Words do matter! When it comes to language, we have a responsibility to ensure we do all we can to make our words as impactful as possible. I hear impactful words all time. Unfortunately, the words have a negative impact. People are, on a daily basis, pouring poison into each others ears.
Last Sunday I took my 4 year old son swimming. While in the pool, there was another father with his son of a similar age. He was remarking at how impressed he was with my son’s swimming. Truth be told, it is only in the last week or two he has turned a corner with his swimming. I then switched on to the words he was using with his own son.
“Don’t be a scardy cat”
“Why are you so afraid”
My personal favourite “what are you scared of, it can’t kill you”
He then started to chat to me again, expressing how frustrated he was with his son’s lack of progress (in front of his boy). I told him my son had been exactly the same way but as soon as he got the confidence to put his head under the water, he was fine.
I then did something that could have backfired. I started to speak to the young boy. I said ‘you’re not scared, you are being very brave’. His eyes lit up. I then suggested to the dad that every time he see something positive, he should praise his son and encourage him to try again or show even more bravery to try something even more daring.
By the end of that hour, the 4 year old was swimming 200m butterfly and diving off the top board……. If only it was that easy.
However, before we left, the dad did say his son was playing more with him in the pool rather than just wanting to sit on his knee. Progress!!!
See, our job as coaches, is to do all we can to help people move forwards in the direction they want to go. Our words play a massive part in this.
I remember, years ago, hearing Louis Cayer saying ‘as coaches, we must talk to their hearts‘. This instantly struck a chord with me as I am particularly sensitive (perhaps overly) to the way people speak with me. The flip side of this is, I am then very careful with what, and how, I speak to others.
So what is talking to the heart?
Essentially, it is tapping into the positive emotions which help trigger a positive reaction in their head. One of the strategies I use for this is, to speak positively about the future and not negatively about the past.
A typical example in tennis, when a coach talks negatively about a players missed shot. Let’s think literally for a minute, the player has already missed the shot so they last thing they need is the coach reinforcing the miss again. This leads to the player, metaphorically, missing the shot multiple times.
Instead, the coach could praise something which was done well and then encourage the player to focus on adding something on the next shot.
“You set up for that shot beautifully, next time do exactly the same and rotate faster through contact”
Praise and encourage is such a simple tool to use and can be applied to, almost, every situation.
Another thing to look out for in your own language. How many times do you use ‘no’ + ‘but’ in a sentence. These, two tiny words, can be so disempowering without even realising it. We all know that feeling, when someone says ‘but’ half way through a sentence. They could have said the most positive statement ever and as soon as the ‘but’ comes in, its like they’ve flushed all the positive words down the toilet.
Think of the reaction a dog has when you shout ‘no‘ to it. The head bows and the dog will look at the ground. People do this also. Even when they don’t look down physically, they have in their mind. ‘NO’ is amongst the most disempowering words you can use.
When helping a person develop as a tennis player, it is imperative, we focus on painting a positive future. Talking, using emotive language, puts the person into a definite mental state which will make them more excited about the future. In this state, they will be more courageous, daring and motivated to try new things out.
“I wonder what would happen when……”
“I dare you to give this a go”
“I’m curious to see what happens when……”
“Yes, do everything the same AND add…….”
“I love how committed you were there. I trust you to make a better decision next time”
“I’m so excited to see you playing this shot in your next match”
“Imagine how frustrating you are going to be to play against when you master this”
My personal favourite……
“Yes, that was a perfect mistake, do everything the same and focus on…..”
The look of confusion on a person’s face when you praise a mistake is a thing to behold. However, we must sell the idea mistakes are not negative. They are necessary!
So, I have a challenge for you, in the next week, listen to how you speak to your family, friends, colleagues and players (if you coach). Check how many times you empower vs disempower people with your words.
I heard a great definition of the word ‘inspire’. It is to ‘breath life into’ We have an opportunity to inspire people with our words. If we could all do this, imagine how much more productive we would be.
If you are curious about this type of content, please take some time to look through the 13 video, YouTube playlist, I released last week. I have copied the link below. If you like the channel, take a second and press the subscription button. It is completely FREE.
So, now over to you, go forward and inspire people with your words….