“Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference” – John Wooden
Think back to when you were playing football, any sport or extracurricular activity as a child/adolescent/young adult.
Think back to interactions you had with a coach, senior player, or experienced figure in the game and how you felt after those.
Was the interaction positive? Did you look up to the person, in awe of them and thankful that they’d taken the small amount of time in their life to show you a bit of attention and that they might care about what you were doing, and how you were doing it?
Or was the interaction negative? Were you dismissive of what they had to say? Was it because of what they said, how they said it, how they acted or because they had been piling up the negative feedback and you simply became immune to it?
Have you had either of those experiences? I know I have. Anyone who has ever looked up to someone in whatever field they choose to pursue at whatever level will have had and continue to have those little interactions. I remember some of those conversations like they were yesterday. My very first game of under 18’s football at 16 years old, playing right back and getting taken apart by a left winger with speed and skill to burn. Did my coach yell at me at half-time? Looking back, he had every right to (the other bloke had scored two and set 1 up!) Instead – he took me aside just before we went in the change-room, gave me a bit of advice about being more side-on and allowing myself more time to recover (as well as to give his shirt and arms a slight tug every now and again to remind him I was there!) and let me know that he believed I could turn it around against this guy in the second half. No rant in the change room, no embarrassing me in front of my team and I can say without a doubt that that small conversation, no more than 30 seconds – changed me as a player and as a person.
Remember how good it feels, knowing that someone believed in you, cares about you enough to take that time to show that they think you are worth investing in?
Remember how bad it can feel, when you get singled out for pure criticism? When it feels like someone you look up to (or used to look up to) has nothing but negative things to say, before you eventually just tuned them out or became dismissive of them, because regardless of your efforts you never feel like you are worth it?
Now, as a coach, think back to how you might have communicated to your players over the course of the season. Of course, everyone is going to be different, frame things in different ways, use different tones of voice and language. But was there any time, when instead of pouring negativity and scorn over a young player, you could have perhaps put an arm around them and framed things in a more positive light? The difference between “You’re letting the team down” and “Nice effort out there – have you tried doing a/b/c a little differently? What do you think?”
I know I could have.