Relentlessly Positive

By John Kessel | June 15, 2013, 3:53 p.m. (ET)

This is another slide in my coaching presentation, that was inspired in no small part by Nelson Mandela. When a man can be imprisoned for 27 years, then when released, seek only collaboration, reconciliation, and the desire for peace, not vengeance, you can only be inspired, as billions  of the people of the world, not just the millions of the people of his now grieving nation. This is a time to go buy the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled the “The 16th Man” which tells the story of Mandela and the South African Springboks rugby team. You can watch it HERE on YouTube.

I was similarly inspired by coach John Wooden, as have other millions of people, and share a paraphrase of one of his poems that impacted me as well.

The Coach in the Mirror

No written word

Nor spoken plea

Can make your players

What they should be

Nor all the books

On all the shelves

It’s what the coaches

Are themselves

So are you relentlessly positive?  After all, it’s what you DO, not what you say, that my parents taught me matters most. My dad had me reading Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking when I was young , and worked his entire life healing those who were hurting. My mom was an amazingly successful first grade teacher for decades. She still lives and breathes eternal optimism as she nears her 90th year. Every day in her classroom she completely believed in her young students, every single one of them, in all her actions. Does your body’s actions do the same in the gym?

It’s called summary feedback in motor learning, when you catch your players doing things right, not only come up to work with them when they err. I don’t know how many camp coaches I have worked with who give correction and criticism – such that players say to me as head camp coach after the other coach is gone, “Sheesh, do 10 right and where is my coach? Nowhere…Do ONE thing wrong and there they are in my face…blah, blah, blah..”  We need teachers who coach to improve a player’s average not those who constantly give attention to the errors. Teacher who understand the randomness of sport and the mathematics of regression to the mean.

But it is more than just getting better at feedforward. It is about HOW your body is when you coach.  Are you one of those clipboard slamming coaches or a high fiver? Do you slump in frustration on the bench, or sit straight and supportive no matter what the odds?  Eric Hodgson told the story of our national team head coach John Speraw being taught of the importance of body actions even to the point of not looking down to think and ponder, but to keep looking up.

So do you call timeout to catch players doing things right, and for other teachable moments, while trusting your players’ skill levels and averages to let them get through their streaks of mistakes? 

What about your substituting? As a TEACHER, not just a coach, are you teaching your players you believe in them, by leaving them in to learn in the heat of competition what you say you are teaching them to do in practice?  Do you understand the impact of the randomness of sport – and work with your players to raise their average in a competitive cauldron in the non-public area of practice– but not when it comes to the actual game played in public?  Are you developing amazing leaders on the court by letting the players chose their serving zone, or do you take that chance to develop away from them and put up a clip board and tell them where to serve?