Twenty years ago when I did gymnastics, coaching was much different. There wasn’t as much known about sports psychology or child development as there is today. So when coaches used fear tactics, humiliation, overtraining, and the theory of breaking them down to build them up we can give them the benefit of the doubt and say that back then we didn’t know any better.
But today, we do know better. So today, it is unacceptable for coaches to use these types of approaches.
Coaches that still use old-school techniques need to understand there is a better way to get your athlete to perform.
1. When coaches use fear tactics, their intention is to scare the athlete into doing what is asked of them. And that may work immediately, but as soon as the coach or the source of fear is gone, so is the behavior. The athlete also does not learn how to reach deep inside themselves for the confidence they need to perform, they only learn to do what you ask so they are not yelled at or punished.
A better way to get athletes to perform is to encourage them. Tell the athlete the techniques they need to use and build their confidence so they believe that they can perform those techniques. The more confident the athlete is in their own ability, the more likely the athlete is to perform up to their ability.
2. Coaches that use humiliation think that the athlete will not want to get embarrassed so they will wake up and perform correctly. Although this idea seems like it may work, what really happens is the athlete becomes fearful of being humiliated again and so they may hold back during performances. When an athlete holds back during performances they are more likely to have mistakes. These mistakes lead to more humiliation. This humiliation leads to more mistakes.
A better way to get athletes to perform is to allow them to make and even encourage mistakes. Remember we learn from mistakes. When the athlete does make a mistake, ask them non judgmental questions and work with them to figure out what happened and how they can change it. When an athlete knows that there will be no punishment or embarrassment for making mistakes, they will be more apt to be aggressive. When the athlete performs aggressively they are more likely to perform up to their ability.
3. Coaches that overtrain their athletes think that the more physical work the athlete puts into their training the more likely they are to master their skills. Simply doing more skills does not automatically create mastery. In fact overtraining causes physical and mental fatigue. Physical and mental fatigue and can cause injury.
A better way to get athletes to perform is to train smart. If an athlete is not mastering a skill, then try to figure out what the athlete needs to work on. Is it physical conditioning? Is a flexibility? Is it mental training? When the athlete figures out how to master the skill then they will be more likely to perform up to their ability.
4. Coaches that believe you must tear an athlete down to build them up think that this technique works because when the coach tears and the athlete down, they are starting from a clean slate. This clean slate is then capable of being built in the way the coach wants. The problem with this thinking is that when the coach tears the athlete down they tend to do so by ridicule, punishment, humiliation, and fear. These techniques without a doubt teardown the athlete by lowering confidence, fear of performing, fear of embarrassment, and fear of punishment. Unfortunately when coaches break the athlete down, the athlete tends to stay down.
A better way to build up athletes is to encourage, and empower, and embrace them. Coaches have the power to create a firm and solid foundation. When coaches build athletes up, the athletes tend to stay up.
With all the research out there it is easy to find proof that although the old-school way may have worked it caused more damage than good.