Monday, July 18, 2011

Labeling Our Athletes

Putting labels on our athletes can be a very dangerous use of words. Positive labels such as gifted, special, and naturally talented can be just as damaging as using negative labels like lazy, unfocused, or even worse, a waste of talent. Labels can have a very long lasting affect that can be detrimental to long term athletic development and character.

Every coach should know that labeling your athletes negatively can kill an athletes confidence, self esteem, and performance. And please, stay out of coaching young kids if your only style of coaching is yelling and screaming like a jackass.

But why would calling players gifted, special or naturally talented negatively affect performance? Labels can put players into a fixed mindset that says they can effortlessly get by because of genetics. If we constantly tell kids how gifted they are, a typical thought could creep into there head that says,"If I'm gifted, I don't need to work as hard because it will come automatically." These labels lead to complacency and a sense of entitlement. If they hear that enough, they start to believe that the hard work they put in is no longer necessary. Now next season when they face a kid who's now better than them from last season how will they react? Often, they will back down from the new challenge because it questions what we've identified them as; gifted.

We can counteract this by praising effort instead of ability, and showing great examples of great athletes who continuously out worked their peers.

Do we want to give players any labels whatsoever? I think we absolutely can, if they have deserved them consistently. There are 3 labels I hope my athletes are aspiring to earn. There could certainly be more, but I feel if I encourage these 3 ideas than everything else will fall into place.

1. Be a diligent and hard worker.- I think one of the best compliments anyone can receive is, "Damn he/she works their tail off." It means your willing to pay your dues and take what's yours. I want to slap anyone who says, "I would have been just as good as them if I worked that hard." Oh yea? You know why they are better? Because they worked hard.

How do we teach this? Praising effort over results.

2. A risk taker. Name me someone who's surpassed expectations without taking multiple risks? Don't worry I'll wait......

Name someone who loves to try new things that you don't like to be around...... Again, I'll wait...

How can we encourage risk taking? Showing that opportunity lies within every situation, good or bad, and praising when he/she tries something new.

3. A creative and critical thinker. This comes over long periods of time, and ties very nicely into being a diligent and hard worker. Evaluating your progress and results, asking for feedback, and looking at what others have done in the same situation lies at the heart of creative and critical thinking.

How can we develop creative and critical thinking? Putting young athletes in challenging situations and asking questions instead of giving directions. Lay out the parameters and let them run wild! Like the late George Carlin said, "We must teach kids to question!" (Watch the video below if you're a fan of his humor.)

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