Tips for being a Winning Sports Parent

by Stephen Walker, PhD, CC-AASP, USOC Registry of Sport Psychologists

He was doing his best to keep from breaking down, but the tears filled his eyes, the emotions were raw and he was lost. “Whatever I do it’s never good enough”… was what he uttered, but the pain in his body was palpable.  His name was Kyle – Wolfie to his teammates.  He just turned 12.  He was a gifted goalie – rated number one in the state, and he was playing competitive hockey for a AAA team engaged in a travel schedule as busy as the local Division I team.  For him, the pressure was over-the-top.  Not just because the competition was intense, which it was, but he was afraid to let his hero down.

In tonight’s game, he’d let in a good goal on a 2-on-1 breakaway when the save rebounded in the wrong direction.  His team won, and they celebrated, but he’d lost the shut-out and he was sure to hear about it.  The pressure to please his father had even hurt his game because he found himself losing focus on the ice by glancing in his dad’s direction…hoping for a smile or a “thumbs up”…or anything other than the frown he saw much of the time.  But then, the glare was nothing compared to getting reamed.  One time he almost threw up when his dad had screamed in his face like a drill sergeant he’d seen in the movies.  Boy!  He hated that.

Hockey is as intense a game as there is.  Hockey ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ are known to be passionate.  But this behavior is so over-the-top, it’s also risky.

Putting Things in Perspective

Kyle was referred to me by his goalie coach.  He had witnessed some of his dad’s critical behavior, and, he had noticed that Kyle was losing some of his snap… seemed distracted and wasn’t playing up to his potential.

As it turns out, Kyle’s Dad came from a family where much of the pressure to perform rested on his shoulders.  He played linebacker on his Varsity Football team and readily confessed to me an experience that gave me hope for this father-son duo.  The story goes like this:

In an important game he’d played against a league rival, he had registered 13 unassisted tackles, 2 more assists, defended a pass in coverage, knocked down a pass on a blitz, caused an opponent to fumble and generally wreaked havoc on the opposing team’s offense.  At the end of the game he remembered his dad fixating on one play….one where he had taken the fake on a reverse play and lost contain.  It resulted in an 8 yard gain for their rivals.  Geez, a game like that and the only thing his dad could talk about after the game was him blowing that play.

Parental behavior like this is emotionally abusive and it easily runs from generation to generation.  Too many parents from the mold of this scenario consider me one of those ‘touchy feely’ types.  They fail to recognize the impact of their behavior on their children – and – they tend to discount feedback from “others” who might weigh-in on “their” situation.  That often includes coaches, teachers, other parents who witness the abuse….worse still….even when that other person is their spouse.  Parents like this listen to no one, and as such, they often undermine their athletes’ coaches.

Priority One: Becoming Aware – Recognizing Where Passion Stops and Abuse Begins

Truth be told, this kind of situation exists more often than any of us would like to admit.  And those passionate about their sport have not only seen it, but likely been a guilty party themselves once or twice.  The gut check required to get this pattern under control is not for sissies.  And that’s why so many continue to perpetuate the tribulations of abuse.

People who have difficulty with boundaries are at greatest risk.  It’s probably been a factor elsewhere in their life, but when it involves a child learning, and growing and becoming – there is more at risk.  Rather than helping the child athlete discover for themselves what coaches are trained to teach them, these parents tend to take over.  They might not even communicate their thoughts with the coach – but they don’t hesitate to put forward their opinions at home.  What’s worse is that parents like this often don’t have enough insight to recognize their own limitations.  In extreme cases, they treat their child athlete like a possession where they alone control their child’s experiences.

If I were to tell parents like this their kids will likely drop out of sport in rebellion, or find really dysfunctional ways to get by – they’d deny it.  But the fact is: When the fear of reprisal, discouragement and disappointment expressed by one or both parents – outweigh the joy of ‘team’ cohesion, sense of accomplishment and personal pride in seeing your game improve – the formula gets so far out of balance that there isn’t enough to play for. By the time an athlete stops having fun and starts to think that what they do “is never good enough” – they’re in trouble.  It is incumbent on every coach, trainer, manager, league administrator and parent to be attuned to situations like this and do their best to prevent it. Why?  Because they can…and…if they don’t try – they become part of the problem.

