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The Benefits of Positive Coaching
By Lainy Carslaw, Pittsburgh Northstars

Take a look around your gym. Do you notice how the environment changes as the post-season meets begin to approach? Tension, nerves, and stress are high. Coaches are exhausted from travelling four, five, even six weekends in a row. Add to this the fact the kids may not be performing the way you want and we have formed a deadly combination for “positive coaching.”

As coaches we all feel the pressure to come out on top. To produce a winner. To qualify kids to Nationals. But at what price?

In times of high stress, it is always helpful to look back at your mission statement, to remind yourself why you are doing this. Most likely your mission says nothing about “winning” other than helping to create “winning attitudes.”

Ask yourself what kind of coach you want to be? What you want your gymnasts to remember about you? And think about the many benefits of positive coaching. Here are just a few:

DEVELOPING TRUST. Coaching with positivity will help you to develop a healthy relationship of trust with your athlete. If your gymnast can communicate openly with you it will help you assist them through fears, hard times, injuries, and reaching their goals.

A STRONG REPUTATION. Once you have developed a reputation for treating kids in a caring and positive way you will have a competitive advantage in your community. Positivity is something many parents/customers will value in the service you are providing.

RETENTION. If your athletes have come to love and respect their coaches over time they are more likely to stick with the sport when things get tough and we all know, at some point, they will. Only strong programs that treat their kids with care and positivity will keep graduating gymnasts from the sport year after year.

SUCCESS. Take a look at college teams. They are filled with team spirit, enthusiasm, and positivity. They know they are prepared and they can enjoy the moment together. Club teams can learn something from the positive, team vibe that colleges bring to competition and the amount of success positivity brings with it.

FUTURE LEADERS. What kind of leaders are we sending out into the world? Those who will lead by enthusiasm and motivation or those who will lead by creating fear or punishment? We should be leading by example.

Pittsburgh is doing a great thing by recognizing the most positive athletes in sports around their community. Each positive athlete recipient receives an award directly from Steeler legend, Hines Ward. During the ceremony, Ward reminds the audience that positive people go on to do great things. People with the right attitude and the right outlook will become our future leaders.

NO REGRETS. There is no doubt that you will regret if a gymnast leaves your program because of your negativity. There is no doubt you will regret it if you have to answer emails or phone calls from upset parents. Don’t lie awake at night wondering if you pushed a kid to hard. Rest easy knowing every kid in your gym left that night with a smile on their face.

And if you catch yourself being swept into negativity don’t hesitate to start the next practice with an apology. There is no shame in saying “I’m sorry,” to a child. It will give you more respect in your gymnasts eyes if they know you too are not always perfect— that you too sometimes need corrected.

Greatness is inspired, not forced. If a gymnast has been brought up with the strong values of hard-work, discipline, and pride that you instill in your program; and they have been trained in proper progressions and technique there is never an excuse to be negative.

When coaches find themselves slipping into negativity, perhaps it is because they have not done their job. Perhaps it is time to get more organized. Perhaps they need to develop a more achievable lesson plan.

And just like we tell our gymnasts, if we are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, back up a step. Go back to basics. Go back to the low beam. Go get a massage. But don’t take it out on your gymnasts.

So what exactly is considered, negative coaching? It consists of the “big four:” embarrassing, belittling, berating, intimidating. None of these are useful or productive teaching methods and none are in the benefit of a young gymnast. There is no problem with tough love. Pushing is sometimes necessary. So is discipline. But if you are using these negative tactics, it says way more about you as a professional than it does about your athletes.

These are children. They are fragile. Underneath those rock hard calluses are life lines often exposed and vulnerable due to the demands of our difficult sport. Sports Psychologist, Alison Arnold has great things to say about the way we coach our gymnasts. One of her most powerful seminars delves into Masaru Emoto’s theories about water. In Emoto’s book, Messages from Water, he shows pictures of water molecules taken from different environments. When water is found in clean, positive, thriving environments, the water molecules will look like beautiful snowflakes, bright and glowing. When water molecules are put in a negative environment they lose their shape and become formless blobs—ugly and polluted. Arnold then makes the connection by telling us that children are made up of a large percentage of water in their bodies.

Imagine the power that you possess! You have the ability to fill your gymnasts bodies with crystals, with light! Or you can just as easily pollute that water by shouting, with negativity, by using the “big four.”

There are many things that can be done to create positivity in your gym: end practice with a positive team cheer or a fun game. Play their favorite playlists once or twice a week. Use a reward system, not a punishment one. Write your gymnasts inspirational cards before the big meet reminding them how proud you are of their efforts. Get the parents on board with your positive philosophies so they are reinforced at home. And you can reinforce the positive message with your coaches by hanging reminders about your values and your mission around the gym and reward them for using positive coaching methods.

Are these simple ideas the complete answer to keeping positivity in the gym? Probably not. As anything, being positive is something you have to want and the change has to come from within. There are countless benefits to positive coaching for our athletes, and for ourselves.

After all, we too, are made of water.

--Lainy Carslaw, Assistant Head Coach and Event Coordinator for Pittsburgh Northstars