I know a guy who watched the movie “Silence of the Lambs” and came away with an admiration for the murderous, cannibalistic villain Hannibal Lecter because, “He didn’t whine about his situation in life.”
When Hannibal Lecter is better than whining, you must really despise whining.
A lot of coaches hate it when players whine, but probably not to the same extent of my friend. It’s annoying, destructive and contagious.
Whining starts in subtle ways with comments like, “Do we have to? Or, “I’m cold, it’s too hot, I hate this,” or “I can’t do that.” There are two types of players you encounter during practice sessions, and both ask you the same question – “How much time is left?” The difference is one wants to go home, the other doesn’t want practice to end. The second one is the same one who says, “Already?” when you end the session.
What Do Your Words Suggest?
Coaches can play a major role in turning a negative attitude around. And they don’t have to be the expert or able to find the good side of a cannibal. It starts with the phrases they use.
One of my favorites is from Julie Foudy, the former US national soccer team player who was asked what she sacrificed to become an elite athlete. “I didn’t make sacrifices,” she said. “I made choices.” She didn’t accept the premise that she was not in charge of her path.
There are plenty of examples of what players or coaches say that impact the way we feel and play. Simple alternatives can foster a positive environment which helps create positive attitudes. "Impossible” can become “Challenging.” We can use “Achievable” instead of “Difficult".
Words and phrases that have negative connotations tell players what can’t be done, have a subtle way of suggesting blame or fault, and emphasize hopelessness. Positive phrases embrace challenges and promote hope.
Some of what we say can even be accusatory – “You failed to find the open man; You neglected to check your shoulder.” Or, we might use phrases that indicate you think the player is not too bright – “I can’t understand what you are doing; That makes absolutely no sense.” We even use phrases that suggest our players are lying or dishonest – “You told me that you could play that position; You claim you can hit a quality corner kick and you kick it out of bounds.”
You Are Contagious
The way we respond to simple everyday conversation is contagious and easily fixed. Answering “I can’t complain” to someone who asks how you’re doing gives the impression you wish you could gripe, but haven’t thought of anything to moan about just yet. Instead, a simple “Awesome,” can have a big impact and gives the impression that being around you is going to be fun.
If a player tells you about a problem they are having, instead of saying, “Man, that’s awful,” you could say, “How can we fix it?”
In fact, “We” is a great word to use. You have surely encountered a coach who after a poor game will refer to his or her team’s performance by saying, “They didn’t play well at all today.” That’s most likely the same coach who will say, “We were good today,” after a good performance. Changing every “They” to “We” tells your players that you are in it with them.
Adjusting the way players view their experience with the sport, can go a long way in eliminating whining. They don’t have to go to practice today, they get to play today.
You should, however, avoid going to extremes. It will feel fake or be transparent to your players. You don’t have to explain that Hannibal Lecter was a pretty good guy, and you can’t convince them that life is all unicorns, rainbows and bunny rabbits, or that the turkey sandwich you just ate was the greatest meal of your entire life.
But you can, turn a player with a “Woe is Me” attitude into someone who, at the very least, does not infect the team. You can teach them waking up every day and convincing yourself that “Today’s gonna suck,” is a miserable way to go through life.
And you can tell them about the George Bernard Shaw quote.
“Be a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
That, by the way, is one of the favorite quotes of the same guy who admired Dr. Lecter.