The Styles of Parenting Continuum

Imagine six parents, each with a different parenting style, sitting in the dentist’s waiting room with their six children. The kids are running wild, acting out, and getting into trouble. Here’s what the parents might say and do:

  • The abusive parent says, “Get your ugly butt over here you stupid little creep!” (smacks, screams, tears).
  • The conditional parent says, “I can’t believe you would behave like this, you’re embarrassing me, we’re leaving. I told you we were going to go get ice cream later but I changed my mind. You won’t be having ice cream for three weeks!”
  • The assertive parent says, “Sarah, this behavior is out of line. Sit down right next to me. Nowplease. And now might be a good time to start that homework you brought.”
  • The supportive parent says, “Tommy, what’s up? You can’t behave like that, honey. Please sit down now. Are you bored?  I brought your book and some stuff to play with.”
  • The indulgent parent says, “Ah, let them run, they’re just kids having a good time.”
  • The neglectful parent says, well, nothing. The neglectful parent doesn’t notice his kid; he’s too busy reading People Magazine.

Child Development – How Point-of-View and Experience Contribute

Child development goes through a variety of stages.  Parents will remember the ‘terrible twos’ and other phases their children all went through – and – they will even recognize that cognitive development undergoes a tremendous shift in adolescence.  However, they’re not as good at remembering “how their own point-of-view shifted” as they went through these stages, largely because of so many other “experiences” they had at many different ages, times and circumstance.  The evolving innovation of qualitative research is now beginning to contribute extensively in the developmental and sport psychology literature.

Of course, each person’s genetic makeup plays a huge role in establishing the basic template from which the rest of their development takes place.  Its not just medical history that’s at work here – personality traits evolve from the make up of both biological parents. However, within that template there are thousands of experiences – and – shifts in behavioral emphasis that ultimately form a child’s personality.

Exactly How Does Parenting Factor in?

1)  Kids Learn by Watching their Parents:

Parents will readily acknowledge that modeling plays a role in how their kids turn out.  However, they rarely see it from their child’s perspective.  Kids experience their parents as being generally critical or nurturing…sometimes functional – and – sometimes dysfunctional – in regard to what their child remembers.  How that ultimately influences the child’s developing personality looks something like this:

Critical Parent

Functional –    “Good effort Kyle, but you need to stay with it a little longer to be successful.”  “Stretch a bit more – here – and you’ll reach your goal.”

Dysfunctional –  “No, no, no forget it! You’ll never get it that way.”  “What the heck is wrong with you, can’t you do anything right?”

The functional side of the critical parent recognizes effort, and, specifies the direction and level of work required for success – hence setting standards.  The dysfunctional side is demeaning and attacks the core of the child – intimating that the child is defective and likely never to measure up.

Nurturing Parent

Functional –     “Wow! You took a big hit, that cut is likely to need attention…lets get it looked at so you can get out there and play again. – Alright, you’re good to go. Have fun.”

Dysfunctional – “Oh no you don’t – this is dangerous…I’m not letting you get yourself hurt.”

The functional side of the nurturing parent acknowledges that life can be tough, and you need to recover even as you train…but when you’ve done so… it’s important to get back to your work so you can learn from it.  The dysfunctional side is over-protective and tends to supersede a child’s choice and opportunities to challenge him or herself.

Of course, the greatest challenge in parenting is KNOWING WHAT to do and WHEN to DO IT.  The Parenting Continuum above is comprised of a large number of experiences that ultimately shape the child’s behavior.  This parenting can be consciously focused and deliberately crafted – or not.  A great many parents, even to their own dismay, do exactly what their parents did even though they SWORE they’d NEVER do so.  Modeling is the key.  Our kids observe everything that we do, and their patterns are learned through repetition.

2)  Kids Learn through Their Own Interactions with the World:

It is also true that children learn from their point-of-view interactive experiences with the world at large and not exclusively from our parents’ tutelage.  There are three primary aspects of how the child experiences the environment that can have significant impact on how they develop.  As you might expect, there is a functional and dysfunctional side to each of these developmental centers of personality:

Playful Child

Functional-      “Oh boy, this is really fun!  I get to play until I have to do my homework.”

Dysfunctional- “How much fun can you have?  If a little bit is great, then a whole lot more must be that much better.”

The playful child can and usually does develop appreciation for opportunities, light-hearted encounters and positive experiences…when there is balance in understanding the proper time and place for play.  However, when one’s developing playful child evolves without a sense of limits ….self-indulgent behavior often follows.  In the extreme these kids acquire the inability to set limits and boundaries – and oftentimes they are quite susceptible to addictive disease.

