Mental Toughness

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Carrot or Stick?

Published: 2022-07-05
Carrot or Stick?
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This is likely going to bother some coaches, and I'm going to say it anyway:

  • Many coaches manipulate the actions of their athletes using rewards (carrot) and punishment (stick)

Maybe it won't be so bothersome if I add that they do it unintentionally.  They are simply doing what they have been taught.  They coach the way they were coached.  They do what's accepted by the sports culture.

But there’s a big problem the sports culture doesn’t talk about.  There’s a reason the “carrot and stick” approach is no longer used by some coaches, and when I talk to athletes, I understand why.

I’m a Mental Toughness Coach, and athletes tell me that the "carrot and stick" is confusing.

Why would it be confusing?  Because the same person that rewards them also punishes them.  The same person who laughs and jokes with them also makes them run suicides, do bag skates, or up-downs till they feel like puking.

This creates fear.  They so badly want the reward, and they so deeply fear the consequences. 

Coach, they want to please you.  They want you to like them.  They want your approval.  They will do almost anything to get the carrot.

They don’t want to disappoint you.  They don’t want to be benched.  They don’t want to be judged. They don't want to be blamed and shamed.  They will do almost anything to avoid the stick.

The carrot and stick successfully manipulate their behavior.  “When athletes worry too much about what their coaches think, they will always be their prisoner.”

There's got to be a better way…



What if coaches released them from jail?  What if coaches stopped being the “sage on the stage” and shifted to the “guide on the side”?  What if coaches stopped talking so much and gave their athletes a voice? 



What if coaches taught athletes to self-reflect and self-evaluate?  What if athletes were taught the most important approval is self-approval?  What if athletes were allowed to have an opinion, even if it was contradictory?

What if coaches remembered their WHY?  Why did you start coaching in the first place?  Most coaches signed up to teach athletes about leadership and teamwork.  Most coaches signed up to use sport as a vehicle to help their athletes stand tall and proud on the Podium of Life.

How can these athletes stand on that podium when they live in fear?  How can they show up as their Greatest Self when the carrot and stick are always present?

Maya Angelou said, "When you know better, you do better."

It’s time for coaches to do better.