Have you ever tried to coach without using the word “don’t”?
I’m not sure where I first came across this idea. A coaching colleague of mine says he got it from John Kessel, and I may have done so as well. I had John as part of my CAP II cadre many years ago.
In any case, if you haven’t tried to coach without saying “don’t” consider it a challenge from me to you. It will force you to communicate with your players in a more action and solution oriented way.
This accomplishes a couple things.
First, if it’s something mental it avoids putting unwanted thoughts in their head. The classic example is “Don’t think about a pink elephant.” You just had a pink elephant go through your mind reading that sentence, didn’t you? It’s just about impossible to avoid.
If you don’t want someone to think about a pink elephant, give them something else to focus on instead. Using a volleyball example, if you would rather your player not miss their upcoming serve, instead of saying “Don’t miss” you could tell them “Over and in”.
Secondly, if it’s an issue of execution, you are providing a potential solution to their problem, not just telling them something they shouldn’t do. There are a whole lot of things you don’t want to do in execution, but there might only be one thing you do want to do.
Telling someone “Don’t do X” just tells them that X is among the numerous things that won’t work in this situation, but it might not get them much closer to doing what they should do. Telling them “Do Y” actually takes them right to where you want them to be.
Now, I’m not saying we should always just be telling players what to do. In certain situations, yes, for sure. Beyond that, though, I’m a believer in guiding players to find the solution for themselves. They’re more likely to internalize it that way. So instead of saying “Do Y” I try to guide them in the right direction with questions and suggestions.
Give it a shot. It won’t be easy. You’re going to have to be very conscious of what you say, and potentially rework a lot of your coaching language. If you can do it, though, it will make you a better, more effective coach.
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