Tight Mind Monday: Coaching to Build Character


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Doc Ali’s Tight Mind Monday 3-27-17: Coaching to Build Character

Think of yourself like a self-esteem “imprinter”. With every word you say and action you take, you mold the character and self-confidence of your athletes. With this in mind, how can we create a gymnastics culture of excellence that is building not breaking character and confidence?

Here are some Tight Mind Tools to help you create character and a positive culture in your gym:

Solution-Focused vs. Problem-Focused coaching

When you coach the problem you often find yourself saying negative statements over and over again. Negative corrections like, “Your legs are bent,” “that’s the wrong shape”, and “You’re not giving enough effort” can tend to make your athletes feel down and powerless. This week, see if every correction you give can be solution-focused. That means, focusing on what you WANT to see instead of what you don’t want to see. “Next turn, tighter legs”, “see if you can give me more hollow” or “next turn, lean further over the bar,” empowers your athletes to take action and make the correction. Plus, it creates a much brighter environment in the gym!

Why vs. What

Avoid “why” questions that have no possible right answer. When you ask your clients “why” questions such as “why are you still bending your legs?” or “why haven’t you made that correction?” it sets them up in a no win situation. There is nothing they can say that will satisfy their coaches in that scenario! Rhetorical “why” questions just shut down an athlete from communicating with you in the future. “What” questions, like “what did you feel during that vault?”, helps your athletes learn about proper technique and increases body awareness.

Inspiration vs. Confrontation

If you feel like your athlete’s aren’t training up to their abilities, the tendency is to confront the issue by yelling or telling them how awful the workout is. Instead, try inspiring them to excellence. Remind them of how good they are instead of how bad their gymnastics is on this particular day. Be passionate about how amazing they have been in the past and express doubtlessness that they can do that again today. “I know you can be better”, helps them see you believe in them and inspires your athletes to push even harder.

Loving the person vs. loving the performance

Be sure to praise your athletes for the person they are and not just the performances they do. Find the “hidden wins” that are more based on character and not solely achievement outcomes. Hidden wins include: perseverance, overcoming obstacles, being aggressive, and leadership in the gym. Never let your love be contingent upon performance. If they have a bad meet or workout, help them see all obstacles as opportunities for growth, both for you and them!

We all love our sport and the opportunities it provides. Let’s create a healthy gym atmosphere that not only creates great athletes but serves as a vehicle for building great people.  

Alison Arnold Ph.D. has been a mental toughness consultant to USA Gymnastics since 1997. If you have questions or want more information about her work go to www.headgamesworld.com