The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: How to use it for hockey success

As a parent, is there a way you can produce better outcomes for your child in hockey simply by talking with your coach? There are a few strategies that could lead to more enjoyment, improvement, and overall better outcomes for your young hockey player. Here they are:

I can’t remember exactly in which book I read this, or exactly how the study was carried out, but here’s the general idea…

A study at the Air Force Academy took the entry scores and data from all the incoming freshmen. The researcher then looked at all the data and predicted who the high achievers would be, informing the instructors in the school of those predictions. (Let’s just say that the researcher predicted that 100 of the incoming 1000 students would be high achievers for the sake of this example.) When it came time for graduation, those 100 predicted to be high achievers, were above average in their class.

The trick was, though, that the predictions were not real…the 100 students were chosen at random!!

So it wasn’t that the 100 students actually were above average…it was that the instructors THOUGHT they were above average.

This illustrates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How does a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy work?

In the above example, the self-fulfilling prophecy works like this:

The instructors have an expectation about how well a student will do on all the tasks assigned to them.

This expectation influences how the instructor interacts with the student, the amount of teaching they will provide the student, how much they will engage the student, and the amount of useful feedback they will provide to the student.

It’s empirically found that when an instructor assumes a student to be bright/interested/hard-working/etc., they will provide WARMER interaction with the student, MORE teaching time with the student, ENGAGE the student more often, and provide MORE useful feedback. It also makes sense intuitively that this would be the case.

These changes in the instructor’s behaviour eventually lead to better outcomes for the student!!!

Implications for Parents

There isn’t much of a replacement for having a well-behaved, motivated, polite, skilled, hard-working child. Coaches can obviously see through the delusional parents who tell you that their kid is the next Wayne Gretzky. However, could you influence the way that your coach interacts with your child, by mentioning something small and believable to him or her.

“Johnny is very serious about hockey”

“Johnny really loves learning the different plays”

“Johnny has been working on his shot constantly at home. I’ve noticed a huge improvement.”

“Johnny has been focusing on winning battles. He’s usually pretty good at them.”

“Johnny will be one of the hardest workers for you.”

What you say to the coach should not just be random. It should involve 2 components:

1. It should be believable. If Johnny is a complete whack job, don’t tell the coach he is the most polite kid on the team. But if Johnny is a pretty hard worker, mentioning to the coach that Johnny loves being the hardest worker may tip some of the coaches actions in Johnny’s favour.

2. It should focus on an area you’d like the coach to reinforce. If you are a parent who believes in hard work, then you should construct your comment to make the coach think that your child is a hard worker. If you are a parent that believes that your child could benefit from having his intellect stimulated, you should mention something about your child being interested in learning the plays.

So do I suggest talking your coaches ear off? No.

Do I think that some that a subtle comment will replace the behaviour of your child (i.e., first impressions, rude/polite behaviour, attentiveness)? Absolutely not.

But I do think that a well-placed, subtle comment could lead to your child’s coach viewing them in a slightly different way. This could influence the coach’s interactions with your child, and therefore affect their outcomes.

Try it out! Let me know what you think.

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Published by

Jason at Train 2.0

2.0 was born from the belief that 1.0 isn't good enough. The way we're approaching coaching, training, and development for hockey needs to be rethought. My own lessons have led me to rethink the way it's being done and I can't help but write about it. I'm writing for my 12, 13, 14, 15 year old self who didn't have this resource. I'm writing for parents who are putting their dollars and trust in coaches who are wasting all of it. I'm writing because I hope it can make a difference.

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