Youth lacrosse in Shelburne, VT

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Build Player Confidence With Praise and Specific, Constructive Criticism 

By Rich Pruszynski (Positive Coaching Alliance trainer) 

            When the Positive Coaching Alliance presents its live group workshops for leaders, coaches, and parents all over the country, one Positive Coaching technique that always raises eyebrows ---and occasional voices—is the use of the “magic  ratio.” Rooted in sports and educational psychology research, the magic ratio states that coaches can get the most out of young athletes by providing five specific, truthful praises for every one, specific, constructive criticism.

  Maintaining the magic ratio is the key to filling players’ “emotional tanks.”  A player’s emotional tank is like a car’s gas tank.   When it’s empty, the player goes nowhere; when it’s full, the player can go most anywhere.

            But when we explain the magic ratio in our workshops, we often hear, “Five to one?!  When Tom drops five ground balls for every one that he scoops?  How am I supposed to get to this ratio?!”

            There are ways to achieve the magic ratio, legitimately, while helping your players to improve.  One way is to start during the routine and relatively easy drills you conduct near the beginning of practice.

            As players warm up and take reps in preparation for more  rigorous instruction and scrimmaging that will follow, take the opportunity to fill their emotional tanks.  Take a simple ground ball drill.  Lets say you roll out 10 ground balls to each of them in a five- minute drill.

            That’s 10 chances to find something positive to say to each player.  Start the drill slowly, rolling balls that are relatively easy to field.  That will gently warm up the players and build their confidence to field the ground balls cleanly.

            And since they are fielding cleanly, you have a chance to offer specific, truthful praise.

            “Great job attacking the ball, Tom.  I’m glad to see you’re not waiting for the ball to come to you.”

            “Marie, I like the way you keep your bottom hand low.  If you keep doing it that way, you’ll scoop through the ball instead of stabbing the ground.”

            “Perfect scooping motion, Ed, way to push through the ball and protect your stick by bringing it to your head.”

            Then you can advance to one-on-one ground balls.  Two lines of players face out toward the field, and a coach standing behind the players rolls out the ball, as one player from each line competes with the other to get possession of the ball in their stick.

            Some of the tank fillers may sound like:

            “Great job boxing out, Samantha.”

            “Ted, even though Frank got the ball, I like the way you poke checked his bottom hand and made it difficult for him.”

             “Maddie, perfect curl to your bottom hand after you scooped the ball.  That’s a great letter C you made.  Way to get your hands free…finish with a strong pass back to the head of the line!”

            As these drills progress, gradually increase intensity.  Warmed up and buoyed by confidence from their success and your praise, they will make tougher plays, giving you the chance to further fill their emotional tanks and build more confidence, which will lead to more success.

            On the tougher plays that they miss, provide specific constructive criticism, which they are more likely to accept since they are more confident from their earlier success, and because they have heard plenty of praise.