Do you like getting yelled at? I bet you don’t whether it’s at work, home or on the basketball court. But, if you’re like many youth coaches, you yell at your players and criticize their performance. And here’s why: they play better after you do that, don’t they?
Let me share a not so secret “secret” with you: when you yell at your players after a really bad game, their improvement in the next one isn’t due to your screams. In fact, your criticism may hurt more than help; it can turn your kids off from playing the sport. If a player or team does poorly – and most do from time to time — the next game, inevitably, they will be better because of a simple statistical phenomenon: regression to the mean.
Why should you care about a somewhat obscure statistical concept as a youth basketball coach? Because, in short, regression to the mean means your performance — in anything you do — will tend to be close to the same most times. If you have an outstandingly good performance or an outstandingly poor one, your next will not be nearly as good or bad, you will move back toward your average performance (or regress to the mean). This phenomenon is important because of how you perceive the impact of your yelling and screaming.
In a famous example, Psychologist and Noble Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, interviewed Israeli flight instructors – a critical job if one ever existed – about the feedback they gave the pilots they trained. Instructors told Kahneman they stopped giving the pilots positive feedback because whenever a pilot did an outstanding job and they praised him, he flew worse on the next flight. And, on the other hand, when the pilot performed poorly and the instructor read him the riot act, he did better the next time.
The instructors, like many of us, saw their words as having more influence that they, in reality, actually had. An outstanding performance, due to regression to the mean, will be followed by one not as outstanding. Conversely, a terrible one will be followed by a better one. What goes up, must come down and vice versa. The instructors made the same mistake we make as youth coaches: a team who plays terribly will, in all likelihood, play better the next game whether or not you yell at them.
Does this mean you shouldn’t say anything because your words have no impact? That you can’t hold your players accountable for their performance? Absolutely not! Instead of yelling, you can:
1) Show your team what to do (not tell them what not to do)
2) Tell them, they can do better (because they can be)
3) Focus on a few, specific fundamentals to improve and
4) Practice, practice, practice those skills, remembering to have fun
5) Track, reward and recognize progress, no matter how slow
Earlier this season, one of my youth teams got drilled 33-1 (we only scored due league rules requiring a point be awarded when a player gets fouled while shooting). Believe me, at numerous times, I wanted to yell at various players, but stopped myself. Yelling would have made me feel better, but wouldn’t have made much sense: as a coach, you do your work at practices, not during games.
Although I really – really – wanted to tear into them after the contest – some players seemed to not put in much effort during the game — I backed off and focused on the five above at the next practice. Reminding myself my job was showing them how to play better and encouraging them – they are eleven and twelve year olds playing in a YMCA rec league — we practiced specific fundamentals we failed to execute during the game, believing those would help us do better in the next one.
The next week, my squad won 16-14 in overtime. What happened the week after that? Well, you know that concept of regression to the mean….
You can find more articles from Jim Bado that are usually non-basketball related at the LOSER Report.
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