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Choose Your Words Wisely

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We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s the little things in life that matter.” This statement couldn’t be more true for sport. The words coaches choose to use with their athletes can make the ultimate difference in how an athlete performs, and even how much they enjoy their sport.

Imagine you are on a basketball court waiting for practice to start. Your coach starts practice by saying, “Go ahead and take ten shots”. What does your mind’s eye see? A player standing at the freethrow line taking a few shots to warm up maybe?swish Now imagine If that basketball coach had said, “Go ahead and take 10 swishes”. Now what image do you get in your head? I happen to see shot after shot swishing through the bottom of the net.

The words coaches use can instantly shape the way an athlete’s mind views the task at hand. By using keywords like “swish”, it immediately increases their focus by directing the mind to concentrate on a precise desirable outcome. The mind automatically visualizes a ball swishing through a net which will actually help the player perform more successfully. Imagery is a popular sport psychology tactic that consists of a mental rehearsal through visualization. It’s been proven to be effective in improving sport performance at every level of sport, from novice to expert. Instructing athletes to “swish” the ball prompts the mind to do just this, visualize the outcome.

Most coaches, without thinking, constantly tell their athletes “Nice play”. I prefer to comment on my athlete’s effort. Here’s why: Telling an athlete you loved their effort rather than commenting on the outcome, puts the athlete in full control of their performance. They now understand that what you are looking for is hard work. Hard work trumps a clean play any day in my book. huddleTalented athletes can slack off at a practice and still have the chance to perform well. By rewarding the effort the athlete put in, you can reinforce the importance of working hard and improving skills no matter what skill level the athlete is currently at. You can also compliment the athlete on what specific mechanic they did well so they know how to be consistently successful.

As a coach choosing your words wisely can make a world of difference to your athletes.  Take into consideration the following sentence that was said by a coach after a 11-0 run rule victory. “ I just wanted to say sorry to you younger kids who didn’t get into the game; we didn’t score enough runs early enough to get you in”. This statement makes those younger girls feel as if they aren’t good enough to play unless the team is ahead by a bunch of runs. It implies that the coach doesn’t trust their talents to keep the game within reach. Instead the coach could say, “I just wanted to say sorry to you younger girls who didn’t get in the game, due to the high amount of runs scored the game ended in 5 innings and I didn’t have enough time to get you guys in.” The difference here is immense, especially in the minds of high school athletes.

As a coach, the words you say matter. It’s the smallest thing, but it makes the biggest impact.

Quote of the Day:

“It’s the little things that matter most”

About smarcia12

I am a special education teacher who also holds a MA in Sport Psychology.

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