“What was the score?” “Did you win?” “What place were you?”

“What was the score?”  “Did you win?”   “What place were you?”

These are the typical set of questions that almost every coach and player get after they have participated in a match or tournament.   It is a mirror of what a student often faces from his parents with his report card or test scores.   It takes a huge amount of self-discipline and understanding of human development to ask anything but the above questions.  Everyone loves to win and everyone seems to get high on having a really great finish, but the pervasiveness of the culture of only focusing on results has some negative consequences that can be detrimental in the long term.   What is the negative side and what can be done about it?

The number one difficulty with “the only focusing on the results” mentality is that young people do not focus enough on the beginning skills and abilities that make one a good player.  We have developed a kind of cultural arrogance especially among boys that makes them believe that they are much better players than they are so they don’t believe they need to work hard.   Kobe Bryant, who is regarded as one of the best basketball players ever, arrives at the gym at 5:00 am in the morning so that he can work on his basics skills.   Wayne Gretsky, who may have been the greatest hockey player of all time, was the same way.  He was recognized at the player who always worked the hardest.

Last year, when I was coaching the U-11 boys soccer team, they lost the first game they played pretty badly.    So when the game was over, they just thought that they were a really bad team.   I told them that they weren’t a bad team, but a very good one that they just needed to learn how to play defense, the one thing they never practice at recess.  So we worked a lot on it.   The next time we played the same team, we tied 0-0 and the third time, we won.    The boys kept begging me to be able to run forward and score, but I made them play defense.

When my wife, Debby, talks to her swimmers on the first practice after a swim meet,  she always focuses on how much they have improved.  She reads their times and tells them what improvement they made.   It doesn’t matter what place a student comes in in a particular meet because you cannot control the competition.   There were over 100 runners in the ISAKL U-11 boys cross country race this year.  There was only one winner.   Did you win is a losing a question?

It takes a huge amount of self discipline to keep the focus on improvement and off of results because culturally we are wired to results.  If Lee Chong Wei, Malaysia’s #1 badminton player, loses to Lin Dan of China, it doesn’t matter that he made it to the final and beat a whole string of players to get there.  It only matters that he lost.  Sooner or later everyone loses.  The higher up you go, the greater the competition.   When there is a lot of self-discipline on the part of parents, young people learn how to see what they are doing well,  also see where to improve, and feel motivated to play hard with a great deal of joy.

The scientific research says that the optimum ratio of positive comments to negative feedback ones is five to one.  It is the same for an elementary school child as it is to married couples.  So you might ask yourself, “What is your ratio with your child?”   If you are below, as most of us are, think about what your ratio is from your supervisors or what you remember from your parents?     If the ratio of positive to negatives is high like 5 to 1, then marriages last longer and young people stay in sport for much longer.   When it is low, we all avoid our bosses or teachers or coaches because we feel discouraged and down on ourselves.    People are motivated by improvement much more than they are by winning or good test results.   The actualization of potential is the lure that drives people to want to do more.

So if we can recognize where people do well and where they are growing and improving, then they will continue to be extremely motivated and be able to play for life.     What did you differently today?  What can you today that you couldn’t do yesterday?   These are some questions we may want to start asking.


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