What does your coach think of you? Judging performance: the black and white and full colour spectrum.
Ric Charlesworth coached the Australian female hockey team, the Hockeyroos, to Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000, World Cup winners 1994, 1998, Champion’s Trophy winners 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, Commonwealth Games gold medal in 1998. He coached the Australian male hockey team, the Kookaburras, to World Cup championships in 2010, 2014, Champion’s Trophy winners 2009, 2010, 2011, and Commonwealth Games gold medals 2010.
In his book The Coach (Macmillan, 2001), he says in his experience, athletes focus mainly on a coach’s negative messages. During a Hockeyroos tour of Europe he asked team psychologist Corinne Reid to monitor the remarks from the coaches (himself and his assistant, Chris Spice) because the athletes’ feedback was that there was too much negative commentary from the bench. Turns out there were over 250 positive comments, 30 neutral directives and 15 negative remarks, most of which were “Oh no!’s” and remonstrances with the umpire. That’s quite a gap between the athletes’ perception and the reality.
Charlesworth says “those in the thick of the contest or indeed under stress in competition or at training tend to hold on to the negatives more than is useful”. Could this apply to you? If so, it could be setting up a vicious cycle impacting your performance and your enjoyment of training and competition.
When you believe you have performed well, you generally feel competent and confident about your ability to do it again. This self-efficacy is associated with better effort, persistence and performance. But how do you know you’ve done well? Research suggests that young people can find it difficult to accurately assess their performance, perhaps seeing performance in very black and white terms: win = good; lose = bad, or holding on to a few negative comments or redirections and giving them far too much weight. Your coach probably sees your performance quite differently: did the athlete apply what was worked on in training? Did the athlete meet the challenge today or dodge it? Did the athlete put the effort in or did they just do enough? Your coach probably sees a lot more positive than you think.
Your supporters provide a lot of encouraging words and that’s great because everyone needs to feel supported, especially when you are doing something challenging, like training and competition. Your coach’s support probably doesn’t look or feel the same. Firstly, what you want above anything else, is meaningful information about you and what you are trying to achieve. Secondly, you want to know that the person with this specific, relevant information about you and the competitive environment you are in, believes in your ability to perform.
When your coach gives you information and encouragement, you are getting more than support. Your coach, in word, and in action, is communicating confidence in you. When you get the message, this is relation-inferred self-efficacy (RISE): your belief that your coach believes in your ability. What you think your coach thinks of you impacts what you think of you. But you don’t actually know what your coach thinks, you infer it.
It’s easy to get that inference wrong, depending on what kind of a day you’re having. Maybe there’s stuff going on in your life away from cycling. If you’re alive in the world, there probably is. You may read disapproval and criticism into millisecond exchanges; you may hang on to one negative response and let it colour all the feedback given by the coach. This is enough to get you overthinking and making mistakes.
What does your coach think of you? Listen carefully because your coach talks to you all the time about the whole (full-colour) spectrum of performance – what they think of your ability, where you can improve, what you need to do to improve, and sometimes, what you need to do just to survive the day. And your coach is never going to be disappointed in you for struggling through a hard day because this is what builds resilience and belief in yourself to deal with whatever the day brings.