The 6:1 Ratio - Why Positive Reinforcement Matters

Josh Gernatt
March 31, 2023
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In 2013, Harvard Business Review published an article called ‘The Ideal Praise To Criticism Ratio’ that studied the effectiveness of leadership teams in a variety of business units.  The study found that the highest performing groups had a nearly 6:1 ratio of positive comments to negative comments within the team. 

On the flip side, the lowest performing teams had a ratio of 0.36:1, or nearly 3 negative comments for each positive comment.  While this study was performed on groups of working adults, the results can be applied to nearly any team setting, including youth baseball!  Let’s look at a few ways we can apply the study’s results as coaches and as parents to help our players develop in this game.

  1. Praise the fundamental development
  2. Frame player dev in a positive way
  3. Criticize behavior, not results
  4. Remember its a game

Appreciate the fundamentals

Mastering a specific skill can be hard!  Many players we coach are new to the game, and we are throwing a lot of baseball information their way.  Even advanced players are learning more detailed skill development every year as they get older. 

Take time to pat a player on the back or give them a high five when they do a drill correctly or make what you consider to be a routine play in a game.  Learning the proper baseball mechanics is crucial to long-term success in this game.  We want players to want to get better, and positive reinforcement, even for small wins, goes a long way towards that.  

Be critical of behavior, not results

It is easy to get upset when your players fail on the field.  As coaches, we often times see our players’ performance on the field as either a confirmation or an indictment of our coaching and expect too much from our players in terms of results and outcomes.  I remember a few years ago yelling at my son from the dugout for missing a groundball and letting a run score.  A dad in the stands looked over at me and said, “that’s the dad coming out in you.” 

As a coach (and his dad), I wanted him to make that play, but his miscue wasn’t due to lack of effort.  He’s a kid and he simply missed the ball.  I learned a valuable lesson that day. We’ve got to allow players room to fail and learn from their miscues.  These young players have enough pressure to impress mom and dad in the stands, so we don’t need to add to that. Instead of being critical, offer support and use these moments as teaching opportunities back in the dugout or at the next practice. 

It is important, though, to be critical of behavior.  Young players need to know there are rules to the game and ways to be good teammates.  I equate it to what I expect my childrens’ teachers to do at school.  They aren’t going to reprimand a student for a bad quiz or test, but they will reprimand a student who is being disruptive to the class. 

So, save the negative feedback for issues like not hustling, or not supporting teammates, but be sure to do it in a way that is appropriate for the age of the player so they can learn from the experience.

Remember, it really is just a game

Games are meant to be fun.  No world events are changed, and no scholarships won or lost in a youth baseball game.  Go into leading your team with a mindset that having fun is as integral a part of development as learning proper mechanics.  Be intentional with your comments and feedback, and help foster a team culture that will make players want to come back out again next season.

Link to original HBR article here.

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Josh Gernatt
Standout Coach

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