Critical Praise

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As parents, teachers, instructors, and coaches, we aren’t here to make their lives easier, we are here to give them the strength, resiliency, and tools to make their own lives easier. Unfortunately, it is a parent’s instinct to do things for their children, to make sure they want for nothing, but we do them no favors by being that type of parent, instructor or coach.

We all had that one coach or instructor who was really tough on us. Some were borderline abusive, and some were flat out abusive. Today, we still see coaches and instructors who really get tough on their athletes or students, but thankfully we know more about child development and psychology than we did back then. The trick is to use the carrot instead of the stick, but praise can be overdone. It can become meaningless.

In my school, we don’t throw out unearned praise. We praise more than any of my old coaches, some of whom, never said anything nice. However, when we give praise, but it is always earned and very specific.

The first factor that must exist with any praise is that it be very specific. It is never a “Good Job.” What was a good job? The kick? The hands up? The breath control? The torso tension? The pivot? That loud burp they just did? Instead, we will point out something very specific.

The second thing we do is to use their name. There is no sound in the world that people respond to more than their name. We write their names on their lapel specifically, so we don’t accidently call someone by the wrong name, or, heaven forbid, forget the name of one of over 300 students.

The third thing is to make eye contact with the student. They will see the sincerity in the contact and it will make a more positive and permanent impact.

The fourth thing is to give them a high five or a fist bump or high elbow. Appropriate touch only. No back pats or head pats. That level of touch is for family only. Are there students who become like family? Sure, but keeping a respectful distance, physically and emotionally, will benefit the student much more in the long run. Maintaining the instructor and student relationship is vital for them to learn in the best possible way, thus, that distance is needed.

The fifth thing is to make sure to say all praise loudly. I want the student to feel proud of the praise and I want the rest of the class to hear it, and the parents too. The student may think or even tell us, “It embarrasses me when you praise me aloud like that,” and they may blush, but the reality is that their subconscious will be powerfully and positively impacted by it if it is done aloud like that. I can’t make the dramatic positive changes in a student if I’m not positively impacting their subconscious. Their own negative internal self-talk must be overridden, and this is how it is done.

In the same regard, students often tell their parents that they don’t want them to stay and watch them in class. A good parent will be there anyway. That child is worried about judgement from the most important person in their life, the parent. What they need is the parent to be there, watching, supporting, putting importance on this activity and on the child. However, the parent can’t be critical. It will be the reason the kid wants to quit. Let the instructors instruct, parents need to be the child’s biggest cheerleader. If your kid falls down, tell them that was the best fall you ever saw.

The sixth thing is to make sure the praise is about what the student has done, not something they believe that they are naturally are good at. This is probably the most important one, and the most overlooked. Praising something someone thinks they are naturally good at doing will mean nothing. Make sure you are pointing out their effort, their accomplishment and that it didn’t come easy.

So the praise may end up like this, while making eye contact, “Jimmy, I really like how you are working to keep your front knee bent in that front stance, give me a high five.”

BOOM!

Everyone in the class wants that same praise now. Everyone is going to try to work just as hard. Jimmy is blushing but his subconscious hears my words, and it builds him up. The praise was specific, and it was about his effort, not something everyone just naturally does.

If what I see performed by the student happens to be a really amazing example of the technique, or I know this student needs a lift, or I know the lesson will greatly impact the whole class, we will stop all students, have the student demonstrate it and have everyone give them a double clap.

It may seem that it is all about the confidence. That is a part of it but think of how this reinforces the self-discipline this student needed to accomplish this. Think of how praising their work and effort reinforces the perseverance and work ethic in this student and all who witness it.  

Parents, instructors, and coaches are so much more responsible for the development of the student than they realize. It is the most important thing we will ever do.

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