Can you put it in a wheelbarrow? Beware nominalizations!

August 13, 2010 Post Comment Uncategorised

I was working with a group of young cricketers yesterday and we were talking about hitting various types of shots and what to do with our hands and feet in order to best play these. Finally, I asked them the question that actually stands for ALL ball sports. “What is THE most important thing you need to do when batting?”

There was a thoughtful silence apart from the sounds of brains in action until finally a very bright 9 yr old, probably the most talented young player I’ve yet encountered, blurted excitedly, “Concentrate!”
“Getting warm,” I said, “So what is concentrate? I have a carton of fruit juice here with me. It says on it MADE FROM CONCENTRATE. Is it like that? Better still – Can you put it in a wheelbarrow?”
You know how kids tell you non-verbally when they don’t understand and yet remain curious to know what it is you are talking about?
So I repeated, “Can you put it in a wheelbarrow? You can with concentrate for fruit juice – yes? So what about YOUR type of concentrate?”

There was a bit of laughter and someone mentioned ‘trick question’ – and yes I suppose it is a trick question in a way. However this lad had already been tricked into thinking he knew about concentrate until some linguistic NeLPer like me started to redraw this particular ‘Map of The World’ for him! The fact he failed to come up with an alternative definitely meant he was echoing “coach speak” or “adult speak” without a full understanding of meaning.

Then one of the others said, “Watch the ball.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Watch the ball. For us in cricket concentrate MEANS watching the ball, AND paying attention to other important things so we can best decide how to do what we want to do. If we don’t watch and pay attention then we are guessing. Sometimes we’ll guess OK, sometimes not.”

As sports coaches (and in life in general) we often nominalise a set of collective actions into one word – which we understand as “code” for that set of actions. However danger lurks in that nominalisation because we can’t “put it in a wheelbarrow”, because (as it is) it is intangible. Think about words like concentrate – confidence – focussed – stressed out etc.

So how many nominalisations do you use, without REALLY fully understanding what they are code for? Have a ponder and notice what you notice – then ask yourself “Have I got the REAL and FULL EXTENT of what this is about?” You may make some interesting discoveries! You’ll certainly help broaden your perspectives and perceptions. And that’s part of what NLP DOES – not what it is IS!