What’s The Message?

First, let’s be honest. If you have ever coached a team of any kind you have screwed up. It could be anything from wrong tactics, wrong preparation, saying something wrong, failure to stop bad behaviours early on, using running or other physical activity for making mistakes, focusing on the wrong things (I doubt many youth coaches can say that results have never mattered to them)… The list of mistakes a coach can make is endless, and I will raise my hand and say I know these things happen because I have done them at one time or another. I look back on my early coaching career and cringe. Oddly, in my early coaching career I found a lot less conflict when I was simply following the path others had before than when I started to study, learn, grow and focus on the things much better coaches than me focus on, but that’s a different story.

This past weekend I attended a youth soccer tournament where tons of different coaching styles were on display. This week we will look at two contrasts each day. Today we will look at the words we use and the delivery. Youth soccer can get quite heated, from the coaches screaming at players, to the mother this weekend dropping the f-bomb several times because of a (correct) offside decision against her son’s team. However, the best demonstration comes from two approaches coaches took to calming their team.

One of my pet peeves is when coaches, players, or parents start yelling “GET IT OUT” whenever the ball comes to their defence. Why? Because as I have discussed before, it creates panic. This creates what I saw this past weekend when a young girl in defence went to aimlessly kick a ball away while under no pressure from an opponent. Why did she do this? Because people yell “CLEAR IT!” or “GET IT AWAY” when the ball comes to defence. She doesn’t get to make a decision to think because people watching are thinking in terms of scorelines, not development.

The poor girl’s situation was made worse by a coach who yelled “You need to relax”, and as the young girl took a swing at the ball yelled in frustration “YOU NEED TO BE RELAXED WHEN YOU PLAY SOCCER. YOU NEED TO RELAX!” Yeah, because nothing is going to make someone relax like a ton of people yelling  “CLEAR IT” while the coach gets angry for not being relaxed. It kinds of reminded me of this scene from The IT Crowd.

On the other hand there were many coaches who simply stood calmly, no yelling, letting their players relax, trusting their players to make right decisions, and kept stress out of situations in which emotions can run high. Sport, especially a physical sport can raise emotion and tempers. The coach sets the tone, and having been on both ends of the spectrum from frustration to calmness, I know the behaviour of a coach impacts the team.

Here are today’s three takeaways:

1 – Communication is only partly about the words you use. Yelling at someone to be calm will not calm them down. Demonstrate what calm looks like.

2 – If emotions are high question whether you can make an immediate impact, or whether your input would be better received at a later time. If the young girl had let an attacker through, so what? Talk to her after about what could have been different and work it out on the practice field.

3 – Set the tone. If a coach is yelling, the players will elevate. If the coach is calm, the players will be more relaxed. Help develop young players by encouraging them to make decisions, and allow them to fail and learn without pressure.

Coaches will make mistakes. It will always happen but we can limit the ongoing impact of those mistakes and it is better to lose a few games while developing players than win games without growth or integrity, which we will talk about later in this series.

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