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Positivity Matters

The Ratio

The Positive Coaching Alliance, an organization that trains youth sport coaches, recommends a 5 to 1 positive to negative feedback ratio.

Phil Jackson, former coach of the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers, argues for a 2:1 ratio. Jackson Thinks it’s too hard to come up with 5 positives for every 1 negative, but agrees what’s important is your athletes get more positive than negative from you. He states “players won’t listen or react positively if a coach simply attacks them with criticism.” Jackson firmly believes that any message will be more effective if you pump up players’ egos before you bruise their egos’ (Jackson, 2004).

In her book Positivity, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson explains that experiencing positive emotions at a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads people to a tipping point beyond which they naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve their goals.

Relationship researcher and psychologist John Gottman has spent his career studying marriage and relationships. He identified 5:1 as ‘The Magic Ratio’, in which positive feelings/interactions are contrasted by negative feelings/interactions. Ina. Study of 700 newlywed couples, he and his colleagues predicted whether the couples would stay together or divorce by scoring their positive and negative interactions in one 15-minute conversation between each husband and wife. Ten years later, the follow-up revealed that they had predicted divorce with 94 percent accuracy!

The Purpose

Positivity matters. People, regardless of age and context, want to be around other positive people. We, as coaches, are responsible for creating a positive environment that athletes want to be a part of. Our players should want to come to practice, because it’s fun, and because they get to be around people they like. When positivity outpaces negativity, it makes your environment desirable – that’s where the ratio comes in to play. Whether you believe it’s 2-to-1, 3-to-1, 5-to-1, or an even higher ration than that, your real goal is to make your team environment a place your athletes want to be. So tomorrow we’re starting a 3-part series on positive coaching. Read our next post for part 1: Using the ratio to create your positive coaching environment.


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