Coach’s Log, Entry 6: Try Is a Dirty Word
April 8, 2022
I’m neither exaggerating nor attempting humour when I write the title of this article. Try is a nasty word when it comes to performance and development.
Some versions of positive psychology will have you think that trying is all you need to do to succeed in life, and like most of the slogans that come from these movements, this one is a recipe for failure.
Unless, of course, you’re trying a different flavour of ice cream or doing something inconsequential like trying on a new shirt before you buy it.
The word try (like many words are) is in and of itself devoid of any true meaning without context, but much worse than that, it is detrimental to progress in the right one. On its own, the word try implies the possibility of failure and often without consequence.
I have it on good authority that professions of influence like sales, religion, and politics use this word in specially structured sentences to force failures in judgement and manipulate decision-making.
A hypnotist will often say something like, “try to resist and the harder you try, the harder it you find it is to resit,” when leading someone into compliance.
Note that the last paragraph is not an endorsement of hypnosis and its value as anything more than entertainment. Still, the example shows that the human brain knows, inherently, that trying is a soft, weak attempt at achieving change.
Again, the idea of just trying presupposes permission to fail.
“Do or do not, There is no try.”— Master Yoda
Why Trying Is Meaningless.
Imagine you task someone with taking down one of the structural walls in the gym. Now, much to your apprehension, this person accepts the task and proceeds to push on the specified wall with their hands.
They huff, puff, and push as hard as possible, but the results are as expected, and the wall remains standing.
You cannot claim this person isn’t trying; on the contrary, their physical efforts led them to utter exhaustion and failure.
This person tried.
As you might already understand, the problem is that they took the wrong approach. Taking down that wall is similar to proper performance in that they both require specialised tools. And our job as coaches is to provide our athletes with the tools they need to complete their tasks. Furthermore, we need to ensure our athletes know how to use the tools necessary for proper development in the sport.
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You can only try something once. Any subsequent attempt must carry the right amount of effort towards progress.
Instead of asking your athletes to try something, ask them to do it. Suggest that they do progressions or drills to benefit their understanding of the skill in question. Progressions and drills are the methods we use to teach athletes how to use the available tools to do their job.
I understand that placing such importance on a word might seem banal to most people, but the science is out, and language can accelerate or delay learning considerably.
There is power in language, and that power is available to you if you take time to think about how you structure your suggestions for the people you want to help.
I’ll write more about language later. That’s all for now.
Thank you for reading.
— Coach José