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Supporting Each Other: Filling Emotional Tanks


Certainly all of us understand the importance of maintaining a full tank of gas in our car. If our tank is full we can drive anywhere our hearts desire and if it is empty we quickly find that we are unable to leave our driveway. As human beings, we have our own version of this called an Emotional Tank. If our tank is full of positive inputs and encouragement the better positioned we are to achieve success. Conversely, if our tank is being drained by negative inputs and feedback it becomes that much harder to accomplish our goals.

As coaches we keep our athletes’ Emotional Tanks full so that they can perform to their fullest, both as they train and in the heat of competition. While this approach has become a critically important component to how we guide players in sports, research shows that tank filling is equally as relevant to performance in the classroom, relationships and the business world. And for those parents who find themselves suddenly having to also become their kid’s fulltime teacher and coach, the technique of filling Emotional Tanks is a formidable way of getting the best out of their children, even during this difficult time.

Before we jump into some of the ways you can fill your child’s Emotional Tank it is important to understand the relationship between tank filling and tank draining. Research shows that optimal performance occurs when people receive five pieces of positive feedback (tank fillers) to every 1 criticism (tank drainer). We call this 5:1 the Magic Ratio. In sports, some of the various tank drainers that can come from a coach include critique, a negative tone and even sometimes letting frustrations show. For fabled coach Phil Jackson it was throwing his clipboard, for you... it could be covering your face with your hands at the homework table.

Knowing how potent and bombastic negative feedback can be and the fivefold need to offset it with positive reinforcement, it can seem daunting to encapsulate this ratio in each and every interaction with your child. It should be helpful to know that the 5:1 ratio is something you can spread across the entirety of the week and not something that has to lead you to purposefully offset every criticism with five positive compliments at that moment. This takes practice for even the best of coaches and will take practice for you as you acclimate to your time at home with your children.

We’ve established that one of the best ways to fill Emotional Tanks for athletes is to provide complimentary feedback. And while there is no bad positive feedback, if you can provide truthful and specific praise the results are much more powerful. For instance, instead of just telling a player “good job” if you can point to what they did in particular like “great footwork guarding the goal” this praise will resonate greater with them and be a more, formidable emotional bucket filler as well.

You can pattern this at home by commending your children not just for being “good” today but by thanking them for specifically taking their dishes to the sink after lunch or praising them for getting every answer right on their calculus quiz given they’re teaching themselves from home. In addition to direct praise there are ways that you provide positive feedback by maintaining a disposition of encouragement. This includes simple things like smiling often, making eye contact with them and showing that you care about them when the opportunity presents itself.

Another way to fill Emotional Tanks is by keeping spirits up with an infusion of positive energy. In sports we teach coaches to adopt the “two minute drill” which is helpful whenever the energy level in a practice or game gets low. Coaches can pick a time period (an inning, a specific drill, the last 5 minutes of a period) and amp up their positivity level. They Look for anything they can be positive about and then comment on it energetically. “Courtney, great hustle! Silvia, nice move! Emily, I like that, keep it up! Lindsay, you showed me something just now!” Facing another day at home managing social distancing can seem daunting for a kid to wake up to. Knowing what mornings are like this could be a great time to make a fun ritual out of getting out of bed and maybe playing a song you know will keep your kids spirits riding high.

Something else you can do to keep Emotional Tanks full is to make sure you incorporate fun activities into your daily work routine on a regular basis. Competition almost always increases the fun for athletes. A paired shooting drill with the loser doing a push-up creates some intensity and excitement in what otherwise might be a pretty routine drill. Even better is a competition between players and coaches, with the coaches doing the push-up if they lose. At home, this could be a friendly competition between you and your child as to who can get their bed made and dressed in the morning with the winner getting to pick what’s for dinner that night. As a parent, if you don’t know what your children will think is fun, you can ask them. Let them pick or even design activities they will have fun with. Fun activities typically increase morale and fill your kids with energy that carries into the rest of your day.


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Athletics is a great setting to develop leaders, and individuals become leaders by learning how to make decisions. Coaches who treat their players like trained drones and tell them what to do all the time are doing them a disservice and draining Emotional Tanks. One technique is to get in the habit of asking for input.  When you ask your players for input into your decisions, you fill their Emotional Tanks and you get them to think. And it can start really simply. “We’re going to do these three drills today. Which makes the most sense to start with?” You can apply this very same concept at home by inviting your child to help plan the day with you asking them how they would like to tackle an at-home exercise.

At some point in a given week you will inevitably have to provide your kids with constructive critique vital for their growth with the unavoidable effect of partially draining their tank. One technique that can help offset negative feedback with positive reinforcement is what we call a “Praise Sandwich”. This starts with a praise, followed by a correction and finished with a praise. An example of this may be “I know how good you have been about making your bed each day, however you do need to remember to put your clothes away. Although I know how hard you have been working at this.” These are simple nuances that are easy to adopt and will go a long way in maintaining positive morale and keeping tanks full.

Take the #High5Challenge

Now it’s your chance to fill someone else’s tank with a virtual high five! Post a photo or video on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with specific praise for someone and be sure to include #High5Challenge and tag @PositiveCoachUS

In this article, we’ve shared some of the various ways we teach our coaches to fill the Emotional Tanks of players and how that can be an effective tool for you to apply to your own children during this challenging time we find ourselves in. However, as you adopt this approach at home, there is one very important Emotional Tank you must also work to keep full, your own. Please remember to celebrate your own successes, hold on to your positivity and take pride in this role you to get to play with your children.

Life is a team sport,
 and now more than ever, we need to be good teammates to one another. 

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