Coaching and Peripheral Vision

The point of coaching is to draw a greater performance out of the athlete than they  would be capable of otherwise. It is to take the drive that is inside a person and, in a team environment, create a performance that is better than would be expected. Coaching is a primal form of leadership because there is a direct and measurable result that can be employed to gauge effectiveness. Great coaches win, poor coaches lose and get fired.

Demonstrative and negative coaches get a lot of attention; demonstrative and negative pastors get a lot of attention. When seeing a picture of Bobby Knight in a red sweater every sports fan over 30 will immediately think of the time he threw a red chair across the court. He was negative and very demonstrative and we remember it. From this memory we create a perception of his coaching abilities, either good or bad. What no one actually remembers is what happened in the particular game. We don’t know any of the players or how they were performing during that game. The negativity takes, in fact, all of the attention and they game itself becomes secondary. This happens every time a baseball manager abandons all control and begins throwing bases. We couldn’t even tell you the score of the game in that moment because this incredible negativity has taken all of the attention.

And coaches aren’t the only ones! As a frequent youth sports coach, I can attest to both positive and negative emotional pleas from parents. It’s the negative ones that get noticed, and steal the attention from the game and the kids.

Negative emotions from a coach actually have a negative effect on a coached person’s team attitude, loyalty and personal development. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson (author of Positivity: The Upward Spiral that Will Change Your Life) has research that shows positive emotions actually expand a player’s awareness and reception of information, making them more resilient and creative in their actions.

Fredrickson goes on to say (quoting from Sept.28, 2015 Sports Illustrated), “Positive emotions are especially contagious…and a leader’s positive emotions are more contagious than anyone else’s.” The positive attitude of coaches and parents for an athlete actually improve a player’s physical performance. Athletes who feel better about their playing environment will win more.There is credible research done by Fredrickson’s University (UNC) pointing to an increase in peripheral vision when they are experiencing positive emotions.

So, when you are angrily yelling at that player for not seeing the open teammate on the wing you are ensuring that it will happen again.

Here’s what this means:

  • When you are coaching and/or observing youth sports/arts/performance, your contribution to positive emotions actually improves their physical abilities
  • When you angrily respond to player performance you are actually decreasing their physical ability and increasing the probability of a negative result being repeated.

This, of course, goes beyond youth and sports (though it makes the biggest difference in this arena). A leader/coach in an educational, employment and/or religious environment can expect to have similar results according to the positive or negative environment they create through their coaching style.

So, before your player heads out onto the field next game, take a moment and create some positive emotions so they can enjoy an even better game.



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