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Praise vs. Criticism: A Magic Route to the Magic Ratio

November 20, 2013    5061 Views

David Jacobson | @positivecoachus

Positive Coaching Alliance Praise vs. Criticism

When Positive Coaching Alliance presents its live group workshops for leaders, coaches and parents all over the country, one Positive Coaching technique that always raises eyebrows—and occasionally voices—is use of the “Magic Ratio.”

The Magic Ratio, rooted in sports and educational psychology research, states that coaches can get the most out of youth athletes by providing five specific, truthful praises for every one piece of specific, constructive criticism. “Five to one?!” we hear. “When Tom drops five ground balls for every one that he picks up? How am I supposed to get to this ratio?”

There are legitimate ways to achieve the Magic Ratio while helping your players improve. One way is to start during the routine and relatively easy drills you conduct near the beginning of practice.

As players warm up and take reps in preparation for the more rigorous instruction and scrimmaging that will follow, take the opportunity to provide plenty of praise. Take a simple groundball drill. Let’s say you’ve got 10 players in a line, and you roll 10 ground balls to each of them in a five-minute drill.

That’s 10 chances to find something positive to say to each player. Start the drill slowly, rolling balls that are relatively easy to field. That will gently warm up the players and build their confidence as they field balls cleanly.

And since they are fielding cleanly, you have a chance to offer specific, truthful praise.

  • "Great job attacking the ball, Tom. I’m glad to see you’re not waiting for the ball to come to you.”
  • “Marie, I like the way you got your bottom hand low. If you keep doing it that way, you’ll scoop through the ball instead of stabbing the ground.”
  • “Perfect scooping motion, Ed. Way to push through the ball and protect your stick by bringing it next to your head.”

Then you can advance to one-on-one ground balls. Two lines of players face out toward the field, and a coach standing behind the players rolls out the ball, as one player from each line competes with the other to gain possession.

Some of your praises may sound like:

  • “Great job boxing out, Samantha.”
  • “Ted, even though Frank got the ball, I like the way you poke-checked his bottom hand to make it difficult for him.”
  • “Maddie, great protection after you scooped the ball. That’s a great letter C you made. Did you notice how close the stick head was to your head? Way to get your hands free!”

As these drills progress, gradually increase the intensity. Warmed up and buoyed by confidence from their success and your praise, your player will make the tougher plays, giving you the chance to praise them more and build more confidence, which will lead to more success.

On the tougher plays that they miss, provide specific constructive criticism, which they are now more likely to accept since they are more confident from their earlier success and because they have heard plenty of your praise.

Photo Credit: John Strohsacker

Positive Coaching Alliance

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