At this time of year, the coach education courses are coming thick and fast. Nearly every weekend from January to May I will be delivering to coaches either of the first two stages of a fantastic curriculum developed by the Swedish FA. Each group I work with is unique. Coaches between the ages of 16 and 55 sit in the same room discussing personal experiences, training design, how we meet the child’s physical and emotional needs and the many issues that are presently polarising the debate around child and youth sport in Sweden. Opinions come in many shades as experiential knowledge and socio-cultural factors are so varied. This leads to many rich and rewarding discussions and hopefully with the material provided during the course helps guide the coaches (and me) towards developing a more informed opinion.
One thing that I have been reflecting on after leading these courses (with the aim of deepening my understanding of how the learner learns and how learning occurs) is the praising of effort by coaches. Richard Bailey in his Psychology Today article “The Problem with Praise” refers to a rationale that is commonly expressed by coaches during these courses. One of praise bolstering self-esteem and criticism harming it. “In effect this is the “gas gauge” theory of self- esteem, in which praise fills up the tank with good feelings and social approval and criticism drains it”. Later in the piece Bailey delivers a crucial line that us coach educators need to take with us in to the classroom saying, “poorly judged praise can do more harm than good”.
We need to discuss the how, why and what of coaches praising effort. What do they say and how is this interpreted by the learner? Why do they say it? What is that effort, does it lead to learning and if not how can we ‘nudge’ or guide the leaner to find a way?
“Always try to praise the effort, not the outcome. That’s the lesson that parents and teachers often take from my work. But it’s the wrong lesson, or it can easily become so.” – Carol Dweck
Praising effort has for many been interpreted as central to the work of Carol Dweck. This interpretation has created many misunderstandings. Recently Dweck has spoken out about the common misconception in equating growth mind-set with effort. She explains, “It really is about learning.”
When we are stuck between a rock and a hard place “we need a learning reaction”. We need to vary our approach to learn and improve. We can reflect on what we have done, the effort that got us here but we must be willing to investigate and develop new strategies. We need to seek out help from others. We need to learn to thrive in the storm of the challenge embracing setbacks on our way to learning. Navigating this storm is complex. A young player may display a growth mindset but suddenly a “trigger” can propel him/her back to a fixed mindset. This also applies to the coach.
I must ask myself how good am I at understanding these triggers and recognising a fixed mind-set reaction?
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