Today I had a medical procedure I have been putting off as long as I could. The doctor finally told me we couldn’t wait any longer and I had no choice but to get this done to find out what kind of surgery I needed. (the great news? I dont need surgery!)
SO.. The reason I had been putting it off? It was going to hurt. I was going to be very uncomfortable. I have the same human instinct everyone has, to avoid discomfort whenever possible.
Normally, patients are blissfully sedated for this procedure, but they needed me to be awake to ask me questions. As they rolled me into the procedure room, I kept thinking how I shouldn’t be awake. I wanted to get up off that rolling bed and bolt for the door, and I was conscious enough to do it. I was there of my own free will. I could leave at any time. But I knew that answers were on the other side of this discomfort, so I willingly allowed myself to be brought in that room and I faced the discomfort head on. It was adulting and one of those moments I desperately didn’t want to adult at all.
As coaches on a positive mission, our job is to build up confidence and belief in our athletes. But it’s important that we don’t mix that up with saving them from discomfort. There is a misconception that positive coaching is soft, rah-rah, happy happy joy joy, and that hard work is not encouraged because they might get unhappy. No wonder some people fight the positive coaching method. You’d never get anywhere like that.
The truth is, athletes’ minds, their bodies, don’t grow unless they are made to adapt to stress that is outside of their comfort zone. We aren’t being positive because we want to make them more comfortable. We are positive to build a relationship, their confidence, and trust to a place where our athletes feel safe stepping out of their comfort zone in order to grow. When you genuinely care and love your players, they allow you to bring them through the fire because they trust you. If you try to push them before that relationship is built, often you actually drive up walls.
Getting athletes to willingly do something that will be uncomfortable takes a certain kind of culture and an understanding that the things that are being done are for their best interest. They have to believe that you care about them, what happens to them, their safety, and ultimately their ability to do more then they have ever done before. Sure you can blow your whistle and force them to get on the line and work. You can insult them and hope they work hard to change your mind. But will they do just enough to endure it? Will they really put their best out there if they are doing it because they are forced?
Coaches who approach their team with shaming, pointing out shortcomings, blaming, punishments, insults, or a constant focus on mistakes will have a hard time getting players to step into that discomfort zone willingly. They may already be emotionally uncomfortable in a negative culture. They may question your motives, or wonder if you’ll be looking out for them while they are going through it. They may be resentful, discouraged, or burnt out. I used to hear my sons coach years ago scream to the team at practice, “My 5 year old daughter is faster than you!” (Meant to be an insult to the boys to run faster, but I kept thinking – man, I want to meet this girl!)
Today, I had a team of 6 people that each came over to me and told me how important my safety was to them. They told me about themselves and got to know me, and assured me that they were very good at their jobs. They told me their role and how it was there to help me. They were open to questions, they looked in my eyes, they were geniune. I felt safe in their hands and it was less scary getting uncomfortable in order to find the answers I needed.
Yes, we can be positive coaches and still push our teams to be uncomfortable. We can accomplish incredible feats, do things we’ve never done, work hard, get sweaty, exhausted, and compete to win. If we build a culture of trust and belief, our teams will be ready to face any kind of challenge and discomfort to reach their potential.