Pep Talks in Dentistry: Taking Cues from Sports Coaches

  • by Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD, DMD, FAGD
  • Sep 15, 2017, 15:12 PM

I am an avid fan of athletics and have been involved in sports since I was a little girl. One of my favorite sports to play and watch for hours is tennis.

If anyone is like me, and you don’t fast-forward the moments when players are sitting on their benches, you too might notice the occasional pep talks that coaches will give their players between games. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear them passionately encourage the player, reviewing their strokes and offering strategies to improve in the next few games and, of course, to win the match. This is not news to anyone who watches sports. But these pep talks can be so incredibly motivating that even just listening to them from my couch pumps me up. They make me think about how nice it would be to have a similar talk midday when the dentistry isn’t going right. Or even when all is going right, I wouldn’t mind a validating push to continue that performance through the afternoon to achieve the day’s goals even better than expected. But unlike in tennis, pep talks are rare or even nonexistent in dentistry. They have to come from deep within us. We are our own coaches, despite the amazing staff that surrounds and supports us.

As dentists, we step onto our clinic floors facing days filled with myriad challenging procedures or staff situations or basic business pressures. And we don’t get a pep talk from anyone at 7:30 a.m. We are expected to find inspiration within ourselves to face the day’s challenges with energy and passion. Our patients certainly motivate us to be the best providers we can be, and there’s no question our staff has a big role in maintaining our team energy. But what happens when that motivation dwindles? How do you walk into your practice fully pumped to do your best knowing it’s going to be a tough day?

One might argue we are professionals who have reached our pinnacle and do not need coaching at this stage of our careers. I wholeheartedly disagree. Take Roger Federer or Serena Williams — arguably two of the best players in tennis history. Both are at or near the top of their respective sport late in their careers, at ages where most professional players have already retired. They may not need coaching at this level of their careers, you might say. But both have multiple coaches and trainers constantly providing them with encouragement and feedback. Not a day goes by for them without a solid training and coaching session from multiple individuals who are responsible for maintaining — and, in fact, improving — the players’ skill levels and pushing their mental drive into full gear. And should they play a bad match and lose, they return to their coaches who reevaluate their games, give them advice and training and move them on to the next match. Couldn’t we all benefit from that kind of support?

The next time you’re driving to your office, think about where you get your pep talk. Do you have your own way of finding that inner drive that pushes you through your days at the office?

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