If you are a new reader, you may not know about my friend (honored to call him that…) and author, Michael Johnson. He wrote the perfect horsemens’ book, HEALING SHINE (great Xmas idea… no affiliation).
Once a month, Michael writes a thought provoking and feed good piece called, THROWING MY LOOP. Luckily, he has offered his treasured missives to us at Horse & Man.
So, here you go! The perfect finale to our FEEL GOOD WEEK.
FROM MICHAEL JOHNSON
THROWING MY LOOP…
How do we help those we love? How do we help people improve at a particular task? Did you ever coach a little league team? How about soccer? Teach someone how to ride or rope? How did you do it? Did you implement your coaching strategies after meticulous research on best practices? Probably not. You probably did it like all coaches since the days of Moses. All coaches coached the way they were coached – they say everything really loud and they always say it twice! (As in, “Let’s go! Let’s go! Hustle! Hustle!”) Surely the coaches I had in life must have set some kind of record – none of them ever smiled a single time in four years! And almost all dads have one surefire method…yell at your kid more than you do the others. Of course, if any player (or horse) makes a mistake – you yell at them! That’s just the way it’s done, right?
Could there be a better way? Maybe so…an organization called Positive Coaching Alliance surely does offer some food for thought. PCA was founded by Jim Thompson, a man who worked at the Stanford Business School. Before that, Thompson taught emotionally disturbed students where he became skilled with managing and motivating those children. When his son turned 6 and started in sports, Thompson discovered parents and coaches violating all the methods he knew to be effective –
putting intense pressure on children, giving technical advice when the child was anxious or frustrated,
and coaches yelling at children when they made a mistake. Thompson would eventually collect his ideas in a book called “Positive Coaching, Building Self-Esteem Through Sports.” With the support of the Stanford Athletic Department, he launched PCA in 1998.
The core of PCA is to train “double-goal” coaches. Coaches are encouraged to win – indeed to be relentlessly positive, and to teach life-lessons as well. Parents are encouraged not to coach, but rather to focus on guiding their child’s character development – to help their child become a good person.
Sports psychologists know athletes who focus on things they can control – as opposed to external factors – are less anxious, more confident, happier, and better performers. And according to Thompson, to be a “good” coach – that is to help players come closer to their potential – the key is not
praise for good performance nor criticism for poor performance. What works best for young people is to help them understand they control three key variables – their level of effort, whether they learn from experiences, and how they respond to mistakes. (Rodeo cowboys are usually really good at all three of those. I wish everyone was.) That last one – how to handle mistakes – interests me.
For years I’ve noticed successful athletes – particularly golfers and bull-riders – share a powerful trait. One of the primary differences between the amateur and pro is the ability of the pro to instantly wash the bad shot from memory. Bull-riders fail more than fifty percent of the time, yet they seem unaffected by what most of us would consider a high failure rate. I’m hard pressed to think of any behavior we could adapt in our own personal lives that could help us more than that trait of resiliency.
Jim Thompson would agree. His coaches are trained to help us do just that. Your daughter takes a called third strike. She looks at you. What do you do? Son misses a steer. He looks at you. What do you do? If you were trained as one of Thompson’s coaches, you would have a response.
You make a gesture – a flushing motion like with a toilet! It’s gone. Forget it.
PCA’s philosophy is that every child has an emotional tank, and we must be careful to not let it run dry. The organization even encourages a “magic ratio.” Five positive statements for every one that’s negative. Some of my buddies might consider that soft. I don’t think so at all. I’ve had some powerful coaches in my life who felt the same way. I attended a herding dog clinic in Amarillo long ago. The teacher was Orin Barnes, a master with the horse and with the herding dog as well. As he lectured, these words came forth…
“We must get to the top of the pecking order with the horse and the dog,” he said. “There are two things, however, we cannot do.” He paused for the longest time. Then he said,
“We cannot hit and we cannot yell.”
I held up my hand. “Mr. Barnes, as a native Texan, you have robbed me of the only two weapons I have used all my life. If I can’t hit or yell, what on earth can I do?”
“That, Miguel, is why we are having this clinic,” he said. Then he added…
“And that, young man, is a question I expect you to work on for the rest of your life.”
– Michael Johnson
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