Adaptive Child

Functional –     “This looks like it could be fun. I wonder who the leader is? Maybe the coach will show me how and I’ll find a way to join in.?”

Dysfunctional – “Uh-oh.  This looks scary.  I’d better hang next to the teacher/coach and do whatever they say.  Hopefully they will look after me and keep me safe.”

The adaptive child is really good at fitting in and can master social graces, learn patience and establish really useful mentorships with those who offer them skills and training.  On the other hand, the adaptive child can become a doormat afraid to go their own way or think for themselves, dependent on other people to excess.

Rebellious Child

Functional –     “They want us all to stand in line, but the leaders get to go first…so I’m going to lead.”

Dysfunctional – “So what if I get in trouble, to heck with them – I’m gonna do what I want to do.”

The rebellious child can functionally establish the proper rudiments of independent thinking – or – if dysfunction, become oppositional and, in the extreme, sociopathic.

Thankfully, personalities continue to develop throughout adolescence.  Children tend to integrate thousands of experiences within these parameters over several years.  Significant emotional events, traumas, injuries, betrayals, successes, and both fun and not-so-fun situations contribute to the lessons learned and patterns of response to life’s ups and downs.

The Emerging Adult – “Learning the Best Practices in Life”

3)  Kids Learn through Experimentation:

During the adolescent years, each child’s brain experiences a surge in development. The powers of logic, understanding, recognition of exceptions to the rule, subtleties that can determine the fine line between success and failure – are all established.  The process of integration makes big strides in the teen years.

This process of maturation affects every part of the person physically, emotionally, socially and morally.  The adult part of the personality is the one we hope every child develops through maturity, with the positive experiences and knowledgeable tutelage of great parents, coaches, teachers, team captains and leaders of all kinds.  Ultimately, one can learn to mitigate all manner of experiences in life – and balance the influences from our parents (good or bad)  as well as the lessons experienced through interacting with the universe in a positive way – or not.

If the adult part of our personality develops properly our children will grow to be both capable and lovable – competent people, great partners & teammates and good citizens.  If it doesn’t…our children may mature with an unbalanced personality. Perhaps the dysfunctional side of the critical parent will manifest – driven by anger and unrealistic expectations for what a 12 year old should be able to do.  Hence, we meet Kyle’s dad. Helicopter moms, doormat personalities, good time Charlie’s and all manner of dysfunctional people become that way for myriad of influences both genetic and experiential.  Hence, learning becomes paramount and as the gatekeepers to our children’s early life experiences – parents set the bar.

Skill building is huge and specific training regimens are key to facilitating success.  During these early adolescent years athletes learn to train.  They learn the benefit of hard work and they begin to experiment with every aspect of their work ethic.  Some will go all-out-all-of-the-time.  Some will “fake it” because it looks alright on the outside, but on the inside they feel like they are getting away with being lazy.

It is the internal recognition of effort and execution that registers the true value of training – whether in academics or learning a slap shot.  Malcolm Gladwell illustrates in hundreds of ways how those who succeed and master an endeavor will train upwards of 10,000 hours to achieve that success.  Young adolescents are at the stage where they are learning to train – older adolescents are learning to win.

As parents, coaches and mentors of athletes at every age – how we approach our athletes makes a big difference.  For when we act “in the best interests” of our athletes – we will do the right thing more often than not.  Below are some guidelines designed to help parents do a better job…giving their child athletes a better opportunity for success at every level.

Top 10 List of Things Parents Can Do to Raise a Healthy Happy Athlete

1.)    FIRST & FOREMOST – DO NO HARM!  It can be a pretty helpless feeling when you are watching your kid in the trenches, especially if you’ve got a lot of playing experience yourself.  However, criticism – expressions of anger – negativity – including unsolicited coaching tips are likely to be counterproductive – and can undermine your athletes’ coach.  Yelling, taunting, and intimidation of any kind is expressly discouraged.  Parents who do so are being abusive and engaging in behavior likely to be harmful to their child athlete.

2.)    DISCHARGE YOUR EMOTIONS IN A POSITIVE WAY.  No one expects you to observe without being fully engaged…but what you do with those emotions is important and requires care.  Just as your child athlete has assignments and a defined role on the field they are expected to practice – you have an assignment and defined role as a spectator, and as supportive parent.  PRACTICE BEING A SUPPORTIVE SPECTATOR. I’m a proponent of engaged parents getting in involved productively – keep notes of key events in the game, find an official way to help…keep stats for the team, etc. If you’ve got something productive to do during a contest – your thinking will be channeled in a positive direction.

