Even a Little Praise Can Go a Long Way

By Pam Richmond Champagne

"You did quite well, Amy, but I know you can do better." How many parents, when giving praise to their young athlete, kill all the joy out of it by adding the dreaded, "but."

Recently I had a conversation with a nine-year old who is a talented swimmer. She firmly announced to her Dad and I that she didn’t want to compete on a swim team. “How come?” I asked. She replied, “Because parents are always saying things like you could have tried harder or you could have done better."

I still have my copy of a newspaper article from 1966 on the topic of praise.

As a junior tennis competitor, suffering from a lack of praise, I wrote this note to my father on it: "Dad, don’t lose this and read it often. It's true.” The article describes an interesting experiment made by a school superintendent. All students took an art aptitude exam. The 30 who scored the lowest were placed in a class with a warm, enthusiastic teacher who was instructed always to praise.

The teacher found something worthy of praise even in a poor drawing. The school principal visited periodically and added positive words, such as, “That’s a fine drawing. When you finish, could I have it to hang in my office?” When the children were retested, everyone in this group scored higher and some were above average.

In the control measure the 30 highest scorers were placed in a class in which the teacher was constantly saying, "That's pretty good, but I know you can do better." Students became nervous, unhappy, and some stopped working. When retested, they did poorer than before. This is a powerful lesson!

When offering praise, be sure to keep in mind the importance of being sincere. Your child can detect false praise or exaggeration, and that is worse than saying nothing at all. The idea is not to inflate your child’s ability level, but rather find something to praise about your child athlete. It might be their good effort, upbeat attitude, or persistence. The point is – look for it!

The Point: Your unqualified praise will inspire your child to want to live up to your high regard for him or her.

Pam Champagne was a three-time national collegiate tennis champion and Arizona State athletics hall-of-fame inductee. She was owner of The Champagne Group, a successful personal and business coaching company.

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