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  • Writer's pictureDr. Neal Nybo

When, "Keep your eye on the ball" doesn't work

In his book Coaching For Performance, John Whitmore identifies the need to do more than tell people what to do. "Ask anyone what is the most frequently used instruction in any ball sport, and they will tell you, "keep your eye on the ball."

In all ball sports it is certainly very important to watch the ball, but does the command watch the ball actually cause you to do so? No. If it did, many more of us would be far better at our sport. We all know that a golfer hits balls further and straighter when he is relaxed, but will the command relax cause him to feel more relaxed? No, it will probably make him more tense.

If commanding a person to do what they need to do does not produce the desired effect, what does?

John Whitmore, Coaching For Performance, pg. 44

Whitmore goes on to say we need to ask good questions. For instance, which way is the ball spinning as it comes towards you? Does it spin faster or slower after it bounces? He says these kinds of questions create important effects that other questions or commands don't do. They compel the person to watch the ball. They cause the player to focus to a higher order than normal. Their answers are descriptive not judgmental.

Elder meetings, congregational town hall meetings, even preachers giving sermons, are good at telling people what to do, setting goals, issuing directions. Unfortunately, these instructions often have as much effect as telling a person to keep their eye on the ball or relax. Worse, they can heap guilt or shame or confusion on a person when the commands sound like, don’t talk about that, just pray, trust your leaders.

Just like a coach with a player, a discovery process that asks good questions leads a congregation to open cabinet doors, to focus at a higher level, and to be descriptive of what they discover, not judgmental.

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