3.)    WRITE A GAME SUMMARY after the contest.  Keep it positive.  Remember, these athletes are developing skills at EVERY level.  Key events, clock usage, reviews of stats, productive assessment of the competition, productive assessment of your team’s strengths and weaknesses can help. These are to be provided to the COACH.  Remember to make them as objective as possible.  These are observations of what happened. (If you make an interpretation – put the notes in parentheses and label them as your personal point of view.)  You can show this to the coach and ask them if this type of summary is helpful.  If it is, you now have a job supportive to the coach AND the team.  If your son or daughter wants to see the summary – it should be neutral enough for every player on the team to benefit from.  If your child WANTS you to write a summary of THEIR play – ASK them what they would want you to include in it.  Then it will truly be a resource FOR them.

4.)    IN PARENTING an athlete CONSIDER THEIR ABILITY LEVEL & WILLINGNESS TO LEARN.  If your athlete is not sure how to do something – ask the coach if they have a drill, video, or recommended mentor your athlete can work with on developing the skills in question.  If your athlete has ability but isn’t willing to put in the training time to master a skill – you can not do it for them.  You can support them by playing with them…offering practice opportunities…look for position coaches who specialize in those skills…show highlights of pros YOUR athlete admires who put in the time and got the results.

Rule of thumb:  If your athlete wants to learn but doesn’t know how – they need direction. If your athlete is able but not willing (lazy, poor practice habits, inattentive) – they need support.  Think FUNdamentals: If they aren’t having FUN they won’t want to learn.  If you are on their case about it, they may become even LESS motivated (remember the rebellious child and adolescence.)  Others are likely to be able to encourage and restore the FUN in mastering those skills – AND – Once that momentum is established in your athlete’s training regimen – you can rest a bit because your child’s motivation has been tapped.  Intrinsic motivation is huge – and – it is the birthplace of our love of sport.

5.)    BE POSITIVE FOLLOWING COMPETITIONS.  Emphasize the effort. Emphasize the fun.  If your athlete is upset, it is likely best to WAIT awhile before talking about at contest.  When the timing is right you can empathize and compassionately acknowledge how it’s sometimes hard to put in a great effort and not get the desired outcome…but always positively recognize the EFFORT and any other positives you can offer up.  A great game is a great game even if your team comes up short.  We tend to learn more when challenged to the max.

6.)    LONG AFTER a contest (hours) you can ASK YOUR ATHLETE if they would like some FEEDBACK.  IF they DO – ASK THEM WHEN. Make an appointment.  They will have had time to process it some, and, so will you.  This will take much of the emotion out of the exchange….so the focus can remain on lessons learned, skills applied, and highlights to feel good about. BE POSITIVE – Very important.

7.)    PICK NO MORE THAN 1-2 POINTS TO REVIEW.  ALWAYS START WITH POSITIVE OBSERVATIONS (both general and specific.)  Ask your athlete how they experienced the contest in the trenches.  What did they notice?  What were they focused on doing?  Did they have a specific emphasis or skill they were working on?  What was the game plan?  These kinds of questions allow you to collaborate with your athlete and understand THEIR EXPERIENCE of the contest.  If they get defensive at all – drop it immediately – because you will lose and your child will lose the gains you’ve made in establishing a collaborative exchange.  If they are confused about something, make a note to tell the coach…or better yet…if your athlete is developing the kind of confidence and personal motivation to be successful – let them experiment with you on HOW to ask the coach for extrahelp.

8.)    LOOK AROUND FOR WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR ATHLETE.  If you are reading this you have already done so.  If they need help with conditioning – strength training – or speed and agility – give them the opportunity to train with an expert.  If they are unfocused or experience anxiety and you can see that it interferes with play offer them a consultation with a sport psychologist. Consider a nutritionist, take them to a clinic or talk, let them see what adult athletes do to better prepare themselves for competition. Look for readings that will help your athlete learn and grow.  These things will help you both – and – reinforce the collaboration you are developing.

