Wish You Had A Magic Wand To Change Your Team's Attitude?

written by Erica Quam


Do you ever wish you had a magic wand...that you could just waive over your athletes when they're complaining, whining, blaming, or being negative? 

It's unrealistic to expect your athletes to be positive and chipper all of the time. (Let's get real...I'm not always positive and chipper myself. Especially before I've had my coffee).

Yet, some days when my team would come out onto the pool deck for practice...it was like a forcefield of negative energy. It was like the dementors out of Harry Potter. (I love Harry Potter...). Everything felt heavy, dramatic, and dark.

I wished I had a magic wand to simply shift their energy.

I wanted to help them realize how carrying this heavy negative energy seemed to drain their POTENTIAL.

If only they could be more open, more light, and allow things to flow.


Imagine you begin your day with 100 units of energy. You got a good night of sleep and are ready to start your day.

(If you went to bed late and didn't get the right amount of sleep for you then subtract maybe five or ten units...just to be fair).

Things will happen over the course of your day and you'll be given a chance to respond. 

(Notice the wording...you get to respond...that's really important!)

Your response takes energy. You can choose to respond in a way that takes more energy or less energy. That part is up to you.


Let's say you check your computer in the morning before you leave the house and get sucked into answering an email. You try and fire a response back to someone before you leave. Your computer shuts off for some random reason. Weird. You power it back up only to realize that the email you've drafted is no longer there.

[Now, choose how you'll respond. It's like a choose-your-own-adventure book!]

RESPONSE #1...you pound your fist on the table in frustration, scramble to write a new draft before you leave, and try to remember the exact wording you used before. Shoot! Now you're so frustrated, you can't remember what you said. You end up leaving the draft unfinished. Your frustration level increases...because now you've just wasted time and you've gotten nothing done. To make matters worse, now you're running late. You run to your car, speed into work, and end up stuck behind an old jalopy that's going 10 mph under the speed limit. ARRGHHH! Your irritation level is now through the roof. You were supposed to be at a meeting - 5 minutes ago! People had better stay out of your way today.

How much energy did response #1 take? Probably a lot. (I'm exhausted just thinking about it!)

RESPONSE #2...you decide it'd be a better use of your time to wait until later to draft that email. After all, you usually don't even check email until later in the morning. You finish your breakfast, brush your teeth, and because you have a little extra time you take your dog for a walk around the block. It's a beautiful morning. You breathe in the fresh air, you say hello to your neighbors, and casually head into work. You have a few minutes to say hi and connect with a few people you don't get to see everyday. You're feeling great as the meeting begins.

How much energy did response #2 take? Not that much, eh? If I were your colleague, this is the person I'd want to have walking in the door...not the person from Response #1.

(Are you beginning to see how your response impacts the outcome?)

E + R = O

E (The Event) + R (Your Response) = O (The Outcome)

The Event doesn't = The Outcome

Your Response is the point of power.

  • If you look at the things that come up in your life as things that happen to you...then you're literally giving your power away. You become the victim. 

  • If you label the things that happen as negative or bad...then you're probably expending a lot more energy.

  • If you complain about the things that are happening to you...then you're enrolling someone else in your story. That takes up even more of your energy. Now you're in the drama triangle...and emotions are swirling towards the negative.

You might even notice patterns in your life - where one "bad thing" leads to another and another and another. This downward spiral not only puts you in a foul mood...it leaves you drained and keeps you from taking steps towards the things you really want to accomplish in your life. 


If you can pause - long enough to take a deep breath - between an event and your response to it...you can start to train yourself to respond for a better outcome.

If you're someone who is wired to have a strong 'knee-jerk' reaction to things (more like the person from Response #1)...this may not happen for you overnight. It'll take some work.


To change how you react to things in the moment takes two things 1) awareness and 2) practice.

AWARENESS: You first have to be aware that you're reacting in a way that's counter to the outcome you want. That's the first step.

If you don't yet have this level of self awareness, then hopefully you have someone in your life who cares enough about you to give you this feedback.

As a coach, it's important to give your athletes this kind of feedback.

A simple, "Wow, that really seemed to get you worked up. What was that about? Are you okay?" might even do the trick. 

Be especially proactive about checking in with the athletes who have a level ten reaction to something that in your mind only warranted a level two or three. Begin to notice that within yourself too.

PRACTICE: Once you're aware of your tendency to react in a way that's inconsistent with the outcomes you want...it's going to take some practice to shift your response.

Take some time to reflect on a past reaction to something or someone that wasn't one of your best moments. 

Give yourself some time to "sit with it" without having to explain it, fix it, or make it go away. Allow yourself five minutes. Bring your ATTENTION to it. Bring your CONSCIOUSNESS to it. Sometimes, it'll start to diffuse and unravel on it's own. 

[Note: It's important to actually take five minutes before you move on to the next part. What you're trying to do is BREAK the pattern of how you react. It'll probably be tempting to cut this short, rush this piece, and move onto the questions. Don't skip this crucial step! There is power and value in sitting and seemingly doing nothing.]

From there, GET CURIOUS.

Here are some simple questions to help guide you:

  • What happened here? 

  • What really happened here?

  • What do I need to know that I don't?

  • What worked?

  • What didn't?

  • What am I supposed to be learning from this?


Once you have a new awareness, it's easy to go back to beat yourself up over past situations and conversations. You can enter a guilt or shame spiral that's simply not constructive. You can't go back and change the past. You can only learn from the past and then change how you'll respond in the future.

If this takes a while, give yourself a break.

Change can be hard.

Keep track of the times that you are able to take that breath and change your reaction. Even small steps and little bits of progress are worth noting. It's all about progress, not perfection.

While these solutions and ideas may not as fast acting as magic wand...if you practice this and teach this to your athletes it may be just as powerful.

Now, it's your turn. How can you apply this learning to an event that's coming up for you and your athletes? Share in the comments below.