A conversation was once begun by a juniors coach on the following basis.

He considered himself a positive coach, but had another coach run his team through a session. This other coach he described as being tough on the players, though not in a yelling, screaming sort of way. He observed his players responding with more focus and effort to the latter coach and was wondering if he was taking the wrong philosophy.

My immediate response to this situation is that being positive and being tough are not mutually exclusive. Here’s why I say that.

To my mind, being tough is about setting expectations and requiring the players meet them. This is largely related to things like effort, attitude, and focus. That, though, ties in with execution and performance. A tough coach does not allow players to backslide, to do less than what they are capable of doing, or to stop pushing themselves to improve. You can do all of this in a positive fashion, which is where you get the “tough, but fair” type of coaching. It can also be done in a negative fashion, which generally earns the coach much less flattering descriptions.

Our job as coaches is to teach and develop. We are not cheerleaders. Should we cheer our players when they do things the right way? Sure. Should we give them a pat on the back when they need it? Of course. We should not, however, pretend that everything they do is perfect because it’s not – and they know it. Just as constant yelling eventually makes players numb to it, constant praise can have a similar effect. Either that or players think they are better than they really are and are devastated when reality proves otherwise.

My impression of the situation described above is that this coach has been too much of a cheerleader and that the reason the new coach was able to have such a positive impact was that he challenged the players in new ways. That’s something we all need to be doing continuously.

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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.

    3 replies to "Positive coaching vs. being tough on them"

    • Kelly Daniels

      John…”He observed his players responding with more focus and effort to the latter coach” is what I see all the time in my club. I am the club’s coach development director. We have well established coaches to first year coaches. I come to a court and instruct a coach that have a challenge accomplish something they have been training. I instruct the athletes to do specific things that the coach have already instructed and it’s done exactly as the coaches have instructed. I then ask the athletes have they ever heard of the information before. They all says yes. When I ask from whom they all say their coach. I’ve see this as you stated, they get use to their coaches voice and it’s like blah, blah,blah. Yet knowing I’m one of the top coaches in the club it’s like all eyes and ears.
      I equate this to not seeing family member children in a long while. Parents see them every day. They do not consciencely see their child’s growth. Yet, when Uncle John come to visit the first thing the child(ren) hear, “Wow look how much you have grown.” It’s the same for both the team athletes and the coach(s).

      • John Forman

        Kelly – I would suggest a couple of possible things at work in the scenario you’ve described (which I’ve definitely seen before). One, you are a higher credibility source than the team’s regular coach, so they take you more seriously. Second – not necessarily mutually exclusive of my first suggestion – while their coach has taught them the skill or whatever, they have not held them effectively to the standard of expectations. It’s one thing to teach the players something. It’s a whole other to then required them to set an expectation based on that and make the players accountable for meeting it.

        • Kelly Daniels

          100% complete agreement with this statement.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.