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Praise – A Commonly Misunderstood Tool In Coaching ¦ 3 Ways To Improve Your Use Of Praise

Having recently completed my thesis for a Masters in Education, I have a few points to share on the idea of praise. Praise is a very effective tool but is quite often misused. Here are some common misconceptions regarding praise. These are are quite transferable for us as sports coaches also or for anyone working in a management/HR role for that matter.

General v Specific Praise

The biggest impact a coach could make on their use of praise would be to focus on using specific praise with an association to a particular behaviour. It is quite common for those in coaching to take the ‘generic path’ and frequently throw out phrases such as “good job”, “well done” and so on. However research shows this habit despite it’s regularity, is not beneficial and possibly has an adverse effect over time than the intentions associated with this habit. 

Instead we should focus on using specific praise for particular behaviours which we approve of. Focus on telling students why you liked it and this positive reinforcement is much more effective. For example, ‘ I really liked the decision you made to attack at that time’. This type of specificity is much more effective and helps students learn from feedback as opposed to just searching for approval from their coach simply for the reinforcement they crave from a respected figure in their lives. 

Praise Attitudes Over Talent

This leads onto another point, which is supported by numerous studies. From above our specific praise should be based predominantly on behaviours or actions which can be repeated by anybody. This helps with various factors such as risk taking. If we continuously praise talent or skills, students will subconsciously associate their worth with talent and will be afraid to take risks for fear of disapprovement. 

When we focus on attitudes over talent the results are more favourable. Not only does this inspire other students who are listening to pay attention to their our attitudes and mindset but it also builds a culture of appreciating effort and work ethic over raw talent or ability. This is also an important tool during ‘failures’ in competition/performance. 

Timing & Frequency

Now that we know more effective ways to approach praise, it is important to be aware of two other important factors. Timing of the praise must be associated instantly with the actions or behaviour for maximum effect. Of course, this may seem obvious, but research shows this may not be common in practice. The link of praise along with the action/behaviour needs to be prompt in order for the students to identify the mindset and feeling of that moment with the associated praise. 

Frequency is also a key aspect of using praise effectively. Students can subconsciously pick up the sincerity of praise. Not only this but over use of praise can be worthless. As well as the contrary, under use of praise can have its own consequences. It’s up to the coach to gain an understanding of the right amount based on the feedback of the students body language and attitudes. We must remember the goal of praise, is to reinforce a behaviour. Therefore the frequency of praise needs to be carefully monitored ensuring it is sincere and valued. 

  • Praise should not be used to fill quiet time or solely for engagement levels. Praise is should be used for attitudes and behaviours which are valued and admirable, which add to your club culture. 

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