9.)    TREAT INJURIES WITH COMPASSION AND TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY. When dealing with an injury of any kind – be earnest about it.  Examine the part of the body your athlete is complaining about. Look for swelling, make sure the joint is articulating properly, clean cuts and abrasions, and, do first aid if there is no trainer available.  Find a trainer if you need one.  No matter how old the athlete this piece is important. Even if you think your child is exaggerating – this might be an important learning opportunity for them – or – they may be expressing a symptom of over training and under recovery.  Be thoughtful.  Ask questions.  Yes, we all want to learn mental toughness, but NOT when an injury needs to be checked out.  The important part is focusing on the recovery, being positive and encouraging proper self-care.  Balance is key and remembering the functional side of the nurturing parent can help.  The goal is to properly evaluate the problem, provide the best practices in recovery, and get back to the fun part – playing.

10.) PLAY WITH THEM WHENEVER YOU CAN.  Remember to play – not necessarily to compete – but because it is FUN for them and you.  FUNdamentals are mastered through this kind of practice.  Not only will it help your family bond, but your athlete will appreciate your attitude – learn to love fitness – and enjoy the fact that you are proud and interested in helping them develop their skills and talents as far as they can go.

I hope that this article has been helpful and provided some good insights into athlete parenting.  Look to Advance My Athlete  for further applications of the best principles of applied sport psychology for you and your child.

Focus Attention – A Podium Performance

Focusing Your Attention Effectively to Achieve a Podium Performance

by Stephen Walker, PhD, NCC, CMPC, USOC Registry of Sport Psychology

Balancing our focus of attention is a key to performing well, especially when facing competing demands. This is even more important during competition.  Weather conditions, crowd noise, coach’s expectations, parent’s observations and the pressure to perform well can add up to a significant challenge.  Focusing on the right things and sustaining that focus is the key to mental toughness.

Any time there is a lot of distracting activity around us we may be susceptible to losing focus.  As our stress load increases, the jitters and other stimuli start banging on the door of our concentration certain challenges must be met if we are to do our best.  We must control our state of awareness, manage our arousal level and keep the focus on those things that factor into the “task-at-hand.”  This includes internal as well as external distractions.

Robert Niedeffer, in his book An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Training, used a schematic that purposely drew one’s attentional focus to two primary dimensions – Broad to Narrow and External to Internal.

This tool is valuable when one systematically studies the broad stimuli of the competitive environment.  When one routinely examines the weather conditions, wind, temperature, humidity, crowd noise, structure and condition of the field or court, and more, they are using a ‘broad-external’ focus in their preparations. The goal is to understand and control for those external conditions that have the potential to distract us in competition.

A ‘broad-internal’ focus systematically requires a body scan for tension, a proper warm up, use of techniques to lower our arousal level, take stock in our motivation and internal drive to succeed, and more.  Doing so can enable us to channel our attention to the optimal physical state associated with our best performance (not too tight/not too loose).  Broadly scanning our internal focus must include a review of our Self-talk, our tools in our gear bag, the facilities we must be familiar with… all of these things address the broad external or broad internal conditions Nideffer felt were key.

A narrow focus externally or internally requires greater detail in the examination of certain specifics essential to a strong performance.  This routine has helped a huge number of athletes to prepare for competition effectively.

Additional Tools in Focusing

There are other considerations we would do well to incorporate when analyzing “how” we focus.  For example, if we can learn to alternate our focus between a stressor, and the tools we use to manage that stress, we are better able to address that concern.  Our goal is to keep ourselves on task.  In training, we effectively study our keys, review the plays we’re likely to run, and selectively focus on the performance cues that work for us.

Stress is insidious because many times we don’t understand all the sources contributing to it.  For example, our tension can be focused in our minds as we’re thinking about something. Our attention can be focused with a fixed point concentration on a stressor that involves a particular challenge our opponent presents us with.  Another focus might involve an awareness of how tense we are, or our physical state experiencing the stress.

All of these challenge us.  Sometimes the experience of all these occurs simultaneously.  We get overwhelmed when this happens.

The fundamental truth on game day is that we are either distracted by the vast number of stressors or challenges facing us – or – we are completely dialed in on the tasks required for a quality performance.  I call this a Podium Performance.  At Podium, we will soon be offering an opportunity to learn focusing skills in a live format.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks.

Our ability to bypass this stress and distractions is dependent on one thing – our focusing skills.

The focus of our attention can be on the breathing techniques we use to reduce our stress load and lower our pre-competition tension levels. Our focus during our pre-competition preparation may be on stretching properly so tension in our body does not take away from our performance.  Study and focused attention on the details of our performance skills reminds us of “how” we’ll execute the task-at-hand.  Routines for getting in a proper focus are key to serving in tennis, driving in golf and other fine coordination tasks.  But what about responding to situations in play?

