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Positive Coaching: The Magic Ratio

One of the core principles of Responsible Sports is “The Magic Ratio.”  This concept, developed by our partners at Positive Coaching Alliance, focuses both Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sport Parents, on providing truthful, specific praise in combination with constructive criticism to ensure that kids stay positive and motivated to continue in their chosen sports.  Sounds easy, right?  But anyone who has volunteered as a youth sport coach or sat in the stands supporting our kids play sports know that on paper the concept sounds easy, but in practice every day it can be a bit more challenging.  So this month, the team from Responsible Sports and Positive Coaching Alliance explore specific tips and advice to help you practice The Magic Ratio in your everyday responsible sports life.  And just like the X’s and O’s of our sports, this too takes practice!

The Magic Ratio in Responsible Sports is 5:1.  Five praises to one criticism.  Seems like a lot, doesn’t it?  Many coaches and parents find this hard to believe because all they remember from their youth sports experience was the criticism or the “correcting” that their coaches do.  But think about that: criticism stays with us for a long time.  We’re always our own worst critics and judges.  And those criticisms for kids can be especially difficult.  We need to balance those criticisms with praise about what our players and our sons and daughters are doing right so that they maintain a positive attitude about working on those areas of improvement.

The key to those five “praises” is that they need to be truthful and specific.  The Magic Ratio is not about saying “Good Job!” five times; it’s about giving specific feedback to kids about what they do well.  And praise is delivered both verbally and non-verbally – clapping, cheering, head nods, listening & smiling all are part of the praise delivery.

So what does a 5:1 Magic Ratio session sound like?  

  • “Isaac – GREAT!  You kept your pad level down, you extended through, you kept your feet moving and you turned out your blocker.  When you finally got going, you really got going – but next time, try not to have that false step. No wasted motion. Let’s do it again.”

  • “Jordan.  Brilliant job.  When you were in that corner two weeks ago, you were timid and not sure what to do.  This time you charged right in, went for the ball tackle, stole the ball and then passed it to your teammates right away.  Next time, don’t be afraid to hold on to it a little longer before passing.”

Think about “deconstructing” the play or the skill and finding the things that a player is doing well and then talk about areas for improvement. Break down skills and players into smaller increments to determine what a player is doing well.  And give the player specific direction on how to improve.  Not what they did wrong, but what they can do right next time.

One game this season, try turning the video camera around and tape yourself instead of the action on the field.  Pay attention to your verbal and non-verbal cues to your players.  How’s your ratio?  Don’t be discouraged if the first time you do this you realize that you’re grimacing, shaking your head or yelling out corrections more than providing positive specific praise.  It’s only natural.  But being aware of both the principle and how you’re doing right now gives you the tools you need to improve.  Practice.  Remember, we’re Coaching For Mastery ourselves!  Good luck this season.

Have a good example of a Magic Ratio statement from your sport?  Email us at  Have a video of a coach or parent practicing the Magic Ratio with their players?  Send it to us!  We’re looking for as many resources as possible for fellow parents and coaches.