Words matter. Think back to a statement that one of your coaches said about you that stuck with you. Maybe even made you who you were as an athlete. Probably that statement began to create in you a part of your identity. Most likely that statement is something that still defines you today as an adult.

As a coach you have tremendous influence. Not just in teaching a sport skill but in helping a young person define who they are. I remember my son as a center back in soccer, when he was ten years old, asking his coach in a youth match if he could come up and play forward. The coach told him, “Alex, I would but you are my wall back there. Nothing gets past you.” When he was a senior playing against a top 7A public school (we were a 1A private school), they had a college scholarship striker. Alex kept telling him all night that he could not get past him. I even heard him say to him during the game, “I am a wall. You can’t get past me.” He didn’t, by the way, and we beat them that night! The main thing is how a statement made by a coach at ten years old became part of his identity.

One of my favorite authors, Neal Anderson, has a quote that has been a hallmark of my belief system. He said, “We cannot consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with the way we perceive ourselves.” Sounds similar to Proverbs 23:7, doesn’t it? “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Or as another translation of the same verse says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he becomes.”

Simply put, we sometimes try to tell students what they should do as opposed to reminding them who they are. For example, instead of telling a student, “be respectful,” we reinforce any behavior we see them do by saying, “You are very respectful. Thank you,” or, “I’m proud of you.”

Identity and behavior are different things. Sometimes students (and adults) do dumb behavioral things. The way to get them out of bad behavior is to reinforce identity. If they make a mistake, instead of saying, “You are so irresponsible,” try saying “That behavior was irresponsible. That is unlike you because you are a responsible person.” See the difference?

Here are some words or statements I suggest you insert into your vocabulary with our students as you coach them this season…

YOU ARE…respectful, responsible, thoughtful, strategic, resilient, courageous, strong, wise, gritty, tough, very good at (insert skill), a great teammate, great (insert role on team), an encourager, mentally strong, fit, or any other word that fits the situation.

As you incorporate this into your plans, please share stories with me when you see these words take root. I would love to share them in some of our communication pieces to the school when appropriate. Remember, words have power and in your role they really have power!


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