COACH ALERT!! Use Terminology that Athletes Understand
Recently, while watching a team of eight-year-old Pop Warner football players practice, I heard one of the coaches (there were as many coaches as players!) yell, “play with finesse.” You can imagine the looks he received from the eight-year-old football players. What is finesse? What kind of play is a finesse play? The coach yelled “play with finesse” several more times. Do we really think an eight year old football player knows what it means to play with finesse?
Several plays later, the coach yelled “that’s it, that’s the way to play with finesse, that’s the finesse I’m looking for.” The young athletes looked at the coach as if to say “what did I do, how did I play with finesse, and what is the coach talking about?” I actually saw two players look at each other and shrug their shoulders.
The word finesse is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “skill in handling delicate situations.” Could the coach demonstrate this type of technique to the football players? Could he demonstrate how to play with finesse? If you can’t demonstrate it or explain it – don’t use it!
While watching this group of eight-year-old football players practice, I also heard several coaches utilize terminology that might be used on the collegiate football level. The athletes had no idea what the coaches meant by the terminology they were using. And yes, the players were yelled at when they did not execute what a coaches told them, even though I did not see any coach actually demonstrate to the athletes what he wanted them to execute. Not once did a coach ask the athletes if they understood what was told to them.
As coaches, we often utilize terminology that our former coaches used. Some of us may not have understood it then, but we still insist on utilizing it now with our athletes and we expect them to understand what we still cannot explain. A coach should know an athlete’s comprehension level and playing experience. A high school athlete should understand various sport terminology at a higher level than a middle school athlete. An athlete who has participated in sports for five years should understand terminology better than an athlete who has been participating in sports for one year.
If an athlete does not understand you, take the time to evaluate your coaching terminology and change your verbiage if needed. The problem could be the verbiage being used to express your directions, not that the athlete just does not understand the game.
The coach is not there to impress the athletes; the athletes are there to impress the coach. Athletes want to earn a place on the team. They want to play the game. They cannot reach their potentials if you as a coach do not express their directions in a way that they can understand.
A coach should consistently watch the facial expressions and body language of the players. You can read doubt upon an athlete’s face when he or she does not understand. If you have to repeat your directions, then repeat them, but don’t make matters worse by repeating the same words louder or more slowly. Try different terminology. Yes, we want our athletes to understand the proper sport terminology but again, if you cannot explain it or demonstrate it - don’t expect them to know what you are talking about.
I have worked primarily with collegiate and professional athletes. Two years ago, I started working with athletes that are ages 10-17. I cannot verbalize to them in the same manner I did with professional athletes. Yes, some of the older athletes have a better understanding of the sport and training terminology than the 10-12 year olds, but I still need to use terminology that is appropriate for their level. If I do not use terminology that an athlete can understand, not only do they get frustrated, but so do I as the coach.
When communicating with athletes, be specific, be focused and “Use Terminology that Athletes Understand”.