Maximizing athletic potential
Athletes are always looking to improve their abilities, and often this process is accelerated when parents, coaches, and other supporters offer consistent, emphatic, positive praise for efforts, not just results. In fact, shaping is a term used in psychology that describes the process in which positive reinforcement is provided whenever people exert effort and become increasingly more proficient at a task. For example, if you are a parent of a baseball pitcher trying to master his curve ball, you could use shaping (positive reinforcement) every time your son or daughter throws a breaking ball that comes close to the strike zone. For the pitches your child misses, simply throw the ball back (no need for criticism) and prepare for the next pitch. Again, if he or she throws another curve close to being a strike, offer reinforcement! Notice, that when using shaping there is no punishment or harsh criticism, but instead only positive reinforcement for the successive approximations toward the target.
We can dramatically accelerate the learning curve for just about any skill when we are in an environment where there is clear instruction, a positive atmosphere, and people around us who encourage and support our efforts to improve. Keep in mind that by reinforcing effort it does not mean going crazy over every play, regardless of whether the athlete was successful, but instead using rapport-building through gentle encouragement that “spikes” with enthusiasm when advances in skill are witnessed.
Attitude plays a big part in the ways in which we learn, implement, and maximize the skills we learn in life. When we feel good and that others support our efforts, we play with better focus and improved confidence; conversely, when we feel like the only thing that matters are results, we tend to freeze up trying to play perfectly. Learning environments really do matter, as the culture that surrounds us will either enhance (or diminish) potential growth opportunities.
What advice do you have for athletes trying to play their best? if you are a coach or parent, what are the best ways to build trust and rapport with the kids you coach/parent?