I am not a fan of yelling the word, "relax" to athletes on race day. I think it is a sloppy cue and sends the wrong message.
A race is not a relaxed effort. It can be an honest effort. A focused effort. An inspirational effort. But not relaxed.
The term "relax" for me conjures up thoughts of reading books on a Hawaiian beach with an ice cold beverage in hand. It is a tranquil state without a care in the world and nothing to do — not exactly the most effective mindset to have during a competition.
As coaches, the cues by which we coach in practice and on race day matter, often more than we think. As athletes run by, coaches have only a split second to say something of impact. It is best to choose our words wisely.
During my younger years, I admit to saying "relax" to my athletes far too frequently. I meant well. I wanted them not to be tense or anxious. But once I reflected on the habit, I stopped. I concluded it to be ineffective and communicate a sentiment I did not want, to disengage from the race rather than be fully present to the moment and competition.
Now, I offer one strong cue to embolden the athlete's effort or a concise tactical command to strengthen their competitive resolve. The feedback from the athletes has been positive. Many note how useful the crisp encouragement was in the moment they heard it.
It is a discipline and takes work. I am not perfect. And sometimes I backslide to bad habits and do say "relax" to an extra tense or anxious athlete on race day. However, most times I catch myself, refocus and choose more impactful words to say. With this clarity brings an easier energy of purpose and focus to the task at hand for both the athlete and myself. They compete better and are more satisfied with their effort.
And it is then, after the race, which I will say, "You competed the best you could, and that is all anyone can ask. Now, you can relax."
Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm