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“Words that are UPlifting always get better results than those that are DOWNputting”


While reading about tennis legend, Martina Navratilova I came across a story about one of her first tennis coaches. It seems that this coach was egging the young Martina on by saying things like “if you play like that you’ll never be a professional champion,” while telling anyone who asked that the ONLY female player she was coaching who stood a chance was Martina.

Martina, despairing of ever being good enough to please her coach, nearly left the game.

She didn’t quit - in fact, she was the Number One player for 7 years and still plays on the World Team Tennis circuit as a guest celebrity. Her career wins include 18 singles and 41 doubles Grand Slam titles, including a record 9 Wimbledons, and a total of 167 singles titles and 178 doubles titles.

Of course, her coach was only coaching Martina the way she herself had been coached, but it almost backfired. If it had, the world would have been deprived of some great tennis, but that is the LEAST of Martina’s impact. She has campaigned for equality in women’s tennis, is an active supporter of animal rights programs, she volunteers and contributes generously to organizations that advocate for underprivileged children and serves as the Health and Fitness Ambassador for AARP. Impact that would have likely not been accessible to Martina if she had turned her back on a career in tennis.

It led me to think about coaching methods - both as a coach and as a client.

I’m not a huge sports fan, but I have closely observed the traits of winning coaches. I have seen the ones who scream at their players win and I have seen the winning records of coaches whose style was more of what “The One Minute Manager” author, Ken Blanchard, calls “catch em doing something right and reward THAT.” It’s temping to think that the boot camp approach of say, Bobby Knight works well with some players while others respond better to a quieter style like Roy Williams‘. But I have to wonder how much better people would respond if the “boot camp” were a little less brutal and a little more uplifting.

As a coach I know that my clients don’t prosper if I “let them off easy.” And as a client I want to be challenged. We’re supposed to offer “tough love” and “hold people’s feet to the fire.”

I’ve had coaches, maybe you have too, who seemed to think my best performances were to be had by telling me all the ways I need to improve, the things I was failing to do, the shortcomings they could see so clearly. And I’ve had coaches who acknowledged achievements and successes even while pushing me to greater heights. I hope you’ve had a few of those, because I have come to believe this:

The “tough” might get results, but alone it is a negative motivation at best and often acts as a deterrent. The “love” part alone is comforting but does not necessarily build us up. Only when the “tough love” is fully interwoven do we have the confidence, validation and impetus to reach higher than we could have on our own.

You might think I’m writing this to tell you how to coach or what to look for in a coach. Well, I’m not sure why I started writing this - like many posts it is just growing organically. But I think I really wrote this to suggest to myself and to all of you that we pay attention to how we coach ourselves.

One of my favorite “raves” on my testimonials page is a single sentence from Ana Gabriel Mann, an internationally recognized compensation consultant. She says “Dixie has the amazing ability to hold her clients “toes to the fire” and create realistic expectations and boundaries while also being an authentic, respectful and loving presence.”

I happened to read that quote from Ana just after reading the story about Martina, and the thing that crossed my mind was “I need to be as good to myself as I am to others.”

I often beat myself up, how about you? I often set unrealistic expectations and boundaries for myself, how about you? I don’t always respect and love myself, how about you? I’ve even been known to lie to myself, how about you?

I have a powerful belief that one of the greatest mistakes we can make is to look outside for what we need to discover inside. Today I realized that “tough love” is one of those things. We all need coaches, they offer a perspective on our “game” that we can’t get by looking inside. But our “winning record” begins with being our own best “uplifter.”

I’m going to start listening to my words to myself and making them UPlifting, not DOWNputting. How about you?

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