In his book, Championship Behaviors, Hugh McCutcheon had the following quote:

Positive reinforcement is a much more effective tool for change, but again, you have to operate in truth. You can’t tell someone they’re doing it right if they’re not. You’ll lose credibility, and your future attempts to praise good outcomes or good process will ring hollow. That being said, it is clear that you should try to catch them doing it right as often as possible.

What Hugh is basically saying here is that we want to praise the good way more than criticize the bad. We cannot, however, use that praise when it isn’t deserved. Doing so is counterproductive. It turns praise into a useless tool.

This doesn’t mean we don’t address undesirable behavior, inefficient technique, poor decision-making, etc. at all. Remember that knowledge of performance is an important part of the learning process. If something isn’t right, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to let someone who doesn’t realize the error of their ways continue to do the same thing over and over.

The other side of that, though, is ensuring they know what you’re after. That’s catching them doing it right.

There are a couple of ways you can do this. One I sometimes use is to tell the player to lock in a mental video of what they just did. That way they can recall it and try to repeat.

Another thing I’ll do is ask the player what they did. This gets them to think things through. They won’t always know, so you may have to help them understand. At least you get their neurons firing, though.

The point is by focusing on when they get it right you give them a positive performance reference point they can attempt to repeat. This helps to avoid the “I don’t know what you want me to do” issue than can be a big demotivator for players.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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