By Wendell Lee
This summer, I pledged to rebuild my 17-foot center console and restore it to its glory days. For those of you who know boats, you can sympathize. Since my boat had been in outdoor storage for nearly five years, there was dust, dirt, wasp nests, gecko skeletons and the like that needed to be removed.
You’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with lacrosse?” Well, it comes down to the gas tanks. When I stored the boat, there was a little bit of gas left in the tank. I rebuilt all three carburetors and replaced every bit of fuel line, but I was still facing the issue of having potentially bad gas in the tank.
A lacrosse player’s emotional tank is like a boat’s gas tank. When it’s empty, we go nowhere, but when it’s full, we can go anywhere. Players with empty tanks become negative and give up more easily. But with full tanks, we stay optimistic and can handle difficult situations.
If you criticize your players for mistakes, you make them feel worse, and they’re more likely to make more mistakes. Their emotional tanks are drained.
I believe that filling your players’ emotional tanks is the single most important thing you can do as a coach to improve your team, your players, your parents, your organization, your enjoyment of coaching, and the results!
When I decided that this philosophy was going to dominate my coaching style, the benefits were manifold. After a while, I realized that not only did this work for the players on my team, but also for players on the opposing team. There is no shame in congratulating or acknowledging a good play by a player on the opposing team.
Taking time to go across the box and sincerely say to the player who just scored against us, “That was an amazing play, and you should be proud” went a lot further to demonstrate our focus on all the kids, not just the ones on our team. We began to hear parents and coaches say, “I can’t wait until we play that team again. All of the boys on both teams played so well and the coaches were so positive.”
We all have emotional tanks. If we’re honest, we know we’ll work hardest for the people who consistently fill them—those who acknowledge our effort even if the results aren’t perfect.
Please understand: I’m not a proponent of praise for things that are expected. I’m simply a believer that when adults take the time to acknowledge the little things that lead to success, and publically acknowledge these things, children develop esteem of effort. It’s infectious. We all aim to please, don’t we?
So I filled the 18-gallon tank with fresh new high-octane fuel. I added the two-cycle engine oil and other recommended additives, and installed a new filter. I didn’t bother to remove the old gas. Although there were other issues that needed to be addressed, I was confident that my boat’s tank was full with the right gas (emotion). As I have seen for the past nine years as a coach, when the tank is full and the gas is good, your carburetors (players) won’t let you down.
How have you seen the impact of a positive youth sports culture on your lacrosse team? Share your stories in the comments section.
Wendell Lee is the director of programs at US Lacrosse.
The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) has numerous tools for youth coaches to help you build a positive culture within your team or program. Download this sample script with tips for filling your players’ emotional tanks.