“Did you win?”
Oftentimes, that is the first question from a parent, caregiver or friend after a match or even a practice scrimmage. Although always with the best of intentions, these words can often cause our athletes to become anxious and sometimes exhibit hostility, anger or perhaps even fear. If it was practice, does winning or losing really matter? If it was a close match that your athlete played the game of his or her life in, that question can make the loss that much more disgracing and also diminish self confidence and resiliency.
Instead of starting the conversation with a focus on defeat or victory, try to encourage athletes to reflect on the match or practice in a more mindful way. Your guidance will allow them to examine the match or the practice points in addition to creating a trustworthy relationship where they believe you are on their side and allow them to evaluate their performance practically without too many emotions. Questions like, “What did you do well today” “What was the best part of your game?” “How did you feel halfway through the match?” “Do you think maybe you need a jolt of energy halfway through? What about bringing a power bar in your bag?” These contemplative questions allow the players to study their game in a productive way and where they feel in control. This will create competitors (not only in athletics, but in what they chose to do off the court as well) who are able to be introspective about their game, thoughtful in their growth and improvement and able to overcome minor setbacks and losses.
Constructive communication also creates a partnership between you and the athlete. The athlete is no longer anxious that they are judged solely on the win or loss, but more in the more measurable aspects that they can control. Did I have quick feet? Did I transfer my weight well? Was I coming to the net enough? These more specific questions can aid in helping athletes understand WHY they were successful (or not) in a more precise manner. Hopefully once they have reflected on this, the changes can be made so they’re more successful in the future.