**Trigger Warning: This article has some hurtful words that people called me as a kid. If words hurt you, maybe you should skip this article.** I played baseball as a kid. Ok, I technically played baseball. I wore a uniform and people threw balls at me while I was holding a bat. I hated it. I hated the coaches, who yelled at those of us were chubby and were too scared to swing. I hated the other kids who were encouraged by the coaches to alienate us and "motivate us" by calling us names (which were usually variations on "pussy," "queer," "girlie" or other feminine qualities they observed in us). My parents never made me play sports, but all my friends played baseball so I tried as best I could, even to the point where my father would bribe me with dollars just so I would swing the bat. Not because he was embarrassed, but because he could see how hard I was trying, how much I wanted to be good at something, and it was the only way he knew how to help.
I remembered this feeling during an Open Q&A with some of the world's best coaches at the Perform Better Summit in Long Beach. A young High School football strength coach asked the assembled body, "How do I get my players to show up for practice?" The conversation that followed highlighted everything that I am excited about for our industry, and an idea that I think we will be fighting for a long time. An idea that has the power to destroy every new client's inspiration and drive every obese kid back out the front door. Getting people to show up is hard; but it's not rocket science. And almost all of the veteran coaches' responses to the problem were variations on the same thing:
- Coach the ones that do show up.
- Reward consistency and improvement with attention and praise.
- Get the ones who do show up to invest in the process.
- Make it fun!
- Get buy-in from top management.
- And have patience; it's gonna take years.
This is fantastic advice from seasoned professionals. It's also evidence-backed advice. On the very end of this line of professionals, Nick Winkelman was sitting and listening. Winkelman, Director of Performance Education for EXOS not 5 minutes before had given a world-class lecture on applying the lessons of Self-Determination Theory to training athletes based on his research and work with football players preparing for the combine. The work he cited most in his lecture was the groundbreaking work of Standage, Duda, Ntoumanis from 2003 (and their follow up in 2005) and Carol Dweck's work on Growth v. Fixed Mindset, which backs up every piece of advice the people on stage gave. Except for one.
"You gotta make consequences," this veteran coach announced. "If they're late, make them run. If they are lazy, make them do push ups. Kids these days are too lazy and I fear for our future. They're so damn soft."
To translate: punishment and shame. Make them feel controlled and incompetent. Tell them they're lazy, a fixed and unchanging quality. And isolate them further by making the ones who do show up hate them for including them in the punishment and shame. In short, give them exactly ZERO reasons to ever show up again.
Here's the thing: coaches don't have to "make" consequences. Consequences exist. You don't show up to practice, you don't get better. You don't get to have the fun that everyone else is having or participate in the group with your supportive peers. The thing that you always have to remember as a coach, of athletes or homemakers, is that people ALWAYS have a choice: they can choose to stop showing up. And they have 1,000,000 reasons to not show up. Punishing them and shaming them just gives them 1,000,002. So stop making the consequences of not showing up worse and focus on making the consequences of showing up better.
I quit baseball as soon as I worked up the courage. I'm sure my coaches thought I was lazy (and I was definitely soft in the middle), but I'm also sure they never really cared that much because I sucked so hard at it. It turns out that I needed glasses and since almost all my bad eyesight is in one eye, I had terrible depth perception. I was never going to be good at baseball, football, or any of the sports that would "make me a man."
So I joined a team coached by a woman. I fenced for 6 years. I went to two fencing practices a day and the "queers" on the fencing team, boys and girls together, ran the practices and taught ourselves to pick up heavy things so we could get better at our sport. We went to tournaments we didn't have to in places our parents were afraid to pick us up from. I back-squatted twice my bodyweight in the 11th grade (though I wince to think what my form must have been like), split every state championship in all three weapons with my teammate John-Paul, and was ranked in the top 64 fencers in the country at the Junior Olympic Trials. We showed up, we kicked ass, and when the recruiters came calling, they were DI schools like Princeton, Harvard, and Yale.
Coaches should have standards. We should be clear about our expectations. And every time we think a client is lazy, stupid, or soft, we should remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle. Everyone wants to make the good choices, become a better person, and connect with people that care about them. Connect with their strengths, don't punish them because they're different from yours.
Because they can always just walk away.
A Health and Behavior Change Summit
When: September 27, 2014 Where: Salt Lake City, Utah How Long: One day Venue: 2455 Executive Parkway, Lehi UT Hotel: SpringHill Suites by Marriot at Thanksgiving Point How Much: Only $79