Frame communications and use language to build relationships, encourage trust, and facilitate appropriate risk-taking.
WHY: The way in which a coach communicates is a reflection of leadership style and is tightly linked with relationship building and the development of culture. The ability to engage athletes in a positive, growth-oriented, and inclusive manner helps build a mastery-based climate that promotes effort. This type of environment creates opportunities for athletes to push themselves and take risks without the fear of failure, serving as a catalyst for social-emotional and physical skill development.
HOW: The coach intentionally engages in discourse that is honest and clear, delivered in kind and thoughtful ways that honor individual athlete needs and communication styles. This often involves positive reinforcement and reassurance, identifying opportunities to recognize athletes for their effort and attitude, or improved performance. Communication is future-oriented, focusing on what adjustments can be made and what is coming next. To encourage leaving mistakes behind, the coach develops, rehearses, and regularly uses cue words that evoke positive performance images and signal specific tactical or mental strategies.
This video takes you inside a pre-practice meeting following a loss in an ultimate frisbee competition the day before. Pay close attention to the language used by the coach - this is a great example of putting winning in perspective, staying future-oriented, and focusing on the process and growth.
This next video gives us an insight into framing communications during a competition. The Head Coach of the University of Washington Women’s Volleyball Team delivers a speech during a time-out. Watch for two things: process-oriented language and flexibility in communication styles on the part of the coach. Fun activity - compare this speech to the resource from the Athlete Assessments below.
The way a coach responds to making mistakes in practice can have a positive or a negative impact on an athlete’s confidence, perceptions of self-worth, ability to handle pressure, and motivation. This video takes us inside the women’s volleyball practice at the University of Washington. The head coach frames communications in response to the athlete’s mistakes in a way that encourages risk-taking and leaving mistakes behind and provides sufficient technical support to master the execution.
As coaches and parents, we all want to be positive with our athletes. But is all praise conducive for development? This video from Train Ugly features a discussion on how children responded to two similar, yet slightly different types of praise lead by a Stanford professor of psychology, Dr. Carol Dweck. Do you frame communications in a way that facilitates a growth mindset among the athletes?
How do coaches communicate with their athletes after a loss in a competition or after making a mistake in training? What are the athletes’ perceptions of these communications? What is the impact on the athletes? What are the athletes’ recommendations for coach reactions under these circumstances? Sam Sagar and Sophia Jowett, academic experts in the area of coach-athlete relationships, surveyed over 300 British athletes to answer these questions in the article above.
Coaches generally have their preferred style of communication. Expert coaches acknowledge the fact that athletes have different learning and communication styles and display a high degree of flexibility in their approach to framing communications. This video from Athlete Assessments, a player and coach development platform, demonstrates how the DISC framework can be used to intentionally structure your messages to elicit a positive response leading to growth and improved effort among your athletes during the competition.