Beware the Don’t
Don’t think about that elephant. Don’t think about how huge and heavy it is.
Most people, when faced with a “don’t do it” command, immediately do it anyway. It’s kind of a reflex thing and we can’t help it. So now there is an African elephant in my office watching me type. She just stomped her foot because she doesn’t like it when I talk about her behind her back. This reaction to a “don’t” isn’t such a big deal when we’re talking about imaginary elephants, but it can be kind of self-defeating when we hear a “don’t” in the middle of a WOD.
You’ve heard it before: “don’t put that barbell down!” Or even worse: “don’t slow down!” As soon as I hear this, I want to tell that person to f**k off, and then I want to drop the barbell. On their foot. If I’m fighting off fatigue, trying to stick with my mental goal of all 30 reps unbroken, as soon as I hear a “don’t” my barbell gets 100# heavier and a rest break starts to look really attractive. So how do we get around this little problem?
The Power of Positive Thinking
Without going all Dr. Phil on you guys, staying positive really is more effective, both in motivating people to do their best, and in giving them something concrete to work towards. Instead of saying “don’t,” give them something they can do, or fix, or aim for.
“Lift your elbows.” “Eyes straight ahead.” “Hang on for 5 more reps!” “You can get this set unbroken!”
Imagine trying to teach a squat to a newbie with negatives. Don’t get your feet too narrow, don’t let your chest drop forward, don’t look at the ground. It would be insane. But positive cues give them something they can accomplish and they know when they are following instructions correctly. And it feels awesome to do something correctly. Feet at hip width, check! Keep my chest nice and upright, check! Drop down until I get my hips below my knees, check! I am KILLING this air squat!!
We Ain’t Cheerleaders
Now that we have you thinking in the right direction, there are two small caveats.
#1 Pick your moment. If someone is just trucking along in their WOD, and they’re in the zone, moving well, stay out of their hair so you are not a distraction. If you see an opening to fix a movement or a motivational slump, then you help out. “Lock those arms out at the top.” “Take three breaths and then pick up the bar.” But you don’t want to be on them like white on rice.
#2 Sometimes you get tough love. Sometimes positive means a direct command, especially if you’re talking to someone whose capabilities and goals you know very well. For example, in an open WOD, you know your competitive friend wants a particular score and it’s in their reach. But that means you are cracking the whip about rest breaks, about unbroken sets and about time limits. Your cues can stay positive, but it might sound more like “suck it up and pick that up.” Talk it over with your friend beforehand so no one is surprised and then be firm! They are so far in the moment and the motion that their brain is off, so you are in charge of thinking, counting, and motivating them.
Written by Coach Nicole S. with Team "I"m all outta Bubble Gum"