Time to Talk
I can’t count the number of times I have heard a coach say, “You’ve got to talk out there!” But I never had a conversation with a coach about how to really communicate with my teammates on the field during a game. Similarly, while teamwork was a constant point of emphasis, no coach ever taught us what it meant to support one another. In retrospect, my teammates and I knew our field positions, but we were all left wondering what our roles were as members of the team.
Enlightened coaching involves more than teaching players how to shout, “I’m open” or “man behind.” Youngsters must also learn to encourage a teammate after a mistake, root for one another, and congratulate the opposing team at the end of the game. Beyond teaching skills, exceptional coaches must instruct young people on the best ways to share observations, talk with one another during the game, voice concerns, express feelings, and yes, even respectfully challenge coaches.
Do As I Say
Consider the relationship most coaches have with players. There is an inherent power differential that translates—for the average coach—into the expectation that players will do whatever they’re told. When coaches adopt this authoritarian position, older participants will mimic this behavior by directing the younger, less-experienced or less-confident players.
Although this top-down leadership works in some circumstances, such as an orchestra conductor or military leader, it doesn’t allow for clarification or questioning. Ultimately, this stance may limit the players’ understanding and lead to poor communication habits later. Participants shouldn’t question everything their coach says, but there are times when it’s appropriate. When coaches take the time to explain their rationale, ask for any questions, avoid being dismissive, and provide thoughtful answers, they cultivate genuine communication skills that will serve players long after the season ends.