Coaches & Sports Parents: Don’t Say “Don’t,” and Heres Why
Right now, don’t look behind you!
What did you want to do when I said that? If you are like most people, your urge was to do exactly what I said not to do – look behind you. Interestingly, even though my prompt was was specific and directional, most people will end up thinking (and often doing) exactly what the prompt says to not do (Sport Success 360).
So how does this quirky psychology gimmick apply to sports mental toughness you might ask? Actually, quite easily, and in sports we see it all the time. Specifically, how many times as a coach or sports parent have you instructed a kid to not do something? “Don’t move your hips” or “don’t release the ball at this point” or “don’t miss these free throws.” If you think about it, we often teach athletes as much or more by telling them what not to do compared to what they actually ought to be doing!
The irony is that in theory when we tell someone to not do something, there really is no reason why the tendency is to still do it. Here’s another example – don’t think of a monkey riding on top of an elephant. What are you thinking right now? For most people, it’s a monkey riding on top of an elephant!
The point in today’s discussion is that the most successful and effective teachers are the ones who spend most of their time teaching athletes what to do, rather than what not to do. By delivering positive, forward-oriented prompts, the brain is primed to follow through with bodily actions that are congruent. Likewise, if you prime the brain with what not to do, the same effect will occur, and the wrong actions will follow. If you want to help improve sports focus, increase self-confidence, and minimize sports anxiety, don’t say “don’t!”
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Dr. Chris Stankovich is a Professional Athletic Counselor and Sport Performance Scientist and studies the psychosocial variables impacting human performance and success. He is the author of 5 books and has had his work featured in numerous national media outlets, including USA Today and ABC World News. Dr. Stankovich is known as "The Sports Doc" for his regular television feature on Ohio News Network and NBC 4 Columbus (OH). For more information on peak performance products, speaking engagements, training seminars, and free education downloads, please visit http://www.drstankovich.com.