Filling Emotional Tanks

One of the key attributes of Responsible Coaches is their ability to “Fill Emotional Tanks.” A person’s “Emotional Tank” is like a car’s gas tank; when it’s full we can go most anywhere, but when it’s empty we go nowhere.

Players with full Emotional Tanks give Responsible Coaches some advantages by being:

The “fuel” for a youth athlete’s Emotional Tank should be a mix of 5:1 …five specific, truthful pieces of praise for each piece of specific, constructive criticism a coach feels compelled to offer. Many coaches find this hard to believe, because in our own experience as youth athletes, sons, daughters, pupils and employees “coaching” often equals “correcting,” and therefore, praise is not coaching. But a Responsible Coach who fills Emotional Tanks corrects players correctly!  

How to Fill Tanks

Coaches sometimes call “Tank Filling” as “happy talk.” But remember, the praises must be truthful and specific (i.e., not “Way to go,” but, “Ruth, I’m glad to see you aimed at the far post on your shot.”).
Children are uncanny in detecting false praise, lose respect for those who offer it and are then closed to suggestion for improvement from that coach. In contrast, a major benefit of Tank Filling is that players know you believe in them, and your praise boosts their confidence, so that they are willing and able to respond well to constructive criticism.

The 5:1 ratio does not mean you must utter five praises immediately before correcting a player. That also would ring false. Rather, it means that generally you build players up, mindful of the adage that “They’ll never care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Be sure your Tank Filling extends to non-verbal communication.  You fill Emotional Tanks when you listen, nod, clap, or smile. Tank drainers include ignoring players, frowning, head-shaking, eye-rolling and yelling.

You can set the tone in every practice with warm-up drills that give you a chance to fill tanks. –This provides a natural chance to praise as players succeed at an easier level of drills. By the fifth or sixth time through the warm-up line, as the drill picks up pace and the drills are more difficult, you are more likely to  find yourself in position to correct, and players will be open to it!

Talking to Your Players About Filling Tanks

Early in the season, introduce the Emotional Tank concept to your players. Using age-appropriate expressions and adapting them to your own personal style, let players know:

Tank-Filling Tools

Keeping all your players’ emotional tanks full can be tough, especially those who see less playing time than their teammates. Remember that you can praise players for ways they support the team from the bench (constant positive chatter, pointing out something your opponent is doing to help a teammate on the field, etc.).  And it’s important to make sure your more talented players fill their teammates’ tanks, so that the less talented remain encouraged to continue offering their support

Among the ways you and/or your players can keep tanks full all season long:

With these Tank Filling Tools, you and your players are on your way to enjoyment, success and life-lesson benefits of a Responsible Sports experience!


In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports Program powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

© 2013 Liberty Mutual Insurance and Positive Coaching Alliance. All rights reserved. This material may not be distributed without express written permission. Any reproduction in whole or part by and individuals or organizations will be held liable for copyright infringement to the full extent of the law.