Coach’s Thought of the Week: Choosing a Positive Approach

June 10, 2015 12:03 am Published by

Over the course of the season, we want to encourage the kids to take risks, to welcome responsibility and to approach difficult situations as challenges rather than threats.  Most of the time, people are more comfortable in a situation in which they believe they have something to gain rather than something to lose.  For instance, people will fare better if they are told they will get $1 for running a mile than if they are given $1 and told they will lose the money if they fail to run the mile.

In their book, Top Dog:  The Science of Winning and Losing (2013), Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discuss this phenomenon in the context of penalty kicks in a soccer match.

The true odds of making a penalty kick are 85%, but the odds become very different depending upon how the situation is framed.  Let’s imagine you had to take the 5th penalty for a professional soccer team.

Which situation would you rather be in?

  • Your team is down by one, and you have to make it to tie; if you miss, your team will lose.
  • Your team is tied, and you don’t have to make it, but if you do make it, you’ll win.

Most people would rather be in the latter situation. According to researchers, when missing the kick will cause the kicker’s team to lose, professional kickers succeed on those shots only 62% of the time.  When making the goal will result in a win, kickers go for it-and they find the net 92% of the time. It’s the same kick, the same twelve yards every time.  The ball is still struck at 60 miles per hour and the goal is still a 72-square-foot target.  But a 30% gap in the success rate results from the different psychological circumstances.

Another way to describe the difference between the two kicker scenarios is to label the first as athreat and the second as a challenge

Coach’s Take-Away Lesson:  In many situations, changing the framing of a task from threat to challenge is all it may take for success.