How Much Pushing Is Too Much?

Raise Your Inner Game Sports Academy
How Much Pushing Is Too Much?

Every coach knows that athletes need a push in order to go beyond what they think they’re capable of. 

The question is, how much is too much? When does pushing cross the line from helpful to harmful? 

It’s an important question because it affects everything about the success of your program. 

So, that’s what this week’s post is about—how much pushing is too much?



  • The beauty of pushing athletes to reach new heights
  • A horrifying story of pushing done wrong
  • How to get clear on how to do it right
  • Listen/read to get the full message


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[ transcript ]

As a coach, you know you need to push your athletes to go beyond what they think they can do. 

I mean, that’s one of the essential things a coach does.

They share information, teaching the player about the sport, how to train, and so on. They provide guidance and encouragement. AND they push. And they NEED to push. 

I’m David Levin, author of Raise Your Inner Game, founder of Raise Your Inner Game Sports Academy.

And an athlete’s instinct about what they’re capable of is pretty much always less than what they’re actually capable of, right? the same as with all of us. 

And so one of the most important things a coach does is help them push through their imagined limits to discover what they can actually do. And that is a beautiful thing. 

When someone discovers a capability they didn’t believe they had, it lifts them up in every way. 

It makes them a better athlete, of course, but it also makes them a better person. And best of all, it makes them FEEL better about themselves as a person. 

For one thing, they actually have a new capability, which feels great. And second, they’re proud of themselves for having done the work to get there, which is the best feeling. 

So this pushing role is just a good thing in every way. 

But of course it’s also possible for a coach to push too hard, and to push in the wrong way, in a way that does more harm than good. 

I recently read an article about a coach like that. He coached professional women’s soccer, and it was honestly pretty horrifying. 

To give you an idea, the title of the article was “He made me hate soccer.” And he was a bit of a monster.

He was reported to be belligerent and aggressive, he would scream at his players inches from their face with threats and criticism and personal insults. Call them names. Shaming, belittling, just really abusive behavior.

Players said they were terrified of making mistakes. It kept them from playing well. One developed a panic disorder. 

And the team’s record was not great either. If the coach thought his behavior would help them win, he was clearly wrong about that. 

So yes, a coach can absolutely push in the wrong way. 

So the question is, how do you know? Where is the line where it turns from helpful to harmful? 

For me, the line gets clear when you remember the real purpose of youth sports. 

Coaches who are too aggressive, I think, seem to think they are preparing everyone to be a professional athlete. You know? Even with little kids. Everything is so serious and intense and competitive and focused on winning. And of course that’s part of sports, everybody likes to win. 

But it’s also true that the vast majority of high school and college athletes will never be professional athletes. They just won’t. So the whole mindset makes no sense. 

The real purpose of being involved in sports at that level, beyond simply that they enjoy it, is to help them grow and to become a more healthy, balanced, confident person and a successful, happy adult. 

That is the real purpose of youth sports. 

So pushing that supports that is perfect. It’s great. It’s exactly what you should do. 

But insulting, berating, shaming, making players feel LESS capable and confident is the opposite of what you should do. 

The athletes in that article were damaged by their experience. To think that someone who loved the game so much, who had spent their entire life dreaming of playing at that level and working so hard to get there would end up hating the game, we’ll there’s just no way to justify that. 

Now, yes, in some cases, you hear a story where someone with a bad coach who put them down, told them they couldn’t do it was actually motivated to work harder to prove them wrong. 

But first of all, that was probably not the only way to have motivated them. A positive approach could have been even better. But most important, those rare cases are no excuse to be abusive in general.

Now, I don’t expect that you are a coach like that or you wouldn’t be listening to this. 

But I do imagine that it’s hard to know sometimes how hard to push, how to feel good about it when you do, and how to deal with the frustration when players aren’t doing the work you want them to. 

So I think it’s just very helpful to remind yourself and really connect with this idea of the real mission and purpose of sports for your players. 

When you do that, when you anchor yourself in the feeling that your real job is to simply help them become successful, responsible, happy adults, it gets much easier to know the right thing to do. 

And, of course, it helps you feel that much better about being a coach in the first place because that truly is a beautiful thing. 

So that is what I wanted to share in this post, “How much pushing is too much, and a great way to find the answer to that question. I hope that was helpful. 

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