By Greg Bach
During his eight years as a volunteer youth basketball coach, Harvard medical school professor Dr. Robert Brooks – co-author of the new book Tenacity in Children: Nurturing the Seven Instincts for Lifetime Success – would write every youngster a note at season’s end.
He thanked them for being a part of the team and highlighted something special about each of them.
And those messages mattered.
“I still remember one parent I bumped into many years after I coached her son and she said ‘you know, he still has that note,’” Brooks shared. “So these little things – I call them the seemingly small gestures – are going to be remembered for a lifetime. And I tell coaches to find those micro moments and use those micro affirmations now because kids are going to remember them.”
It’s why, during the season, his post-game routine included calling one or two players just to reinforce something positive he saw on the court, anything from a great pass to their effort.
Every player received a call at some point during the season.
And those brief chats had a huge impact, too.
"This is what helps us to become what the late psychologist Julius Segal called ‘charismatic adults’ in a kid’s life, adults from whom kids gather strength," Brooks said. "In this capacity, we create indelible memories. When I’ve done research, people remember what their coaches said 30, 40 years later. It’s just incredible.”
Brooks teamed with Dr. Sam Goldstein, a pediatric neuropsychologist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, to write Tenacity in Children. The book examines how multiple generations of parents and caregivers raised children to become successful adults and how caregivers depended on seven important instincts that have evolved through the years.
The seven instincts they delve into are:
The book highlights ways in which these instincts are more important than ever these days in helping prepare kids to lead successful and productive lives. Plus, practical strategies are detailed to help children acquire and fine tune these all-important instincts.
“In our book one of the things we really try to say is that from birth positive qualities like altruism, compassion, and empathy are already there and thus it’s up to adults – parents, teachers and coaches – to really nurture these attributes which are ready to blossom,” Brooks says. “I truly believe that coaches play a critical role in helping to develop these attributes and I think coaches are in a wonderful position to do that.”
Woven throughout the book are heartwarming stories, important research, and the authors’ personal and professional insights.
“One of the greatest gifts a coach can give is for a child to feel that because of their interaction together they are now more confident, more self-assured, and more resilient,” Brooks says.
Use these additional insights from Brooks to bolster your coaching skills and enhance your impact with your young players:
Delete this phrase
When he was coaching, Brooks asked his players what was some of the least useful advice they had received and many shared when an adult would tell them to ‘try harder.’ “Some of them told me ‘how did they know we weren’t trying hard,’” Brooks said. “I realized for some kids who were struggling that they’re putting in 150 percent effort, but the outcome wasn’t the same as it was for other kids. So I know it may seem like a small point but when I started to do research I would hear time and time again how much kids really dislike ‘try harder.’ They found it as judgmental or accusatory.”
Instead, coaches should use phrases like ‘I can see you really put in a lot of effort today, let’s look at some other strategies we can use’ so the young athlete receives encouraging words and doesn’t feel judged.
“The definition of charismatic is one I love,” Brooks says. “It’s an adult from whom a child or adolescent gathers strength. So how does a coach do that? A coach does it by being encouraging; a coach does it by really teaching; and a coach does it by helping kids learn to deal with setbacks. The sad thing is, based on several articles I’ve written and firsthand experience, some coaches are not that way. One person once said to me, ‘if there are charismatic adults there are anti-charismatic adults who suck the energy out of you and put you down’ and no coach should be that way.”
Believe in your players
“In all the research that has been done about resilience, when you ask adults who have had difficult childhoods what do you think was one of the most important things in your childhood that helped you to be resilient the No. 1 answer was there was at least one person who believed in me and stood by me,” Brooks says.
“Kids notice everything, they really do,” Brooks says. “Coaches have to be alert all the time about their behavior – it has to be genuine.”
Former NFL safety Dr. Myron Rolle, author of The 2% Way, shares the mindset that he uses every day to keep moving forward and how young athletes can benefit from it on their journeys, too
Dr. Julie Stamm, a leading neuroscientist and author of THE BRAIN ON YOUTH SPORTS, shares important research and insights on repetitive head trauma and the long-term impact on young athletes’ brain
Acclaimed psychologist Dr. Ethan Kross, author of Chatter, shares tips to help your young athletes use their inner voice to perform better when the pressure rises
Former NFL prolific pass-catching tight end Greg Olsen – dad of three and a busy volunteer youth coach these days – hosts the new podcast Youth Inc., featuring his conversations with athletes, coaches and psychologists covering different aspects of youth sports