Human beings evolve, they reconsider some ideas, adopt new habits and learn through stories that are related to their previous experiences, which they frequently listen to and copy in their everyday life. They can also feel identified with intense experiences that have impacted them emotionally or made them succeed. In sport, players grow professionally by learning through the stories they hear from their coaches when they spend time training together with the other members of the team.
Coaches must take on the commitment to create practice settings where coherent stories can freely circulate, with a collective way of playing. Some recommendations should be taken into consideration in order to have good communication with players:1
- Not to judge; it is advisable to be specific and completely objective, providing players with evidence. It is a matter of helping players and the team to improve. The coach must put training before anything else and, in order to do so, count on player’s support and participation. Thus, individual fear can be eased, and the sense of team spirit is heightened.
- Adverse information concerning the player and their feelings should not be conveyed. It is preferable to avoid the verb “to be”. It is better to use verbs that have to do with the player’s performance/action, and to spot the differences between what happened and what we wanted to happen, not focusing on the athlete’s performance.
- The coach must be responsible for what they say or feel. Loaded questions or hints with a touch of irony should be avoided in order to maintain credibility before the team.
- Listen and be interested in how the athletes are feeling, and how they have interpreted the events spoken about. However, coaches should not use that information in their favour. Rather, it is about strengthening your speech and checking if it is being well understood by the players. It is always interesting to remember previous experiences in other situations, in other matches or similar training sessions.
- It is advisable not to implement the sandwich technique with elite players if it has already been adopted.
- Observe and be aware when the exchange of information happens individually, concerning the listener’s state. It may not be the right moment; pay attention to the way it is done and keep the conversation private. The coach should advise the player to ask their teammates how they understood the situation the coach explained.
In addition, there are certain things the coach should not do when exchanging information with players: 1
- Not to have a prepared (handwritten) script of what to say (messages and key words), both in their interventions during games and in training sessions. The speech should be prepared at home (interventions before games or training sessions) or in training spaces (interventions during and after games or training sessions). It is advisable to consult the other staff members, if possible, about what to say. Therefore, an impromptu speech, i.e., made without having thought about it, should not be delivered.
- To point out, by giving examples of negative actions performed by a player differently from what was proposed in order to resolve the situation. “Stop making excuses! How lucky you are!” This is a way of blocking creativity and losing the chance of seeing the game the way players do.
- To focus on irrelevant information in order to show in-depth knowledge of a game situation.
- To find someone to blame for the team’s problems. In training, it is the coaching staff who are responsible for proposing something that may not be what’s most suitable for the level of the team. And during the match, we are all responsible. If we blame people, we are inducing them to fear and possibly the following performances they will not be able to exploit their potential either in a training session or in a match.
1 Lago Peñas, C. y Seirul·lo, F. (2021). La dirección del entrenamiento y el partido en el Fútbol y los Deportes de Equipo. Forthcoming publication.
Carlos Lago Peñas
Francisco Seirul·lo Vargas
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