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  • Writer's pictureRick Traugott

Positivity and the Power of a Smile

The word “positivity” has been rattling around my head for the past couple of weeks. It started with an e-mail I received from Tim Bothwell who is a coaching colleague, former NHL player and current assistant coach at the University of Calgary with the women’s program. He wrote about using positive language for key concepts. For example, instead of saying “don’t play soft”, say “play tough”. I like this idea a lot, and players do react and perform better with positive instructions rather than negative ones.

Of course, whenever you have a word rattling around in your brain, the best thing to do is go online and get a definition. So, Oxford Dictionary:

Positivity: The practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude. e.g ‘pupils draw power from the positivity of their teachers’, ‘we like to project positivity and a message of hope’

I like to think of myself as a positive person. I think the more you smile the more people around you feel better and the more relaxed you can make your environment. When people ask me how I am they usually get a “terrific!”, or “tremendous!”, or “excellent!” Ask me how it’s going? “Awesome!, “outstanding!, or “exceptional!” For me, “good!” is having a bad day. Do things sometimes “grind my gears”? Absolutely. In fact, some things drive me NUTS! But, I do my best to not let that ruin an otherwise “tremendous” day.

I believe in smiling at my players - when they come into the rink, during a pregame speech, even after a tough loss. It makes them feel welcome. It makes them feel relaxed. It lets them know that we are “in control” of the situation and we know what we are doing. Mostly, it gives my players confidence. A smile says “we’ve got this!” It also lets them know that our relationship is on solid ground, it lets them know that I trust them and that I have confidence in them, it instills in them some positivity (sometimes in negative situations), and it lets them know that we are all human, have feelings, and can always be the best version of ourselves no matter what.

(Wow! That sounded a little “new age”-y!)

On the bench, I always subscribe to the “sandwich” approach to constructive criticism. I layer some constructive criticism between two relatively good pieces of information - kind of like meat between two pieces of bread. Instead of “that was a terrible pass”, how about “That was a great idea to make that pass but, you have to pass the puck harder and with authority, if you had hit the stick there and you would have created a great scoring chance.” Staying positive on the bench allows players to go back out on the ice with confidence rather than worrying about making their next mistake. I would guess that every player makes at least one mistake, small or large, on just about every shift they play. If we attempt to correct every mistake our players will become so overwhelmed by information that they won’t be able to perform at all.

“In the terrific documentary called Mike, Mario and Mr. Greatness about the 1987 Canada Cup of hockey, Mark Messier, legendary captain of the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers, is quoted as saying at a difficult time in the tournament “Park the negatives, Boys!” He knew it was crucial to stay positive in tough times. The emotional state of a coach is contagious when it comes to team sports. …It’s crucial to not be negative around the team - in the dressing room and on the bench.”

I love the quote “park the negatives!” It is all too easy to fall into the trap of an “everything is awful” attitude and truly, it does no good whatsoever to be negative in a team culture.

I am particularly wary of the lack of positivity at times in a parent group - especially in minor hockey. Even one disgruntled parent can be a thorn in the side of a team community. We all know that parent. The notion of positivity, and being positive, is something that needs to be communicated effectively and regularly to both the players and the greater team community. There needs to be an understanding that, sometimes even if things aren’t going well, being positive has a better chance of making things better than being negative. And as coaches, as leaders for our team community, it’s crucial that we have the courage to have tough conversations with those that are negative around us. Find ways to instill positivity into their outlook and invariably it will end up contributing to team success - no matter how that’s defined.

As a player, I always liked coming to the rink where there was a “positive charge”. It’s tough to maintain over a long season but, with some effort, coaches can minimize negativity and maximize positivity.

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