A sense of optimism and positivity by those involved in a game is the unwritten requirement across every competitive sport. Activities such as bicycling, open basketball, or open hockey become more enjoyable when positive words and gestures ward off negativity.
Negativity can too easily take over. Teammates’ unfiltered commentaries often bring about the team itself, individual members (even worse, that is being divisive), or perhaps even from current events (the Covid-19 factor, etc.).
What do we do if that negativity looms–whether it’s on the game bench, practice bench, or locker room? Answer: Turn the mood around as soon as possible! What you say to yourself and your team really matters. Whether you as the coach, the team captain, or as one of the players, you can make a difference in that collective mindset.
What we say and post on social media are the main channels of making our thoughts known to others. Facebook and Twitter offer a flood gate of unfiltered commentary these days. We have all seen items that are irresponsibly posted with no “filter” or decency-edit. These tendencies can also occur on the team benches, causing the fun to be taken out of the sport.
It’s hard to stay positive at all times, and that mindset isn’t healthy either. Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset at all times. It’s healthy to feel the emotions you have. When you avoid your emotions, you actually cause more harm. Taking the time to understand your emotions is important.
Even if you try to stay focused and optimistic before an event, game, or test, it’s hard to “tune out” those who are wired for negativity in their comments.
3 Forms of Negativity To Watch For
- Instead of having fun, the game/sport becomes a chore.
- Constant negativity from the team and coach
- A “courtroom atmosphere” which lacks any emotion
Negativity can’t realistically be penalized when it happens on your own side’s bench and is expressed to each other. But when shouts from one team over another start volleying in the air, the referees in charge are then under the obligation to stem this tide of an abusive situation from getting worse.
Preventively, one strategy with any of one’s own negativity-oriented teammates is to “be on the lookout” audibly for that negative talk, i.e., once it is stated out loud. Then it becomes the right time for you to “do your spin”! Take that person’s negative comment, and counter it with a relevant positive comment. Repeat the strategy comment-for-comment until their ‘negativisms’ stop.
Without getting too scientific, triggering endorphins (the human brain’s pleasure center bio-chemical) is a favorable objective for staying in a positive mindset from the outset. Even if up against challenging odds of winning in a match, spreading the optimism certainly can’t hurt. Conversely, the opposite is quite possible: one or more group members spouting comments that sound like a continuous rainy day forecast. These remarks may not trigger mental depression as much as an annoyance, which tends to put a damper on any rallying moods.
Applied to the many sports, the positive consequences of optimism don’t have to exist as a nauseating cheerfulness when a somber disposition is appropriate. Realistic reactions to external events & game outcomes are more credible toward others than “cheerleading.”
Finding the silver lining can be considered a “soft skill” regarding interactions with others. A valid side-benefit of staying away from negativisms is staying clear of opposition-instigated altercations that could augment violent brawls with physical injuries and property damage.
3 Jobs of Every Coach
Keep negativity out of the locker room, off the bench, out of practice, and absent from game events.
Facilitate the physical development of those on the team without resorting to negative reinforcement.
Gauge the opposing team’s strengths, abilities, and weaknesses (mainly through simple observations and without illicit surveillance) in creating strategies to win the contest matches ethically.
Then tell the team about those factors.
Look out for anger or sadness in yourself and others when you are with the team or group. Outside influences (even current major news events) could trigger an emotion that can distract a team member from the immediate objectives of playing well. Don’t play angry, and don’t play sadly. If you also see these emotions in other team members or groups, say something and try convincing them. It might take a whole conversation to flush out their negativity.
Mixed messages? There will be times when it would be unrealistic after an experience of a loss to be “cheery.” Deaths of loved ones, serious injuries, emergency / catastrophic situations are obvious examples. And if a negative comment does slip out, follow up by balancing it with something more optimistic. Not to sugarcoat a situation but to offer the proper sense of optimism to the listener(s). Walking the walk with talking the talk also helps in your deeds.
The most extreme form of negativism on teams (and translatable to corporate committees of groups) is identified as bullying. This oppressiveness comes in at least two common forms: coach bullying and teammate bullying. A third form happens in the form of spectator/fan negatives (derisive remarks, throwing objects, etc.), which have spiraled into assaults and even instances of physical battery.
