The Importance of Positive Coaching

July 18, 2017 09:48 AM


It's all about Positive Coaching

By Johnny Parkes, Manager of Player ID and Development

The chances of a young adolescents taking negative feedback and construing it as positive feedback is an extremely tough skill that most adults struggle to master.

In the performance coaching world, when working with young adolescent players, there is no doubt we, as coaches, need to be tough on our players to foster certain character qualities to help them prepare for the tough situations they will face come match time. However, the way we provide feedback, both verbally and non-verbally, needs to be on the spectrum of POSITIVE COACHING.

A book called, “How Children Succeed,” discusses the positive correlations between sensitivity to emotions and showing love and affection to children’s self confidence, curiosity, dealing with setbacks, calmness and fostering resilience.

Building a “safe space” to train develops the ability to feel comfortable failing. At a recent conference, William Mival, a director at the Royal Academy of Music where world-class musicians attend, talked about creating this “safe space.” He explained their goal was to create an environment where trust and talent can grow and be nurtured through support. He urges his students to “fail and fail better again,” as they wade through the complexities of their musical skill set. “Failure is the key to eventual success.”  

In an individual sport like ours, we have to be aware of the fragility of the players as they go through key physical and emotional growth stages. We have to understand the particular complexities of our sport, aligned with growth and development, and still have the skills to create this environment for the emotional well-being of the child. A fear of failure is often displayed in young tennis athletes. The research shows that this mindset is often developed by strict or overly demanding parents, demeaning siblings or friends and failures that can cause embarrassment or ridicule. All these lead to negative thoughts when attempting new challenges. This fear of failure only continues to grow and keeps adding up as a child matures.

Once a reasonable level of trust has been developed in a safe space, we can challenge our players and tune in on their areas of focus in the training environment. If we cannot make our players uncomfortable and get them to question themselves, then that talent level can become stagnant. During this phase of training, players will likely struggle with the execution. However, with a foundational level of support, trust and safety, the player can keep trying without the fear of failure.

We can apply the same theory in the parenting world. Parenting is tough business. As you delve into the many different books that tell you about parenting strategies, it is absolutely evident that there are many contrasting styles of parenting. There is no manual that tells you how to parent, and there certainly is no manual on how to navigate a child who is demonstrating a level that may be considered high-performing.

Helping the parents of high-performing juniors understand some of the intricacies of character development within the sport is important for the mental and emotional growth of the child. It can lead to happier lives and more enjoyment of the sport, which only continues to produce a growth mindset.

In Sweden, three professional football (soccer) teams went about tackling “misbehaving” parents. Here are the findings:

“One in three children had considered quitting the game because of what the survey called “over-engaged” parents. Of the 1,016 adults who answered the survey, 83 percent said they had seen parents who were pushing their children too much or criticized referees and officials loudly.”

They developed a “Football Code” for all parents to read, sign and abide by in spreading the message.

The code reads as follows: “I, as a parent, will do everything I can to support my child, other children, club staff, referees and parents in training and at games – through positive involvement.”

“The response has been incredible. More than 1,600 parents have signed up to the code, and more are doing so by the day”.

If we refer back to the “How Children Succeed” book referenced earlier, it talks about the ability to affect change in a child’s behavior. By behavior, this can refer to physical, mental and/or emotional behaviors.

The observations were based on working with the parent or parent figure in an after-school program and not always directly with the child. The program worked with parents in implementing strategies to encourage positive behaviors in their child. The social worker applauded the parents when they made encouraging comments to the child, and warm, nurturing support was proved to be extremely positive in impacting the child. The Swedish study combated this issue by going to the potential source, and that is learned behaviors from the parents. If you can impact the parent, it will impact the child.

I’m sure many of you have seen the following banner that went viral a few years ago.


The banner was placed around sport facilities across the world, and as seen here, the USTA Southwest Section created a banner and sent it to facilities around their section to promote positive parenting behaviors.

The point of this is not to tell parents how to parent their child; the point is to create programs to support parents through the process of nurturing a high-performing athlete. We must work together to enhance the character qualities we, as coaches, know help give an athlete the best chance to compete. Learning independence falls under this category, as well.

Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children/players as they go through adolescence are the ability to make decisions and to make choices. Making choices enables the young adult to problem solve and to work on solutions that we know are critical to the long-term development and success of the player.

To conclude, promote a process-focused training environment built around trust, where it's safe for the player to fail when working towards their objectives. Implement programs to work with parents on encouraging behaviors in the “safe space” at home that develop a growth mindset and express consistent messages from the court to home. The potential for growth and improvement is much greater when it comes with secure attachment from the parents and coaches.