Accentuate the Positive

I began coaching when I was still in high school—training classmates for their respective sports, coaching at summer camp, and working with kids in the neighborhood. Fortunately, I had some great role models including Coach Bill Long who taught me about professionalism, focus, preparation, and the importance of strong relationships.

I am still coaching today—25 years later—although the arena has changed from playing fields to classrooms, hallways, schools, and offices. Now, my players are adults who teach, coaches who coach, students who learn, athletes who compete, and parents who advocate.

About 10 years ago, a friend gave me a book by then-USA Women’s Soccer Coach Tony DiCicco called Catch Them Being Good. DiCicco’s primary message is that as coaches and leaders, we must strive every day to catch people doing great things, point those things out, praise them, hold them up as examples, and talk about why those great things are great.

Each morning when I walk onto campus, I look for every opportunity to communicate something positive. I let a teacher know how much I enjoyed a lesson (being sure to always include some very specific and anecdotal details in my praise). I take the time to tell a student how kind or respectful he or she was in relating to a peer or adult. I take a couple minutes to write an e-mail to a parent of a student who perhaps has made a nice turnaround or even a small improvement.

These relationship-building and equity-building practices are enjoyable for me, but they are also important in the future when I have to share more challenging information. Catching them being good and sharing our positive feedback makes sharing constructive feedback or holding difficult conversations easier for those on the receiving end.

Catching people being good is an infectious practice. It builds good relationships, and good relationships lead to good teamwork. Good teamwork benefits everyone: students, teachers, administrators, and parents. A full 360 degrees of support by a team of adults and peers can help us maintain a positive climate.

Finally, a key attitude that is requisite in being able to build a positive emotional climate is that we must be present in our day, with our people, and in our actions. Awareness comes from being attuned to all that is happening. Good relationships come from being present and attentive to our surroundings.

Jeffrey Rothstein is director of grades 6–8 and athletics at Cliff Valley School in Atlanta, Georgia. This article is excerpted from his October 5, 2013 blog, “A Player’s Coach On and Off the Field.” E-mail: