Monday, February 15, 2010

The power of "Power Talk"

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
-William Shakespeare

As I sit here watching the Olympics this week, I can’t help but think about the countless hours of training and practice that these athletes put in for only a handful of competitions a year and this ultimate event only once every four years. With so much time between competitions, they remain motivated and push on to achieve their dreams of Olympic gold.

Yet, how many of us work with athletes, both young and more mature, each day that it is a chore to motivate them for each practice or training session? The Olympians are at the pinnacle of their sport and still find the will and resolve to perform their necessary day-to-day routines. Most of our athletes still have a long way to go before they reach their elite levels. Even some of those who have cracked the professional ranks, still require a significant amount of our energy to nudge and drag them through their training sessions and put in at least enough effort to get something out of their workouts. Why do athletes often view these activities as a necessary evil? A colleague of mine said it this way, “It’s like some of them just don’t want to work.” I usually put it a different way. They just don’t understand the importance of the “behind the scenes” work and day-to-day grind that can have a huge impact on their on-field performance.

Shakespeare asks, “What’s in a name?” Language is a systematic means of communicating ideas and feelings. The words that we use should clearly designate our purpose and direction. The subconscious mind records everything. A person’s experiences provide a context for the emotions and behaviors that result from the words that are expressed. If an athlete has a history of negative experiences related to training or is constantly bombarded with negatives in his environment, then this will ultimately lead to negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors about training and workouts. For example, when a coach uses conditioning as punishment, this serves to frame strength and conditioning as something the athlete should not want to do. Our mission should be to provide an environment both physically and with the language that we use to motivate and encourage our athletes to strive for their best both during competition and during their day-to-day routines.

I read an article several years ago that really got me thinking about the concept of language and positive self-talk. The article described a shipping company that was losing almost a million dollars per year in late, damaged, and wrong shipments. They hired a consultant to analyze their warehouse operations and to recommend changes that they could make in order to maximize their profits. After a couple of months the consultants made only one suggestion…change a word. What the consultants determined was that in the warehouse, the workers were segregated into different roles (packers, loaders, drivers, etc.). These roles isolated the workers and limited their interest in the work they performed. The consultants suggested that the company do away with each of the workers’ designated roles and replace them with a single job description, “craftsmen”. The shipping company took the advice and began referring to each employee as a “craftsman”. They even altered their training and business manuals to refer to “craftsmen”. Over time, the company began noticing big changes. The employees began taking more pride and ownership in their work, warehouse morale improved, and the next year’s analysis showed that the money the company was losing due to poor work and shipping errors was virtually gone.

What are some words that we can change in our business? Since reading the article, I have made the following power changes to my language when I’m communicating with athletes:

Strength and Conditioning >> Performance Enhancement
Practice >> Training Session
Rehabilitation >> Reconditioning
Coaching Staff >> Performance Team

Professional baseball seems to also begun to embrace this concept of “Power Talk”. Many teams shun the negative, second-tier persona of the minor leagues by referring to it as “player development”.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS


  1. "Language is a systematic means of communicating ideas and feelings. The words that we use should clearly designate our purpose and direction."

    Well said!

    As professionals in a scientific-based applied field, we have a responsibility to "play both sides of the line". Someone once told me that our job is 10% knowledge and 90% personality... This is especially true with players and coaches. How we relate training to the players, using developmentally appropriate language, affects how the work is ultimately performed. I've heard some coaches call this "psychological warfare". In relating to the perspectives of the staff/coaches and front office members, our language must change from that we use with players. Lastly, in conversing with colleagues and researchers about program development, our language must change again.

  2. Good points. We could be the smartest people in the world, but if we can't get the players or coaches to buy into our what!