Coach Communication – Part One

By Craig Sigl

Youth coaches have a difficult job and yet most are very passionate about their role which fuels them to take it on.

I want to address the big pink elephant in the room about youth coaching and that is the age-old balance between striving to win and developing players. Let’s face it, coaches want to win. Let’s accept that. Even coaches who preach that they have “fun” and “sportsmanship” and “life lessons” first STILL want to win, at heart, and we all know it.

I get it! I want my clients to win too and I celebrate right along with them when they succeed at achieving their goals. There is one area of coaching where you don’t have to make the choice between striving to win and developing players by putting your efforts into it and that is:

Coach to Player Communication

The ironic thing about coaches putting efforts into this area is that it definitely contributes to, and sometimes is the difference in, turning a team or player into a winner even if that’s not your main goal! I’ve got a 4-part series here on my best tips to help achieve both of those goals for you as a coach. Parents can learn just as much from this series.

1) Create the environment for your players to build their confidence.

I could write a book on confidence building but, the first and most efficient thing for a coach to do is to NOT do things to your players that hurts their confidence. You may be a passionate, loud coach who believes you have to be tough on your players but you also better be aware and read your player’s reactions to your yelling to see if you cross the line.

One of the most common things I have heard from athletes who come to with an issue is: Inconsistent confidence.

And so many times, a coach has been a big reason for the problem. If you aren’t sure about whether you cross the line in hurting your player’s confidence vs. giving good feedback, the best thing you can do is to consistently PRE-FRAME your style and how you give advice and coach. Like this:

“Team, listen, sometimes I yell at players. Sometimes I call players out and it might embarrass them. Sometimes I say things that even I am not proud of. It happens. I’m not perfect. But make no mistake…that even when I am doing those types of things, it does NOT mean that I don’t like you. It does NOT mean that I don’t think you are good enough to excel on this team. It does not mean anything but this:

I CARE so much about you succeeding here. Period. Nothing else and nothing less. So, please forgive me, in advance if I ever go over the line. DO NOT take it personally. It’s just me caring about and doing my best to make you successful. Got that!”

I would give that kind of speech often and you will have inoculated them for any confidence destruction from your actions. They will then build their confidence on the continuous improvements they make in skills and effort which you will praise regularly and everywhere.

2) Notice and call out team players and teamwork behaviors

There was a scene in the famous movie “Hoosiers” about a small-town school basketball team that went to the state championships. In that scene, early in the movie, the coach tells the players they must pass the ball 3 times before anyone takes a shot. One of his players violates this twice and makes both shots. The coach takes him out of the game. Fans and parents yell at the coach because they all want to win that game and that player seemed to have the hot hand. But the coach knew that teamwork was much more important that any single win in the long run.

You can see another example of this in the movie “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team which almost made me cry it was so good in how it showed this “teamwork” thing. Now, this is nothing new to coaches, right? You all know about this power. But many coaches don’t fully take advantage of it by calling it out on a regular basis, especially when they see it in their less-talented players. You need to put it on your radar to really look for players supporting each other in less than obvious ways (like right after a big score). Go all out to point out players who make unselfish assists in games AND practice. Notice who doesn’t ever complain when others do and tell them, individually how much you appreciate and notice that. Don’t fall into the trap of just giving the majority of your attention to your star players but certainly take the star player aside and tell them how much you appreciate how they built up or inspired a lesser player.

Truly, your team is only as good as the weakest links, and you know that deep down.

3) Consistent messages of open and honest communication with you.

You probably have a pre-season meeting with players and parents, great! You probably are good about post-game analyzing and recaps, even better! What you probably are not doing is giving your players the idea, through consistent messages, verbal AND non-verbal that you want them to come to you for your feedback on how they can improve.

Players are deathly afraid to talk to their coaches, even the friendly ones. Believe me, I’ve heard what they really think and won’t tell you or their parents. The more individual, personal, quick chats you have with each player on your team, the more they will get that message. Every person on earth wants to be recognized and acknowledged and kids need it even more since they base their entire identity on what others (especially adults) say to and about them.

Do not underestimate this and blow it off thinking: “I give my players lots of encouragement and advice.”

That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about going a level deeper into showing each player that you care about them as a person and an athlete. One key in doing this, is to get as specific as possible when giving feedback, good or bad. Don’t just tell a player they need to work on their shot. Don’t just tell them that they need to be more consistent. Don’t just tell them they need to be more aggressive. Get into details and specifics of what exactly they can do to improve their performance and HOW.

You don’t have to be warm and fuzzy about it. Do it with your own style, even if it’s a rough, tough style.

You know what I mean. Do it and reap the rewards of players who will do anything to please you.

Stay tuned for part 2 coming next

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com

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One Response

  1. […] Before I go on, one thing I failed to mention in part 1 is the importance of REPETITION of these communication messages. And if you missed Part One of the series, you can read it here. […]

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