Positively charged.

06.02.18
Dave Mason

When my son was about eight years old, he asked me “Why is Coach _____ always mad? It’s like we never do anything right.” He was really wondering why his hockey coach was always criticizing him and his teammates. I tried to explain that his coach wasn’t really ‘mad’, but was (somewhat loudly and a little grumpily) trying to correct things he saw on the ice during practice or games. I’m pretty sure my little guy gave me that ‘sounds like adult BS’ look at that point.

Although he’s coaching highly paid professional adults, not eight year olds, it seems Gerard Gallant has a different approach. After his expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights had battled in one game of their amazing Stanley Cup playoff run, he made this pretty remarkable statement in a post-game interview.  

“It’s a game of mistakes. You’re not going to be perfect every time you’re on the ice, and then when mistakes happen, you forget about them and you move on. There’s not one player on the ice who didn’t make mistakes last night. That’s part of our game. You make mistakes, you move on, you play the next shift and you hope you make some good plays. …If you worry about making mistakes, you’re not going to play a good game. I want you going out there and thinking you’re gonna make the good plays and do the right things on the ice. So don’t worry about your mistakes.”

Uh, what?

Getting the balance right.

All coaches — but especially youth coaches — walk a fine line.

On the one hand, the job of a youth coach is to provide knowledge and guidance to help young players develop the technical capabilities they’ll need to be successful. That means teaching, demonstrating, observing, and correcting a progression of sport-specific skills, strategies, systems, and tactics. On the other hand, their job is to help kids develop lifelong can-do attitudes, growth mindsets, strong interpersonal skills, resiliency, and intrinsically-motivated work ethics. Getting the balance right is not easy.

Helping players correct mistakes? That’s what coaches do, right? But having his mistakes (and those of his teammates) constantly pointed out was what my son’s eight year old psyche rightly interpreted as criticism. And criticism is 100% rooted in the negative. What Gerard Gallant communicated in his post-game interview is 100% rooted in the positive. And my guess is he’s fully cognizant of the power of positivity to impact his players and their 26 or 30 year old psyches.

I’m sure Coach Gallant can be demanding. I’m sure he and his staff work with players individually and as a group to address areas for potential improvement. And I’m sure they’re constantly looking for ways to win more games, because after all, they’re all professionals and that’s their number one job. But what impresses me about his ‘mistakes’ statement is that he clearly understands how collectively powerful positivity can be, even among athletes who are paid millions to do what they do. Because positivity is contagious, it generates a galvanizing force that supercharges skill sets and work ethics, and that can be pretty difficult to battle against if you lack that force and only possess similar skill sets and work ethics.

That force is called confidence.

I’m guessing Coach Gallant (who’s not surprisingly referred to as ‘a player’s coach’ and is currently a nominee for the NHL’s Jack Adams trophy) knows that if he forces his players to focus on their mistakes — or rather to focus on trying not to make them — their performance might suffer. Instead he’s letting them know that he knows what they’re experiencing, and that he trusts them to work through it. I’m guessing that goes a long way with his players individually and as a group. In fact, I’m guessing they love it. 

Positive feedback.

When we created PowerPlayer we envisioned a way for coaches to communicate more efficiently and effectively with young players and their parents. Yes, PowerPlayer is a tool that coaches can use to provide private, evidence-based prescriptive feedback in a way that players and parents can make sense of. But it’s also a way to deliver the kind of personal positivity and attention that kids (and apparently professional adults) so badly need in order to build and maintain confidence and self assurance.

It might be a little chicken and egg, but could it be that people have confidence in themselves because others have confidence in them? Or are they confident in themselves because others have confidence in them? Or both?

As we gain more and more users, we’re hearing first hand the positive impact that private, personalized prescriptive feedback has on kids and parents. And coaches from Alaska to Newfoundland to New York have shared some of the incredibly constructive comments they’ve delivered. From detailed instruction about zone entry with the man advantage to ‘love that sweaty head after practice,’ those comments make it clear to us that the coaches who are excited about PowerPlayer love coaching the game, and that they want the kids they’re working with to love playing it. That’s 100% positive.

And we love that.

 

Image:  Michael Miller / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 4.0 International