Consider batting in a baseball game.  While taking batting practice before the game, a selective focus on the laces of the ball as it comes hard to the plate…enables us to “see the ball – hit the ball.”  Focusing on the detail of our swing, what sort of stroke we’re making and the proper alignment to our swing, angle of the swing, level of tension in our hands which impacts bat speed,  breathing to get centered prior each pitch… all of these things prepare us to be ready with our focus, trust our preparation, and exclusively channel our attention on those things that enable us to perform our best.

When it counts the most.

The focus our attention on the task-at-hand – and – “how” we’re actually executing these skills during competition becomes our primary objective.

By consistently training ourselves to account for those distractions (always present at every competition), and, training ourselves to be ready when the gun goes off, we will create in our training the highest probability our focus of attention during competition will be riveted on properly executing those things that matter most.

Coach John Wooden said, “First we form habits, then they form us.”

Training these skills, routinely sequencing your focus of attention in a proper manner during practice, and, daily execution of the skills that lower our arousal and stress levels will enable peak performance on game day.

Focusing effectively on game day is dependent on routinely practicing these skills and methods “every” training day.  Podium performances depend on it.  Here’s to you achieving a Podium Performance today!

Dr. Stephen Walker is the Editor of Podium Sports Journal, and the Director of the Podium Performance Academy. 

He has consulted with 8 Olympians and several NCAA Champions.  Three of his athletes have stood on the Podium in either World Championships or the Olympic games, each, in a different sport. 

His charges are diverse as well, some playing cello in world class orchestras while other’s dance ballet.  Performances come in many forms, but the performance skills for success are indeed the same.  Dr. Walker will soon be launching Podium’s first online program called the “Podium Mental Conditioning Program”.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for your opportunity to join. 

Athlete Productivity – The Happiness Advantage

Positive Psychology Enhances Coaching & Athlete Productivity

Shawn Achor has been an innovator and key promoter of the principles in Positive Psychology.  As a researcher in this arena for the past 10 years, the results are gaining traction in numerous fields – but none need it more than in the field of coaching education.  Old school methodology, and hard-nosed tough guy approaches in coaching are not only antiquated….but they are ineffective, inefficient, and miss huge opportunities to allow the athlete to train themselves mentally.  Achor’s background includes his graduation Magna Cum Laud from Harvard and a graduate degree in Christian and Buddhist ethics.  In 2006 he became a Head Teaching Fellow for “positive psychology” which soon became the most popular course at university. Consider this TED TV Talk by Achor and the implications for your team or organization.

Achor is the author of The Happiness Advantage and recently was featured in the cover story of the Harvard Business Review and later paraphrased in the HBR blog article “The Value of Happiness.”  This approach and key methods for turning our focus into a productively happy one does require discipline and attention which Achor believes can be done in as few as 2 minutes per day for one full month.  His research suggests that each individual, coach or athlete can practice the same method and receive huge benefits merely by shifting our attention to these exercises:

  • Write down three new things you are grateful for each day;
  • Write for 2 minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours;
  • Exercise for 10 minutes a day;
  • Meditate for 2 minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out;
  • Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a member on your team.

As simple as these suggestions are (and for athletes the exercise piece is already taken into account – but not all coaches do this) the active engagement of these activities everyday for a full month the transition will be significant.  Want to give it a try?

Justin Rose – An example of Mindset and Attitude that Always Wins

by Dr. Stephen Walker

Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup in grand fashion yesterday – besting the world’s best, including a resurgence by Tiger Woods that had the golfing world cheering louder than ever before.  Everyone was totally blessed by both the Player’s Championship Win by Tiger Woods, and, Justin Rose’ fabulous season ending FedEx Cup win.

Before Sunday’s final round at the Tour Championship, Justin Rose already had won two PGA Tour events this season, earned 10 top-10 finishes and collected more than $7.7 million in prize money. His Sunday 73 at East Lake Golf club did not earn him a third win for the year, but it was good enough to give the Englishman his first FedEx Cup title and the $10 million prize that comes with it.

“Sometimes the FedEx Cup rewards guys who win at the very end, but for me, I was trying to do my best to win this golf tournament and scoop the double jackpot. But far and away, being next to this trophy is something I’m very, very proud of.”

