A couple of stories from my youth swimming career that don’t necessarily have a “point”. Take from them what you will.
It started around the third grade. In those far gone days, that was when teachers started to give homework. I, for reasons I won't fully get into because it would dominate this post, didn't do the homework.
Or sometimes I would. I would excuse myself to go to the bathroom directly before homework was due to be checked and furiously scribble something down. As you can imagine, I didn't earn high marks for this kind of effort.
As I progressed forward, I had to come up with increasingly punitive tactics to get myself to "do homework". I'd wait until the homework was late and I started losing a letter grade each day. I'd force myself to get up early the day things were due so I could work under the most possible time pressure.
I was a procrastinator. I really didn't like school, at least the parts you had to do outside of school, and I craved that negative pressure to get things done.
It worked, I guess. But eventually I found a better way.
At some point, I switched tactics. I understand it better now. Procrastinators abuse themselves to get things done. You can do the opposite. You can reward yourself for doing the things you don't want to do.
Here's how most of my college roommates remember me: sprawled out on my futon playing video games (or reading about swimming) for most of the day. And yet, in college I never handed in something late, or worked to the eleventh hour to furiously finish something.
The video games were the end of a process I followed each semester. Upon getting the syllabus for a class (sometimes it was possible to even do this before class started) I sized up which assignments I could knock off immediately. What books could I read right now? What papers could I write.
Then I did it all. Instead of the pressure of the final moment, I gave myself a reward. When I finished most of my schoolwork for the semester, it was video game and swimming time.
BIG CHANGE VS LITTLE CHANGE
If you want to change behavior, punishing yourself or the person you want to change works, sort of. Most people don't crave punishment, and they will naturally avoid behaviors that result in punishment.
As a coach or leader on the team, what does this mean practically? The first intuition might be to set up a reward structure for things you want to encourage, and that's definitely a good idea.
The next level is to teach athletes how to self-reward. It's the difference between feeding someone a fish dinner and teaching them how to fish for themselves. The rewards that individuals come up with for themselves will always be stronger than anything you can dictate from on high.
Want to learn more about incorporating Positive Psychology into your coaching? Write me.