There are formally established controls in place in the corporate setting and government agency or public sector, originating with the EEOC. Such guidelines provide legal recourse for those who face negativism in the workplace. These protections can (and do) extend to non-business situations such as organized team sports in schools (both public & private systems) and diverse community-based sports leagues.
No coach, teammate, or even an adversary would ever want to know that their negativity (in words or actions) toward another individual had led to that person’s self-harm or even worse. And not uncommonly, this unfortunate scenario of adverse effects from a coach or a teammate has actually happened among teenagers.
The Challenge Of Positivity
You are teaching your team members the “soft skills” of athleticism by example, i.e., the personality traits that go with the “hard skills.” Those teaching points are technical knowledge of the game, its rules and regulations, and optimal conditioning parameters. And while the content examples in this article apply to hockey, this preferable mindset of positivity is the same for every team sport/team environment. What may get shouted in action would only change by the other sports’ unique sets of rules & strategies: “Watch the ball !” “Run it !”. Note that “Ball” and “run” are obvious translations from “puck” and “skate” in the bench-generated expressions.
Forms of Expression
Avoid negative statements, no matter how tempting. Example: One-star player makes a glaring error that they rarely do, and at a critical moment in a critical game. That’s the perfect opportune time to “pile on” the negativity. It might even “slip out” from some folks involved–before it can be filtered/modified with more polite words or stifled by hitting one’s own personal mute button.
Saying nothing is far better because such a “guilty” player would be well aware of their gaffe and need no additional reminders from others. That could be the coach or a savvy teammate.
It is so easy to revert to negativity, audible or visible, i.e., by what you say (or yell) with others present and by your gestures.
Saying something like “Hey, you gave it a try !” sounds positive enough without patronizing. “Hey, you did your best!” may sound trite or exaggerated to that accomplished athlete who wishes they could go back in time to change their erroneous actions.
Positivity can take subtle forms such as a smile, an eye wink, or a mere head nod from the coach over to one or more of the team. So much can be conveyed by so little towards the team!
Here are two “plus-basics” for the team bench of players/participants:
Ask: “Can we win this game? Then say so!”
Direct this to the team in the pre-games: “Be confident in your own abilities, but not overconfident.” Remind the group that their odd-against opponent teams beat many favorites due to an overconfidence factor.
On the Ice
In (hockey) game situations, this means maintaining a steady concentration on puck possession. Some players benefit from the coach’s regular statements to the team on what they should focus on. The successful coaches routinely mix or change the content of the always-positive comments. These comments thus don’t come across as monotonous. They give a “whoop” on a good play by a team member, as should their teammates. Here are a few that I holler out from the blueprint of the goal crease (we don’t have a coach): “Puck possession, guys !” “Skate it (the puck) up” “Talk to each other on the ice !” “Nice play, _____(player’s name) !” When asked during the off-game as to whether or not anyone can hear, I yelled out positive comments; the answers usually heard back are:
- “Yes, definitely.”
- “We can hear you loud and clear at center ice.”
- “I even heard you down by their face-off circle.”
- “They can probably hear you from outside the rink.”
None of these on-ice shout-outs are ever negative in expressed content toward a team member–nor even toward the other team. The content of each shout becomes easy for anyone to figure out. Staying positive in your expressed content greatly helps to avoid bench brawls from starting. We have all seen recordings of when hostile words lead to lost tempers and bodies shoved / punches thrown as many injuries could result in chaos compared to injuries from the actual gameplay.
With all of the above (commentary & mindset), these same concepts apply to the captain of any given team as the coach. There will be times when the coach is either absent by prior necessity or is too far from the center of the action in the arena to be heard or seen by the players on the field. This happens with crowd noise and visual obstructions.
Because of the game-concentration factor (minimize distractions) in any contest situation, it is then for the team captain to shout out those constant reminders, i.e., which are the basics of hockey:
- “puck possession”,
- “heads up (at all times).”
- “watch your back.”
- “take your open shots.”
- “skate it up, ice (when you are open for this).”
These five statements contain probably 90% of what it takes (inaction) to express the positive mindset to victory.
These hockey-specific expressions (above) can be translated to the ball or other sports game objective toward scoring points for any other team sport.
You’ll note that the word “don’t” is not found in any of those team-shout expressions. What becomes a focus by the coaches and the team captains (then ultimately to the players themselves) is that their positive mindset helps carry their respective abilities to positive actions. That process leads to the more desirable result of winning in team matches–no matter what the prospective odds of the outcome are before each game.