Tiger Woods seized the headlines and ended five years of frustration Sunday by winning the Tour Championship by two strokes over Billy Horschel.  Yesterday was a great day for Golf, and a fabulous day for Tiger Woods.  Rose capped what is arguably the best year ever for a PGA Tour player.  Watch out for next week’s Ryder Cup – it will be awesome!!!!

Dr. Scott Martin’s Research on Effective Coaching Behaviors


By Scott Martin, Ph.D.

“The secret to winning is constant, consistent management.”
– Tom Landry

Winning is the ultimate goal for coaches and athletes. To be an effective leader on the field or court, coaches need to take a look at their coaching behaviors and identify areas in which they can improve. The twelve statements listed below give you the opportunity to start this evaluation process. As you read the twelve items think about how you respond to your athletes……and take this inventory to see how you rate.

To be an effective leader on the field or court, coaches need to take a look at their coaching behaviors and identify areas in which they can improve. The twelve statements listed below give you the opportunity to start this evaluation process. As you read the twelve items think about how you respond to your athletes. Once you have considered each statement, indicate whether you never (1), rarely (2), sometimes (3), often (4), or always (5) respond in that way by circling the appropriate number.

As a coach, I…

1. make statements such as “way to go” when athletes perform well.
1 2 3 4 5

2. do not yell statements of encouragement during practice or competitions.
1 2 3 4 5

3. make comments such as “shake it off” or “that’s all right” after a mistake is made.
1 2 3 4 5

4. instruct athletes on how to correct mistakes or flaws in their technique or performance.
1 2 3 4 5

5. voice disappointment regarding athletes’ performance following mistakes.
1 2 3 4 5

6. yell instructions to athletes following mistakes to motivate them to perform up to their potential.
1 2 3 4 5

7. ignore technical errors that athletes make during a competition.
1 2 3 4 5

8. have practices organized and running smoothly.
1 2 3 4 5

9. instruct athletes on needed strategies for an upcoming competition.
1 2 3 4 5

10. yell things such as “keep hustling” when the team is doing well.
1 2 3 4 5

11. assign athletes individual responsibilities during practices and competitions.
1 2 3 4 5

12. talk with athletes about academic problems.
1 2 3 4 5

The items correspond to twelve categories of coaching behavior from the Coaching Behavior Assessment System (CBAS; Smith, Smoll, & Hunt, 1977). The twelve categories are broken up into two classes: (a) reactive behaviors (items 1. to 8.) and (b) spontaneous behaviors (items 9. to 12.). A reactive behavior is a response to a specific behavior. There are eight reactive behaviors:

1. Reinforcement – A positive, rewarding reaction (verbal or nonverbal) to a good play or high-quality effort such as saying “good job” or “way to go”. Athletes respond to their coaches when they focus on the positive and give clear feedback.

2. Non-reinforcement – Failure to respond to a good performance. Failure to give feedback to an athlete can hinder the athlete’s future performance.

3. Mistake-contingent encouragement – Encouragement given to an athlete following a mistake. When an athlete makes a mistake during a game/match the coach should give some encouragement like “it’s ok, keep up the good work” or “shake it off”.

4. Mistake-contingent technical instruction – Instruction or demonstration to an athlete on how to correct a mistake he/she has made. A coach should show an athlete what they performed wrong in an instructional manner. The coach should show the athlete the correct way by performing the maneuver correctly.

5. Punishment – A negative reaction (verbal or nonverbal) following a mistake such as saying “what the … was that?” Punishment should be keep to a minimum because it can cause problems. First, punishment arouses fear of failure and will usually decrease athletes’ performance. Second, punishment may be the only attention the person is receiving and could reinforce the undesirable behavior by drawing attention to it. Third, punishment can establish a hostile and offensive learning environment.

6. Punitive technical instruction – Technical instruction following a mistake given in a punitive or hostile manner. Yelling at an athlete after they make a mistake and showing them how the maneuver should not be done in a hostile way. A coach should avoid this type of behavior.

7. Ignoring mistakes – Failure to respond to an athlete’s mistake. Not responding to an athlete’s mistake can be just a harmful as punishment. A coach should be consistent with their feedback. Ignoring mistakes by an athlete or the team will only increase unhappiness and failure.

8. Keeping control – Reactions intended to restore or maintain order among team members. Coaches should be able to keep control in a positive manner.

The last four categories are spontaneous behaviors. A spontaneous behavior is initiated by the coach and is not a response to a discernible preceding event.

