Compliment Sandwich

When I first started playing volleyball, 15 years ago, it was 6th grade. The coach and older players informed me that after every play – good or bad – we had to meet in the middle of our court and do some cheer or tell each other good job or high five. I hated it. When I got to JV, our coach wasn’t big on the whole middle of the court huddle either, but we had to do some sort of cheer or chant before the game and time-outs. Since his wife is the cheerleader-type…and was the Varsity coach, we had to cheer on the court sometimes too. During my time on Varsity, I actually got in trouble, kinda, for refusing to move to the middle of the court to cheer when something went wrong. I was ok with cheering and congratulating my teammates when they made a solid play, but when you do something wrong? No no no. Just leave me alone and let me get the next one.

Flash forward to when I graduated and came back as JV Head Coach, Varsity Assistant Coach. It drove my girls absolutely insane when I said we were not going to be doing the cheer in the huddle. That was wasting my time to talk. We could do the little cheer or chant at the end of the game. . .after we won. Cheer huddles on the court were for good plays, otherwise, either do not say anything or keep it to a simple “you’ll get it next time.” I did have the rule that I was the only one allowed to critique. My girls had to say something nice or not say anything at all. I carried this rule over to when I began coaching Junior High as the Head Coach. After a few years off from coaching, I have that rule again as the 8th grade Coach.

I do not think that those I coach or train need to be so protected that they never receive criticism, but it must be constructive criticism. My senior year of basketball, we had absolutely awful coaches that led to my school not having a team the following year. They never said anything positive to those who did not have that natural star-player quality. The girls who struggled were mocked. Girls were told they were too big OR too little! Girls with knee problems but had never torn anything were told they were faking it to cover up how slow they really were. That is not constructive criticism; that is just cruel and led to a few girls attempting eating disorders. I put a stop to that.

This year, when I was first allowed to meet with my new girls, I learned their coach from last year – who was replaced for this year – did a lot of damage a whole different way. They ignored the girls. They gave up on them. . .and told them this. I am absolutely floored with how many girls came out to play this season after what I have been told – by them, their parents, the head of the program, the AD – was a brutal season for them emotionally. Middle school-aged girls do not typically, willingly submit themselves to that sort of hurt.  Adults do not typically, willingly submit themselves to that sort of hurt. I, myself, have reached that point in my life where I can stand up for myself and pull out of a bad situation. It took a few years, but I got here!

I am not a cheerleader; I leave that up to my cousins. I have warned my girls not to expect me jumping up and down on the sidelines trying to get the crowd to cheer during a time when I should be leading them. They may not have figured this out yet, but I have been using a “compliment sandwich” technique since my first day as a coach. I tell them something positive they did, how to correct what they did wrong, and end on a positive. Personally, I rarely heard the good my coaches told me. I always focused on what I needed to correct. My sister would usually be there to remind me later that I was not a complete screw-up on the court and that my coaches actually were pleased with how well I did. This compliment sandwich is something I have done with my clients in the gym. Tell them what they did well, what they need to work on, and end with another positive note. The state of Ohio now forces all coaches to take a fundamentals of coaching course before we can actually interact with our players. Personally, I felt it was a waste of my time and money. It legitimately did not teach me anything new aside from a few good quotes from renowned coaches. However. It did make me smile to see that the compliment sandwich technique is so effective that it is in this course – under a different name, I think.

I attended a coaches clinic (which I actually did like) at Capital University. Coach Amanda Hubbard, their Head Volleyball Coach, mentioned that we have to adapt to the coaching needs of the current generation. (I think my 8th grade girls are the exception to this generalization of this generation.) Just because we might have responded better to criticism does not mean the generation we coach now will respond in a positive way. (I think my 8th grade girls are the exception to this generalization of this generation.) Chances are, they will actually completely shut down instead of bettering themselves.

This is something to keep in mind regardless of whether you are a coach or trainer, teacher, or employer. Nobody grows without constructive criticism, but getting beat down constantly will eventually end in a break down of a person – emotionally, physically, mentally, or all of the above. You do not have to be the cheerleader, always peppy, always smiling, but let the people in your charge know they are doing something right.

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