How to Fill Your Players' Emotional Tanks

Responsible coaches keep players' "emotional tanks" full. What do we mean by this?

A person's "emotional tank" is like a car's gas tank. When it's full we can go anywhere we want to; when it's empty we can't go at all. Players with full emotional tanks give coaches some distinct advantages. Players with full emotional tanks are:

  • More coachable and likely to listen and respond without resistance
  • More optimistic
  • Better able to handle adversity

Finding a Balance

So, how do coaches fill their players' emotional tanks? By striking the right balance between specific, truthful praise and specific, constructive criticism.

Educational research indicates a "magic ratio" of 5:1, five praises to one criticism, which fosters the ideal learning environment.

Many coaches find this hard to believe, because most of our own experience as youth athletes, sons, daughters and pupils has taught us that "coaching" equals "correcting," and therefore, praise is not coaching. But a good coach who fills emotional tanks corrects players correctly.

Be Specific

The key is avoiding empty, unearned praise. Remember, the praise must be truthful and specific (i.e., not "Way to go," but, "Lisa, I'm glad to see you choking up on the bat when you have two strikes against you.").

Truthful, specific praise for other situations may include:

  • "Emily, way to get to the bag when our third baseman crashes in on the bunt."
  • "Christina, thanks for calling off the other outfielders on that fly ball. That's the kind of communication we need."
  • "Hope, even though you're on the bench, I love the way you support your teammates."

Be sure your non-verbal communication also maintains the "Magic Ratio." You fill emotional tanks when you listen, nod, clap, or smile. Tank drainers include ignoring players, frowning, head-shaking, eye-rolling and yelling.

You Oughta Be in Pictures

Videotape yourself coaching. We spend a lot of time videotaping our players and breaking down their performance. Try turning the camera on yourself for a few minutes during a game or practice to answer these questions:

  • How is your non-verbal communication?
  • What is your approximate ratio of tank filling to draining?

Getting Your Squad Involved

The following guidelines provide guidance in introducing these concepts to your youth softball players and a tool to help you fill emotional Tanks. At the start of the season, let your players know that:

  1. Each one of them has an emotional tank that fills and drains when they receive praise and criticism.
  2. You don't want to be alone in filling tanks. You want them to act as tank fillers for each other.
  3. In an environment where players are receiving five tank fillers for every one tank drainer (the 5:1 "Magic Ratio") their enjoyment and performance will increase.
  4. Teams that play at home have a 60 percent chance of winning.

We can take this "home field advantage" with us wherever we play, if we focus on filling each other's tanks with truthful and specific praise. This will help us win more.

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Courtesy of Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA)– the National Governing Body of Softball in the United States.

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