In sports, everyone wants to win. Demands are high. Pressure is real. Egos abound. When athletes believe a teammate’s mistakes or poor play are damaging the team, they can get heated. Even the pros get caught on camera lashing out on the sidelines. Being overly critical can have damaging effects on your team. As the coach, it’s your responsibility to help your athletes be encouragers instead of criticizers.
In college, I got paired with a new doubles partner. Our coach thought this freshman’s tennis game and mine would gel well together to help our team.
Initially, my new partner drove me crazy on the court. He made poor decisions. He choked under pressure. He didn’t understand doubles strategy like I did.
Don’t get me wrong, I had my own faults, one of which was how I handled my partner. I would chastise him, throw my arms up in disbelief, and say things like, “Dude, what are you thinking!?”
While I might have been trying to help, I wasn’t. In my mind he was jeopardizing our ability to win matches and making us look like idiots.
Eventually my coach set me straight. He pointed out that I needed to be the positive one. I needed to encourage my partner and build up his confidence. That’s when he played his best. Grudgingly, I made the change and we ultimately had a much more successful season than we would have otherwise. We were also closer teammates.
Overly Critical Teammates Are Only Symptoms
Today, when I see athletes dragging down their teammates, I see it as a sign of bigger issues.
1. There is a negative culture around the team.
2. Teammates don’t respect each other or the coaching staff.
3. The antagonist athlete is putting Me before We.
At times, the athlete’s heart may be in the right place, but their comments may be having the opposite effect of what they intended. This was the case for me and my doubles partner.
Develop Encouragers Not Critics
If you have athletes falling into this trap of dragging down their teammates, help them to see the bigger picture. Share these 3 truths with them as you encourage them to be a positive influence.
1. There is a time and place for feedback.
I love when teammates coach each other. However, during the game isn’t the right time for it. That’s why you have practice – to learn and rehearse techniques and tactics.
Note that criticism isn’t the same as coaching. Criticism points out mistakes and poor outcomes but doesn’t offer a solution. When an athletes coaches her teammate, she is helping her teammate to know what to do and how to do it.
2. Negativity sabotages performance.
Negative emotions exchanged when an athlete drags down a teammate with ill-timed and poorly delivered criticism increases stress. This stress will likely cause the teammate to make further mistakes because they are more tense, hesitant, and fearful of further reproach. Nobody wins.
3. Negativity fractures unity.
When athletes no longer believe their team believes in them, a snowball of problems follows. They lose motivation. Effort drops off. They stop communicating with teammates on the floor. Soon, there is a lot of “I” but no “team.”
Nobody likes to let their teammates down. In fact, in the military, this is one of the strongest factors in morale and cohesion. One of the things Soldiers are most afraid of is letting their buddies down.
To help your team become better teammates share the 10 Qualities of Championship Teammates poster with your team. Numbers 7 – 10 focus on being an encourager and supporting your teammates. Click the button to download.
Elevate Your Team
As a coach, encourage your athletes to take a different approach to dealing with on-court issues. Help them take actions that will help their teammates play to their potential and put the team in the best possible position to win.
When athletes encourage rather than criticize, teammates become more committed, motivated, and confident. They try harder. They persist longer. This is a recipe for long-term success.
Question: How can coaches teach their athletes to be encouragers not critics, especially during a competition?