Coach behavior and its effect on player learning, motivation and development has long been a subject that has fascinated me. What is it that great coaches do to connect with, empower and fuel their athletes’ desire to reach new heights in performance and growth? One thing that seems very apparent is the degree of intentionality with which they operate. Words and actions are produced with an immense purpose meaning no sentence is wasted and no interaction meaningless.
“Words can inspire and words can destroy. Choose yours carefully” (Robin Sharma).
To this effect, it is incredibly difficult to meticulously plan for situations that will stretch the boundaries of emotional control. Many coaches find themselves in positions where they are so invested in a game or a training session, that having the capacity to maintain a purposeful train of thought throughout every intervention is lost. Those that do not however, can ensure that every utterance has a purpose behind it. Here is where the words we choose to use have the greatest impact.
“Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten” (Robin Sharma)
In an age of learning influenced by concepts of grit, growth mindset and self-determination, never before have coaches been under more of a microscope when it comes to their ability to facilitate these feelings within their players. For this reason, we will focus upon some of the characteristics most inherent to the successful installation of these feelings within the coach-athlete relationship, especially with the digital age of social media and technology fervently attempting to knock them away. An idea the concepts listed above reference most, is that the use of words and phrases that denote a situation, a characteristic or an ability as permanent, is something that coaches and teachers alike should be acutely aware of the dangers of.
Imagine, for example, the all too familiar scenario within which a coach tells a group of players post-game, “You weren’t good enough”, vs. a statement that shifts the culture of blame and permanence to togetherness and temporary – “Today, we weren’t good enough” (Tom Bates).
Players want to please, want to impress and want to feel valued. Changing the story in terms of the semantics can do this. By no means does this suggest that the relationship or learning environment cannot demand high standards. To the contrary, it is recommended that we do that. The consistency with which we communicate those expectations however becomes of paramount concern. For this reason, the intentionality of all interactions becomes key.
To extend this yet further, when exploring the creation of cultures within team or club settings, it seems the consistency of actions, behaviors and feedback delivered by the coach should not be understated. Establishing and then emphasizing key principles daily, maintaining a consistent level of expectation and standards grounded in process and progress are essential to the creation of a culture where everyone knows what is expected, what is valued and what simply will not be tolerated.
With coaching becoming more about the management of people, demonstrating empathy, emotional control and the capability to connect and lead others somewhere new, above and beyond simply an understanding of the x’s and o’s, as professionals we have to be acutely aware of what the potential value or harm could be of the words we use every time we open our mouths.
I challenge you to plan what you will say and when you intend to say it. After all, there is power in permanence!