5 Things To Enhance Your Coach-Athlete Communication

Effective communication is essential in all aspects of life and just as important to be a successful coach or athlete. Coaches must be able to communicate with athletes, other coaches, administrators, parents, the public and administrators.

Coaches must be thoughtful not only in sending clear and understandable messages, but also at listening to and understanding what their athletes are communicating in return.

 How you communicate with your athletes directly affects how they perceive you and in return, how they feel about themselves.

Coaching philosophies, strength and conditioning and practice routines all require attention to detail in order to be successful. The same is applicable for communicating with athlete's. After all, you are coaching people with thoughts and feelings, right?

Coaches gain their athletes trust and respect through the engagement that makes them better athletes and people. Some of these points may seem obvious, and I'm sure there are plenty more to add, but I hope some of these thoughts help you going into your next coaching session. 



Coach and Athlete Communication Basics

1. Listen

Listen! You'll be surprised at what you hear...

Coaches are teachers and with that, they have to be able to communicate effectively with their athletes. Because of that, many coaches feel that their athletes are the only ones that need to do the listening. Some of the best coaches in the world are not only effective speakers and teachers, but are also great listeners. They have an understanding of how an athlete feels physically as well as emotionally. Over the past 3 years (2016-2018), the New Orleans Saints have been ranked in the top 5 red zone offenses. I can confidently say that the communication between Drew Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton play a major role in that success.

Recognize the power of non-verbal communication - Not all communication is verbal.

In fact, over 70 percent of communication is nonverbal. That means your body positions (Rick Mayo, President of Alloy Personal Training Solutions has a great presentation on this), gestures, expressions and actions are just as important if not more than what you say. As coaches, you must understand how non-verbal communication, such as eye contact, posture and body language can impact athletes. 

 University of Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self comforts star player Devonte Graham after the Jayhawks’ semifinal loss to Villanova University at this year’s NCAA tournament.

2. Build Trust 

It's important for coaches to build trust with their athletes from the moment they step into the gym or on the field. Once you have developed a positive relationship with your athletes, you will see benefits in their attitude, teamwork and performance. A positive playing environment allows athletes to be supportive of one another and keeps them motivated toward a common goal.

Do your athletes feel they can trust you and communicate with your outside of practice?

Try creating office hours that will create an environment that allows you and your players to build a real relationship. Give them the opportunity to get help or ask for advice!


3. Understand Who You're Coaching

Every sport has their own unique culture. Hockey players growing up in Minnesota probably have a different mindset or approach than a softball player from Alabama. This goes back to the first tip of this article. Listen to what your athletes are telling you. What are they expressing that they care about? What matters? Athletes will appreciate that you have an understanding of what their goals are and what matters most to them.

When you're "speaking their language," your message will become a lot more clear in the picture your painting for them.

Coaches need to be able to explain everything at a level understandable to their players. Demonstrate specific skills of their sport and don't take above their heads.

4. Focus On Getting Better, Rather Than Being Good

Over the course of a coaching career, you are going to experience athletes of all calibers. Stages of Psychosocial Development Defining "good" can be difficult. Rather than focusing on getting your athletes to "good," help them focus on the process of getting better.

Too often, people focus on achieving a specific end result. 

If you are focused on the process of getting better, you become more resilient to both successes and failures, which shift from being individual events to the process on the path of progression. 

“Good” has an end point. “Better” is constantly making us adjust to the events along the way.

“Good” looks to events past, while “better” looks to what is ahead of us. It is important to be grateful for what your athletes achieve along the way! Not only this will help you reach your goals but also enjoy the process.

5. Communicate Your Values

The coaching staff and its athletes should have a firm understanding and more importantly, a belief in the values of the program. These values set the tone and foundation of the programs culture


When everyone understands the values of a program, it will help reinforce why certain objectives were set and how they are going to get accomplished. 

When John Wooden, the great coach at UCLA finished eighth grade, his father gave him a card entitled, 7 Suggestions to Follow. 

Coach John Wooden's Advice

  1. Be true to yourself
  2. Help others
  3. Make each day your masterpiece
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Good Book
  5. Make friendship a fine art
  6. Build a shelter for a rainy day
  7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings each day

Wooden kept a copy of the card in his pocket and worked to express these values through his philosophies in coaching. What values do you instill in your athletes? 

There are many reasons why coaches should strive to have great communication with their athletes. I promise you that it will help achieve goals, clarify messages and enhance motivational encouragement. 

When athletes have a positive relationship with their coaches they are more likely to listen and take advice which can improve their skills.


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