Walking the Talk: How Coaches Can Improve Their Communication


Regardless of what level you’re working at, the essence of coaching is communication. That mantra gets repeated endlessly, no matter what the sport, by players, talking heads, reporters and even the coaches themselves.

But what does it really mean? Communication can take many forms: teaching and instruction, providing structure and discipline, evaluating performance, game planning and coming up with effective strategies and in-game decisions. All of these situations require a slightly different approach, as well as a coherent plan to keep everyone on the same page.

With that in mind, here are ten simple ideas to help coaches improve communication.

Know your level. If you’re coaching youth sports, there’s a vast difference between the communication styles required for Little League or peewee soccer, for instance, versus coaching in adolescent or high school programs. In the former, the emphasis is on fun, participation and basic learning. At the more advanced levels, though, those concerns must be balanced with teaching players proper technique, the nuances of the sport and how to improve and win.

– Manage expectations. Regardless of the sport, ability levels and expectations vary all over the map. Players with lesser ability may just want to be understood and improve, especially in youth sports, so you need to communicate with an appropriate level of tolerance and patience. At the higher levels, better athletes may need or want to be pushed to get to the next level. Make sure your communication includes tuning in to your inner psychologist, and make sure everyone knows their role and the expectations that come with it.

– Practice good conflict resolution. Conflict is inevitable, whether it’s about playing time, being able to tolerance different ability levels, strategy or striking a balance between winning and fun. Make sure you understand the dynamics of conflict resolution before you encounter these situations, and keep up to date on new tactics and techniques to enhance your ability to defuse and resolve conflicts.

– Get everyone involved. Effective coaching communication is about a lot more than the dynamic between coach, players and team. Make sure parents, educators and trainers are involved when appropriate, and make sure they also know what’s out of bounds when they’re not supposed to be involved.

– Be aware of gender differences. As almost everyone knows, boys and girls (and men and women) often communicate in styles that can be as different as night and day. That difference applies to sports as well. Make sure your communication approach is appropriate for both age and gender.

– Teach sportsmanship. Yes, it’s old fashioned, and maybe even outdated, too. But honesty, giving maximum effort and knowing how to be a good loser and good winner are timeless values, and your players will ultimately thank you if you teach them as part of your communication style.

– Know your demeanor. Coaches all have different styles — some are vocal, others are quiet, some are more patient than others, and so on. To some extent, your team’s behavior will mirror your demeanor, so make sure you take this into account in your language, both verbally and physically.

– Change your tactics. Whatever is your approach and demeanor, don’t fall into the habit of doing the same thing all the time when handling players, communicating strategies, defining roles, etc. Change for the sake of change can be a good thing in small doses, as long as you stay in character, and it can help keep your team engaged, performing well and improving.

– Be a good listener. Every coach should have an open-door policy that includes active listening and encouraging players to express themselves. The more players and athletes know this, the better they’ll perform, which ultimately means more fun for all involved.

– Have fun! Remember that play is at the heart of every sport, regardless of the level. Lighten up, have a sense of humor, and use fun activities for team bonding as part of your general approach and your communication as well.

Do you have other approaches or ideas to ensure an effective communication with your team? Let us know in the comments below. 

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