Do They Need to Know Their Mistakes?

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Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

One of the strategies I share with coaches in my workshop How Credible Coaches Create Confident Competitors is called "Getting Rid of Don't". I firmly believe that our first impulse in coaching -- which is to say, "Don't do it that way" -- is completely counter-productive. Not only does it send the negative message of, "You're wrong, again!", but it also reinforces the very behavior a coach is trying to change."Don't do it that way" is usually accompanied by a verbal description -- or worse, a physical demonstration -- of the incorrect technique just witnessed by the coach. Talk about painting mental pictures of what you DON'T want!! And now you want the child to do the opposite after emphasizing the negative?

After explaining my feelings about this at a recent workshop, a coach raised an interesting question. He asked, "Doesn't the child need to know he made a mistake?" I replied, "Why?" Why do we feel it's so important for an athlete to be told he's wrong? Wouldn't it be just as beneficial to find creative ways to tell him he's good, but we can make him better?

When a young ballplayer is hitting off a tee, and the ball continues to hit the ground just five feet out due to the angle of his swing, he already knows it's not perfect! What he wants to know is how to get different results. Getting rid of "don't" means we avoid talking about what's wrong and cut directly to the lesson. Coach: "Son, would you like to hit longer line drives?" Player: "Yes!" Coach: "Good, then let's try this angle during your next swing."

I can't think of a single situation in which there's an advantage in describing to a child what he did wrong. We just need to tell them how to get better results. Skip the "Don't" and go directly to "Do". The overall intent of this approach is a confidence-building message that affirms something positive. "I think you're good, but we can make you even better."

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