Are you a palms-down or palms-up coach?

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”  – Jim Valvano

I recently had the opportunity to attend a level 1 certification class put on by U.S. Lacrosse. Besides the myriad of great drills I learned, there were two overarching principles that were sprinkled throughout the training that really hit home for me. I’ll share the first today, and next week I’ll share the second.

The first principle that really caused me pause was the question:

Are you a palms-down coach or a palms-up coach?



I wasn’t sure what they meant by this at first, but it’s really easy to picture when you think of game and practice scenarios:

When a player makes a mistake, or a referee makes a call you don’t agree with – what is your reaction? Think about your body language.

  • Do you hold your hands up in the air with palms-up and visibly show your frustration?


  • Do you hold your hands down with palms-down and say ‘It’s OK’?

Think about how different these approaches makes the person (athlete or referee) feel on the other end. A palms-up response is really saying ‘I can’t believe you could make that mistake. You are not a good athlete/referee. I don’t believe in you.’

Compare that to the palms-down response. This approach tells the person ‘You might have made a mistake, that’s OK we all make mistakes all the time. It doesn’t mean you are a bad athlete/referee. We can discuss how to do it better next time. I believe in you.’

It really comes down to your purpose in coaching. If you are trying to prove your worth via wins and losses, you will be a palms-up coach because you think someone else’s mistake is making you look bad. But if you are trying to lead a group of young men and/or women to be the best they can be, and help teach them how to be better and pour into them, you will be a palms-down coach because it is all about them not you.

Let’s all commit to being a great palms-down coach!

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