The Art of Doing One’s Best

Educators, coaches, and parents are constantly looking for ways to bring out the best in their kids, students, or players.  “Just Do Your Best” is a phrase kids hear often these days.  Have we ever stopped to think – just what it means – to do one’s best?  In the age of high anxiety, entitlement, and constant comparison – the sage old advice of “Just Do Your Best” is worth a second look.  

Much has been written about the importance of instilling grit, creating a growth mindset, or becoming the best version of one’s self. One hears of the greats in their fields reflecting with fondness of a parent, coach, or teacher who never let them quit – who held the bar so high that they could not fail.  At the same time we hear stories of the over involved parent, the tyrant coach, or the unforgiving teacher who simply is either out of touch or is in it for the wrong reasons.  How do we balance challenging kids outside their comfort zone, while at the same time being mindful of their well being? Three concepts which foster bringing out the best in others in a healthy way are role modeling, accountability, and effective feedback.  

The adage – we can not give what we do not have – is a guide for all mentors. The power of example  brings credibility when motivating others. If we want others to work hard, be the light showing them what hard work looks like.  If we want others to set goals,  make it a point to share current goals and aspirations.  If we want others to endure adversity, setbacks, and failure – share stories of your path, the difficulties, and lessons learned.  Goals and dreams are contagious, if we want others to be excited about their future – we, too,  should be more in love with our future than we are with our past. 

Along with being a great role model, providing accountability is essential for any growth. Coach Tom Izzo, Michigan State’s Men’s Basketball Coach, begins every season with his players filling out a 3X5 card – writing goals in the areas of sports, school, and personal lives.  Having mentees create their own success plan creates purpose, autonomy, and a path for mastery.   Coach Izzo’s promise to his players is to hold them accountable to their goals and dreams.  Essentially, he is a guide helping them live an integrated life – where there is no gap between what they say and what they do. 

Once a success plan is established, providing the proper feedback can be the most delicate part of the process.  Our brains have a negative bias – which may cause an environment where feedback erodes morale and confidence.  A leader, when providing feedback, could give three positive comments, with one negative comment and the focus becomes entirely on the negative.  

One strategy is- to encourage those in your charge – to seek feedback as part of their success plan.  They become the pursuer of their progress, not simply the receiver.  If repetition is the “mother of all skill” one who seeks feedback on a regular basis will eventually become better at receiving it.  

Another strategy for effective feedback is intentional word choice   Angela Duckworth, an expert in the area of grit, has a couple of suggestions.  For critical feedback use, NTT (Next Time Try).  For example, “I liked how you are designating 20 minutes a night to read, next time try leaving your phone in another room, that is working for me.”  Another example might be, “I saw how aggressive you are going to the basket, next time try using your left hand, it opens up more possibilities.” When providing positive feedback, Duckworth encourages the use of IWEW (It Was Effective When).  For example, “Congrats on the “A” on your research paper, it was effective when you asked for help revising and editing.”  Another example might be, “You had a great practice today, it was effective when you arrived early and stretched the right way.”  

Encouraging others to do their best is both an art and a science.  If leaders are positive role models, have an accountability plan, and provide proper feedback – unleashing potential may become easier and may also provide clarity the next time you find yourself saying to those you lead, “Just Do Your Best!”   

Wishing you and yours much success.  Please reach out and connect – I am always looking for best practices from parents, teachers, and coaches.    

Michael Massucci
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