Too negative with your athletes? Try this

"The goal of positive psychology is not to avoid negative emotions or personal distress, but to help individuals to use their strengths and recognise and feel that life is worthwhile so that when they encounter adversities in life, they can draw on these inner resources." (Norrish & Vella-Broderick 2009, p276)

The science of Positive Psychology helps us to understand our strengths and to build resilience and optimism and this is therefore an exciting new field in which to explore in terms of sport performance. Positive Psychology science tells us that there is a clear link between sport performance under pressure, and wellbeing. In addition, we have seen many examples of athletes who have left the “bubble” of elite sport only to struggle with mental illness.

Athletes and coaches can use the science of positive psychology to assist them to understand how their brains work and therefore counter negative thinking or what is termed our ‘Negativity Bias’. The negativity bias is something we all have developed through evolution. Many athletes and coaches overemphasise the impact of weaknesses because of this negativity bias. This means post training or games their review of the performance is skewed towards fixing errors of weaknesses rather than working on further developing strengths. Positive psychology can therefore help ensure training programs are more balanced by including greater emphasis on strength development. This in turn builds the athletes’ resilience and optimism which helps them maintain high performance in pressure situations.

Additionally, positive psychology science suggests coaches should also consider coaching from a strength based perspective. Positive Sports Coaching is a coaching approach developed using the science of positive psychology that focuses on strength development and athlete wellbeing. The focus is on building resilience and optimism in athletes by reframing the way coaches deliver feedback and incorporating greater focus on strength development.

Under the Positive Sports Coaching model coaches are encouraged to know their athletes' strengths and use these strengths as a focal point for development while also learning to overcome their negativity bias by training their brains to see the good things their athletes were doing.

The Oceania Australia Foundation, the Oceania National Olympic Committees and OSFO have committed to rolling out Positive Sports Coaching™ throughout the Oceania region. The first stage of this was the development of a free 30 minutes online course - “An Introduction to Positive Sports Coaching”. This is available free to all athletes, coaches and parents and can be accessed via


Scholes M (2016), ‘An Appreciative Approach to Sports Coaching’, International Journal of appreciative Inquiry, Volume 18, Number 2

Waters L, Scholes M & White M (2011) , 6th Australian Educational and Developmental Psychology Conference, Using positive psychology to promote well-being in student athletes

Scholes M, Waters L, Pitt D (2013) The Effect of Positive Psychology on the Wellbeing of Sports Coaches, 3rd World Congress on Positive Psychology Los Angeles CA

Seligman, M & Csikszentmihalyi, M (2000) Positive Psychology: An Introduction American Psychologist, 55, 5-14

Scholes, M (2013) Infusing Positive Psychology into Sport, 3rd World Congress on Positive Psychology Los Angeles CA

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