9. General technical instruction – Spontaneous instruction in the techniques and strategies of the sport (not following a mistake). A coach should show different techniques to their athletes before mistakes could occur. Showing a specific maneuvers and have the team or the individual practice it.

10. General encouragement – Spontaneous encouragement that does not follow a mistake. A coach could say something like “keep up the good work” or “go out there and do your best”.

11. Organization – Administrative behavior that sets the stage for play by assigning duties or responsibilities. A coach can assign certain responsibilities to individuals during practices and game/competitions.

12. General communication – Interactions with athletes unrelated to the game. A coach can talk with their athletes about school, athletic and personal goals, and different aspects of life. One important aspect is that a coach be there “emotionally” for their players.

Now that you have completed the brief questionnaire and learned what the items and behavioral categories represent, you can evaluate your coaching behavior more thoroughly by completing the profile and reading the following pages. Complete your profile by referring back to the response or number you selected for each item. For example, if you circled 3 or sometimes for item 1above (Reinforcement), you would dark the section on Reinforcement in the profile below up to and including 3. Once finished filling in the profile below (based on your response selections above), you can evaluate your overall coaching behaviors. Coaching behavior should be evaluated regularly to make sure that the coach is giving the players the best quality of coaching. Which behaviors stand out when you coach?


Research on effective coaching indicates that coaches should primarily use a positive approach that incorporates: (1) positive reinforcement such as “nice explosive start off the blocks”; (2) general technical instruction such as “to be successful against a half court defense we need to step between the defenders and pass to the player cutting to the top of the key”; and (3) general encouragement such as “keep focused on the task and success will come”. Athletes have shown increased self-esteem, increased positive attitudes, and they rate their team and sport positively when coaches use positive reinforcement, general technical instruction, and mistake contingent encouragement behaviors. Coaches who use positive behaviors will have lower dropout rates or dissatisfied athletes than coaches who do not use these behaviors.

“You can motivate players better with kind words than you can with a whip.”
– Bud Wilkinson

In addition, coaches should not pick one behavior and run with it. A coach needs to provide a combination of several behaviors during a practice or competition. Athletes are different and may respond differently to the same coaching feedback. Knowing your athletes and individualizing your coaching behavior to meet the needs of each athlete should be the number one goal of every coach. Individualizing is not easy, but by determining the appropriate coaching behaviors for each athlete, you will have the greatest impact on the athlete’s performance.

“You must learn how to hold a team together. You must lift some men (women) up, calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat. Then you’ve got yourself a team.”
– Bear Bryant

Coaches have considerable influence on their athletes. Using the right behaviors and individualizing their coaching will help athletes develop the necessary skills physically as well as psychologically. If after reading this you have identified behaviors you want to incorporate and behaviors you want to eliminate, now is the time. Don’t wait! By starting the new behaviors and eliminating the bad your coaching performance will increase as will the performance of your athletes.

“A team in an ordinary frame of mind will do ordinary things. A properly motivated team will do extraordinary things.”
– Knute Rockne

Additional Information on Evaluating Effective Coaching from Different Perspectives

There are eight versions of Coaching Behavior Assessment Questionnaire (CBAQ; Martin et al., 2005). The items come from the Coaching Behavior Assessment System (CBAS; Smith, Smoll, & Hunt, 1977) and the approach to examining coaching effectiveness comes from the Leadership Scale for Sport (LSS; Chelladurai & Saleh, 1978). The eight versions focus on:
• Required Coaching Behavior (athlete, coach, and parent versions)
• Actual Coaching Behavior (athlete, coach, and parent versions)
• Preferred Coaching Behavior (athlete and parent versions).

The stem (e.g., “As a coach, I”) is changed for the appropriate version. For example, the stem for the parent version for preferred behavior of a coach is “I prefer my child’s coach to”. The reason for the various versions is to determine the perceptions of what a coach should be doing at this particular level and what a coach is actually doing, in addition to what is preferred. This information can provide coaches, athletes and parents with valuable information and an opportunity to discuss the roles and needs of each.


Chelladurai, P., & Saleh, S. D. (1978). Preferred leadership in sports. Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Sciences, 3, 85-92.

Martin, S. B., Barnes, K., Kravig, S. D., & Johnson, M. S. (2005). Manual on effective coaching behaviors. University of North Texas, Denton.

Smith R. E., Smoll, F. L. & Hunt, E. B. (1977). A system for the behavioral assessment of athletic coaches. Research Quarterly, 48, 401-407.