A Praise vs. Encouragement Lesson From My Driveway

Nov 15, 2007

The more I learn about Play Therapy techniques and principles, the more attuned I am to recognizing when to use them in everyday situations.

There are not many dinners out with my husband where I do not recognize and observe opportunities for parents to have used a more effective technique with their children.

Along the same lines, I also recognize when people use helpful methods and approach a situation in a manner that I recommend. This happened this weekend during the triathlon in my driveway. Let me explain. This past weekend, the 2007 Ironman Triathlon came to our neighborhood and hundreds of athletes temporarily took over the county. It began in Clearwater for the swim, biked north into Palm Harbor and ran back south through Countryside. As it turned out, the “bike” leg of the event came right through my neighborhood.

I woke up early Saturday morning, as I had an event to attend. The triathlon began very early, so the cyclists were already passing by our house by 8 am after completing the swim. We had been told to expect delays and that the roads were going to be blocked off, and sure enough- there were cones lining my street separating the athletes from the traffic.

The whole neighborhood was intrigued by the event, and many residents were in their driveways watching the cyclists speed by. In my driveway, however, there were two men who had biked from somewhere (the swim portion in Clearwater?) who were obviously volunteers for the event. When I first noticed them, they were giving the cyclists directions, such as “Right turn, .2 of a mile”.

However, as the race continued, I noticed a gradual shift in their comments. One began to cheer for the cyclists and consistently said, “Good job!” to everyone who passed. I appreciated that he was being thoughtful to cheer them on.

On the other hand, the second man in my driveway started to respond to the cyclists with comments like, “Go get ’em!” and “Keep pushing!” I heard the ‘encouragement’ immediately in what he said.

Now, what difference does it really make to hear one over the other? Well, from the cyclists perspective, ‘good job’ seems a little trivial and trite when they feel like they are going to die long before they make it to the finish line. Second, it keeps the focus on the person giving the comment, not the cyclist. Lastly, after the first 50 or so cyclists passed, the remainder of the athletes were technically not doing a ‘good job’. They were far behind, losing the race.

‘Go get ’em’ or ‘keep pushing’ to a cyclist puts the focus on them. They do need to keep pushing and go get the rest that are ahead of them. It makes them think they can continue and helps them to rise to the challenge. Also, there is no inclusion of how well they are doing, just that they are doing it.

I was struck by the impact that one volunteer’s words would have over the other’s. And, was pleased to know that each and every cyclist in the Ironman heard a word of encouragement coming out of my driveway.

To read up on the difference between praise and encouragement or to see examples of each, visit the following post: Praise vs. Encouragement

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