Sports have a lot to teach us about many things—including the best way to offer praise. Speaking on NPR, L. Jon Wertheim, executive editor of Sports Illustrated, and Tufts psychologist Sam Sommers, the authors of This is Your Brain On Sports, weighed in on the subject.
Both authors happen to coach their kids’ sports teams, and both are opposed to the “everyone gets a participation trophy” style of recognition. Citing a study in which University of Notre Dame researchers tested praise's efficacy on a losing college hockey team, Wertheim and Sommers contend that the more specific praise is, the greater its impact. “Praise the hustle, the effort, the process,” they advise, and avoid generic praise like “good job” or “you’re smart.” (The hockey team, whose players were specifically complimented on the number of times they checked an opponent, made it into the playoffs).
Whether dealing with children, or adults on organizational teams, the lesson applies universally. Be specific in your praise, compliment the level of effort, and notice the details of achievement. The results breed far more self-confidence than a generic “good job participation trophy”—and praiseworthy efforts are likely to continue.
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