Youth lacrosse in Shelburne, VT

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            The Emotional Tank is a psychological construct for thinking about things that help people do their best with whatever challenge they are facing.  The following are affected by the level in a person’s Emotional Tank:
-energy level
-how you are feeling about yourself
-a willingness to try something new
-about whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about being successful at a task
            Perhaps the most important benefit for a coach of understanding how Emotional Tanks work is that you end up with more coachable kids. When kids have low E-Tanks , they often are not very coachable.  They may get discouraged easily.  They may not pay attention when you try to help them to improve.  They may goof off in practice.
            When coaches understand the concept of the Emotional Tank, they can see that the behavior problem is not coming from a desire to frustrate you (which may sometimes seem the case) but rather from a low E-Tank.  But how do we tend to respond to misbehavior.  We often do things to further lower the level of the player’s E-Tank!
            Players with full Emotional Tanks tend to try to do what you ask them to do.  They are better able to rebound from adversity.  They enjoy the game more.  They are more coachable.
            As coaches we tend to think that out job is to improve players and the way to do that is pointing out what they are doing wrong.  We do need to correct mistakes, but when a person is constantly being criticized, he or she tends to hunker down and become less coachable.
            Emotional Tanks fill when people receive messages—verbal or nonverbal—that they matter.  When people are praised  for doing something right or helpful, their E-tanks tend to fill up (and they are more likely to continue doing it!)
            I want to emphasize the importance of making sure that we are both specific and truthful with our praise.  General statements like “You’re doing a great job” are much less effective than a specific statement like “I like the way you are hustling up and down the field even though you are tired.”  Being specific gives important information to players about what they should continue doing.
            We should never resort to telling something untruthful just because we want to fill a player’s Emotional Tank.  We don’t do any good if we tell a player who is screwing around, good job!”  We lose our credibility, and may even confuse kids into thinking their inappropriate behavior is acceptable.  Kids can even see through false praise in a second.
            Expressing appreciation is almost always a sure-fired tank filler.  It can be as simple as thanking players for helping to set up the field or cleaning up a mess at the end of the game.  It’s impossible for me to imagine a situation in which a team, or any organization, suffers from too much appreciation being expressed.
            Nothing fills an Emotional Tank like being notices.  Players respond to coaches who notice the goods things they do.  It shows that you are paying attention to them.  Giving recognition for positive contributions is even more powerful for unsung activities.
            Attention is almost always given to the player who scores points.  When a coach takes time to notice the more subtle contributions (maintaining good spacing, hustling back on defense, good footwork, etc), the impact of the recognition is even greater for being unexpected.
            Listening may seem like a passive, inconsequential activity, but it is one of the greatest gifts you can given another person.  I know a former college athlete from many years ago who is still frustrated by her coach’s refusal to give her a chance to express her own ideas about how the team should play.  This was a player who achieved at a very high level on a successful team, yet she felt unheard by her coach.
            Coaches who take the time to listen to their players fill their e-tanks, which is one reason we recommend having conversations with teams in team meetings rather than simply telling players what to do.
            Carving out time to listen can be a challenge for a coach.  Most of us have many players to deal with and a limited period of time.  One solution is to ask a couple of players to come to practice early to work on a skill.  Then you can focus on what the two of them have to talk about.  You can also ask a couple of kids to stay after for a few minutes and focus on listening to them.  This way, over the course of only a few practices, you can ensure that each player gets some quality time to be listened to.
            Warm-ups are a good time for checking in with players, and I try and make a point of asking players what is going on with them while they are stretching.  Then I concentrate on really focusing on what they have to say, which can be a challenge when a part of me wants to focus on what we’re going to do next in practice.
            Nonverbal tank fillers such as a smile, a nod,  a pat on the back, a high five, or a thumbs up are great e-tank fillers.  It lets a person know they are being recognized in a positive manner.
            This can work even when a situation is not going well. In one game the team was losing badly and the coach was all frowns. The players were also quite down.  The frowning was pointed out to the coach and the next time the team was in the same situation the coach made it a point to keep smiling.  The players picked up on this and the team quickly turned the situation around.
            We’ve said that praise and positive recognition tend to fill tanks, and criticism tends to drain them.  But we’ve also said that criticism is necessary for improvement.  How many positives to criticisms is about right?
            Research indicates 5:1 positives to criticisms  is right.  Many coaches think that 5:1 is overdoing the positives. However, one coach at a PCA workshop once said that he knew why 5:1 was necessary.  “When someone tells me something positive, I hear it but then it goes away.  When someone criticizes me , I replay it over and over in my head.  It takes at least five positives to outweigh that one resounding negative.”
            If the ratio is so good, why not 20:1 or 100:1?  If positive comments are good, why isn’t more better?
 There are a couple of reasons:
1)  One is that criticism is important.  We learn from being criticized.  Our players will not improve as much if they don’t get the criticism that can help them play better.  And it is simply unrealistic to think that our players know the game so well that they don’t need constructive criticism.
2) The other important factor is our credibility as coaches.  If we become known as “happy talkers” who always like everything, we lose our credibility.  Players essentially do want to improve and they value someone who can give them advice about how to improve.  For better or for worse, this advise often comes in the form of criticism.
3) Finally, we have an expectation to fulfill.  As coaches, we are supposed to know the game.  Telling kids how they can improve is part of our job, part of what kids expect us to do.  If our ratio gets so out of whack that we are almost never telling someone what they could do better, we are not doing our job as coaches.
            Some people wonder whether you have to give out 5 positives before you can give out a criticism and the answer to that is no.  The 5:1 rule is not for every specific situation.  It is an overall atmosphere that we are shooting for.  In any given moment I may be giving out a single criticism or two.  But overall, during an entire practice or an entire week of practices, I want my ratio to be 5:1.