When my brother was small and wanted more information he would say, “Could you be more pacific?” He’s probably not the only little kid in history to mix up the words specific and Pacific, but it was kind of adorable. For the past 35 years, whenever I hear the word “specific” I think of my brother and his desire for someone to be more Pacific.
It happened again a couple weeks ago, this time in a Coaching Life Group, as we discussed a real life coaching situation. One member of the group talked about how she was coaching young volleyball players, and made the decision to start pointing out their mistakes during a match. In the first game, when a ball hit the floor, she would call out to the player whose error had cost the team a point. After a few of these, the coach began to see her team deflate before her eyes. It was discouraging for these athletes to be told repeatedly, “Hey, that was your fault,” with no other kind of feedback included.
Fortunately, this coach figured something out right in that moment. It wasn’t helpful to point a finger of blame, she needed to give them something useful. In the second game of the match, she continued calling out to the players who made mistakes, but this time the player was given something specific to correct. “Keep your eye on the server”, “Move your feet”, and other instructions like that proved to be much more useful and encouraging.
That morning in our group discussion of Jeff Duke’s outstanding book 3D Coach, we were reading in a chapter called “Legacy of Love”, and Jeff wrote about helping players build confidence, “Everything out of our mouth and all of our actions will make an impact.” The parallel was drawn between providing blame vs. providing useful feedback to our players, and how we will either be moving them toward confidence or discouragement.
Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen coaches call out to a player who just made a mistake, “Hey, that was you!!!!!” I’m sure I’ve done it myself a time or two. Not helpful. If we need to make a correction or adjustment on the fly, the only way it’s going to actually be productive is if we can be more Pacific.