For High Octane Results Keep Emotional Tanks Full

By Steven Embree | May 06, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

If you want your car to run and perform at its optimum level, you’ll always keep it fueled. And each time you gas up, you’ll be sure to select a quality fuel at the pump. If you neglect to properly fuel your car, performance will begin to suffer

When you’re a coach with finely-tuned, intricate and complex athletes under your care, the same principle applies.

This week, we’re going to take a close look at making sure your kids’ emotional tanks always stay filled.

What Are Emotional Tanks?

Responsible Coaches ensure that their athletes’ Emotional Tanks always remain full. A person’s Emotional Tank is a bit like a car’s gas tank. When it’s full, we can go anywhere we want to. When it’s empty then we have a hard time even backing out of the garage.

Players with full Emotional Tanks give Responsible Coaches some distinct advantages because they are:

  1. More coachable and likely to listen and respond without resistance.
  2. More optimistic.
  3. Better able to handle adversity. 

Rule Of Thumb: Follow The “Magic Ratio”.

So just how does a Responsible Coach go about filling his or her young athletes’ Emotional Tanks? By striking the right balance between specific, truthful praise and specific, constructive criticism.

Educational research from our partner at Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) indicates a “Magic Ratio” of 5:1, meaning five praises to one criticism, which fosters the ideal learning environment.

Many coaches find this hard to believe, because most of our own experience as youth athletes, sons, daughters, and pupils has taught us that “coaching” equals “correcting”, and therefore, praise can’t be coaching. But a Responsible Coach who fills Emotional Tanks corrects players correctly.

The key is avoiding empty, unearned praise. Remember, the praise must be truthful and specific (i.e. not “way to go!”, but rather, “I’m glad to see you aimed at the far post on your shot.”)

Be sure your non-verbal communication also maintains the “Magic Ratio” of 5:1. You fill Emotional Tanks when you listen, nod, clap or smile. Tank drainers include ignoring players, frowning, head-shaking, eye-rolling and yelling.

Athletes Fill Fellow Teammates Tanks.

Beyond making sure that you and your assistant coaches are striving for the 5:1 Magic Ratio, teach your kids to also be consistent tank fillers, rather than drainers. This is not always easy, especially when you’re coaching an extremely competitive team, where the pressure is high and playing time is at a premium. But the team that sticks together closest often wins the most too. Especially if everyone already possesses a high level of talent.

Before the season kicks into high gear, let your young athletes know that:

  1. Each one of them has an Emotional Tank that fills and drains when they receive praise and criticism.
  2. You don’t want to be alone in filling tanks. You want them to act as tank fillers for each other.
  3. In an environment where players are receiving five tank fillers for every one tank drainer (the 5:1 “Magic Ratio”), their enjoyment and performance will increase.
  4. Teams that play at home have a 60% chance of winning. We can take this “home field advantage” with us wherever we play if we focus on filling each other’s tanks with truthful and specific praise. This will help us win more.

Keeping all of your young athletes’ emotional tanks full can be tough, especially when it comes to those who see little or no playing time. Remember that you can praise reserves for ways they support the team from the bench (constant positive chatter, pointing out something your opponent is doing to help a teammate out, etc.). You can even find creative ways to utilize your bench, such as having them analyze your opponent’s game strategy and offer suggestions for how to beat it.

Coaches Have Tanks Too.

Of course, coaches are people too. And they also possess Emotional Tanks. Tanks that can quickly get drained by high-pressure games, long hours and demanding parents.  A Responsible Sport Parent understands and respects that coaches have a tough job to do – and knows just how, when and where to step in to help ensure that the coach’s Emotional Tank is also filled.

Offer to help the coach to ease the pressure.  Cheer for your coach the same way you do for players on the field.  “Great play call coach!”  Take time to congratulate the coach after a big win.  And pick them up after a tough loss letting them know that you saw them give their best effort.  Say thank you at the end of the season and let your coach know specifically what growth you’ve noticed in your athlete thanks to the efforts of your coach. 

For more information on how you can keep your young athletes properly fueled and running at a high level, visit

And don’t forget, it’s not too late to register for the Responsible Sports Spring Community Grant!