Praise correct praise is a method martial arts coaches often use to correct mistakes during their classes. This tactic is also used in businesses, though the terminology is not quite as child friendly (poo sandwich). The praise correct praise technique usually involves praising the child for something they are doing well, correcting their practice and then praising them for implementing the correction. Although it feels like I have heard this phrase mentioned in martial arts circles for many years, I can’t recall hearing it used outside of the martial arts environment (IE by other sports coaches).
There is no doubt that the praise correct praise method of correction gives us a simple solution to a sometimes more complicated problem. As humans, we often chose to shortcut the thinking process and rely on solutions that don’t require too much deep thought. While I admit that a simple solution put to use is 100X better than a more comprehensive one never used, I feel that there is scope to update the PCP model with something a little more in line with current motivational research.
The type and volume of praise matters
The type and volume of praise used when interacting with children is very important. In her theory of Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck suggests that giving too much praise can actually be detrimental to the child’s motivation and praising the child rather than their effort or process can be equally as damaging. As praise correct praise leads with the premise that the coach is responsible for providing the Correction part of the model, there is also a danger that the children will build a reliance on the coach to fix their problems.
Over the years I have researched many areas of motivation theory and the specific area that always seems to produce the best long-lasting results (especially when working with children) is intrinsic motivation. In essence, we want to create an environment that the children want to at least try to correct their own techniques before asking us. Autonomy is in fact one of the three areas of Self Determination Theory and we should look to encourage this if we want to develop future independent thinkers.
When it comes to giving children feedback in practice, we have the opportunity to change the proposition from ‘correcting’ a child (giving them the fish) to empowering them to try and solve the problem themselves (teaching them how to fish). This gives them the added advantage that if they can start to self diagnose from an early age, they will take more responsibility for their own performance in the future. This is not to say that we don’t nudge them towards an answer when they give you the ‘I don’t know where to start’ look, but we encourage them to talk through the problem and come up with some of their own solutions first.
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So, what have i come up with to replace the praise correct praise model?
I call it ‘Coaching with CARE’ where CARE stands for Connect, Ask, Recognise and Encourage. This protocol will help you communicate on the same wavelength of the children you coach while also increasing their feeling of autonomy and responsibility. I don’t feel it adds too much extra complexity to the ‘in activity’ feedback process but it does promote more of a modern and collaborative way of coaching that the old praise correct praise method.
Connect – Get down on the level of the students and speak to them in language that is relevant to their stage of development. Use their first name, appropriate body contact and even inject a little humour into the situation if you feel it is appropriate. There are not many occasions that starting a conversation with a smile will not help you connect with a child.
Ask – Rather than give the students the answers, ask questions that help them try work through the problem themselves. After repeating this process a few times the students will start to understand that finding solutions to their own problems is more empowering. As the solution came from them (even if you helped them find it), they will also be more committed to the implementation and have a better chance of remembering the process in future.
Recognise – While we want to stay away from non-descript blanket praise, recognising effort and process can help students build a Growth Mindset. All praise should be both specific and justified if your feedback is to be taken as genuine and valued. While I do encourage you to deliver your feedback in a positive way, you shouldn’t shy away from asking questions that help the children reflect on aspects of their practice that have room for improvement.
Encourage – Supporting the child through this learning process is a must. While I encourage you to nurture the children in your charge, you don’t need to become their personal cheerleader. In this context, encouragement is more about using scaffolding to help children learn a skill. Scaffolding is a term taken from teaching that describes the process of modelling, giving prompts and asking questions. This method of encouragement also fits in well with intrinsic motivational and Growth Mindset theory.
I hope this framework will help you not only develop your young ninja’s technical ability but also keep them engaged. Implementing change in your coaching can often take a little time and effort but don’t let the mantra ‘we have always done it this way’ stop you from trying. If you don’t get it straight away, keep trying. You didn’t get your black belt by giving up the first time something didn’t work.
PS Thanks to everyone that has joined our new Facebook group (Coaching kids martial arts – the MAPLE way) over the last couple of weeks. It’s been great to have a place to discuss the different areas of coaching children in martial arts 🙂