivates, and inspires you to act is all.

But “thinking positively” is just one small step from thinking magically, so what is a coach to do?

What to Think
Obviously while shooting we are recommending “shooting in the now.” We are focused on our shooting process and what part of that process we are doing . . . now. So, neither positive nor negative thinking are involved.

What about when things go wrong, like an equipment failure at a tournament or a stubborn plateau is encountered in training? The only thoughts that are helpful in the equipment failure scenario are ones that help resolve the issue. This is why we have disaster recovery programs, they give us something to do to resolve the issue. No amount of negative thinking helps there. As to stubborn plateaus, the same thing goes: negative thinking (I’ll never get any better!”) doesn’t help solve the problem.

How about in goal setting? Here I think we need some quite dispassionate reasoning to identify a reachable goal and then build a ladder to reach it. Being positive you can reach your final goal is not really an important lever in this process, especially if you are struggling to attain the first rung on your ladder.

My Advice
I recommend that your archers need to be able to confine their thinking while shooting to “present process thinking,” which is what Larry Wise likes to call it or as I call it “shooting in the now.” When negative thoughts come up, they need to be shooed away as they offer no helpful assistance. (I tell my students “Don’t have negative thoughts about yourself, that’s what friends and family are for.” as part of my self-talk training.) As to positive thoughts, I am beginning to think they aren’t very helpful. Certainly the kind of positive thinking that is being recommended doesn’t stack up as well as clearly defined successes.

This is why we build Ladders to Success. These are mini-goals that lead up to our final goal. As an example, if you had a student wanting to win an indoor shoot this winter and you looked up what the winning scores were for the past three years. Let’s say that score was a 285/300. But your student’s all-time best in that round was a 275/300 and they were averaging about 268. To be competitive in that final tournament, they would want to average 285 so that half the time they were over that score. You don’t want to go into an event knowing that to win you have to shoot a personal best. That places too much pressure to perform on you.

So, the goal is an average of 285/300 in competition by the time the shoot comes around. So, a ladder might be: 1. Average 270/300 by <date>, then 2. Average 275/300 by <date>, and 3. Average 280/300 by <date>, then 4. Average 285/300 by <date of the competition>. This ladder helps you to shape your practice sessions, has a known standard of measurement, and if your student climbs it may result in a win. Plus, instead of striving to reach that 285 mark for the weeks or moths leading up to the tournament and failing, failing, failing . . . they can have a success by reaching goal 1, a success by reaching goal 2, up to the final push when they are thinking “I have met all of the previous goals, I can meet this one, too.”

Basically, an ounce of success is worth a pound of positive thinking. Help them succeed by recommending what works.


Filed under For All Coaches

2 responses to “Should You Encourage Your Students to Think Positively?

  1. Coach Rama

    Hello Sir.
    Not all coaches have the ability to ‘read’ their athlete.
    This (I know), is a key element of the beginning of the training session. I have a chat about anything with my students and let them talk as a group, whilst observing their facial expressions, ease of communication, vocal tones and more.
    This gives me an idea regarding the ‘mental baggage’ that they have with them (they are only human), even before the session begins.
    Now I put my sports psychology hat on and start to ease them away from their daily routines, put the baggage down and guide them to that place inside their head, where all things archery exist.
    I never tell my students to be competitive or even that they should strive to win. Set yourself a goal, reach it and then stay there for a very short period (repeat it), whilst thinking about the next goal that you will set for yourself.
    Often, I am heard telling them that they have nothing to prove to anyone, just enjoy what you are doing.
    I will very often stop an archer shooting if an arrow goes far from its intended destination and tell them that for a bit of fun, shoot the remaining arrows at that ‘lost’ arrow to practice a bit of grouping.
    This method, does not give the archer time to dwell on what just happened, rather it immediately gives the archer a very specific task to complete and a potential downward spiral is avoided.
    It’s a mental discipline, wrapped up in a human package and contradicts the nature of the beast.
    Guess that’s why archery can be so tough 🤔


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