Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Praise talent… or praise hard work?

David Clarke

Some of the players at my club are facing their final few weeks of revision before the exam season starts, and their parents are looking for words to help motivate them.

It is mirrored in many ways by the words you and I have to use over the course of a season to motivate our players.

But the way children learn both in sport and academia is not through praising talent but through praising effort. Dozens of studies have found that the top performers – whether in mathematics, football, or music – learn no quicker than those who reach lower levels of attainment. In essence, childrens’ talent improves at practically identical rates.

Putting it simply, if your players practise more they will become strong achievers – talent alone is not enough for them to develop into good footballers. I won’t deny that some children come to the game and are naturally better than others, but if they don’t put in the effort the others soon catch them up.
That means phrases such as these are out:
“You did that exercise really quickly, you’re such a good player”

“Wow what a clever move, you must be the next Messi!”

“Brilliant – you scored that goal without even trying!”

And phrases like these are in:
“You worked really hard at that exercise – keep it up”

“That was a great bit of skill, your practise is really paying off”

“Great goal, you must be working really hard in training”

And if you don’t believe me listen to this: A leading psychologist has recently conducted an experiment based around the praise that her students received. All 400 subjects tested were given a simple puzzle.

Half were praised for intelligence – “wow you must be really smart”. And half for the effort they put in – “wow you must be hardworking”.

They were then given a choice of whether to take a hard or easy test. 75% of the students praised for intelligence chose the easy test because they were scared of losing the smart label, but only 10% of the students praised for effort chose the easy test; the other 90% chose the tough test to prove how hardworking they were.

They then took a second test of the same difficulty and the group praised for intelligence showed a 20% drop in performance compared with a 30% increase for the hardworking group. Failure had spurred them on.

Five words can have that profound an effect on the performance of children. If you praise your players for their hard work you will get more out of them than if you praise them for their talent.

It works with my team and I bet you can make it work for yours.


3 Comments so far
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The research is done by Carol Dweck, and presented in her book; Mindset – the New Psycology of Success. Carol also has her own website;

Her book is both very readable and also thoughtprovoking. When read in the same context as Matthew Sayd’s “Bounce – the myth of talent and the power of practice”, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” and Daniel Coyle’s “The talent code”, it sets the book straight as to what will make some people successful in their endeavors, while others will loose interrest!

Being a father as well a football coach at several levels, and a teacher, I find the ideas presented in those works impossible to ignore, and I try to act accordingly. Good luck with your “reading assignment”!

(May the “typos” and the other grammatical mistakes be forgiven as I am not a native english speaker nor writer!)

Comment by ocbjerke

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