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During the Heat of the Game

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, CIC

During a game, some mistakes may occur and there may also be periods of outstanding play and execution. This is fairly typical. Games don’t always take a straight path. There may be peaks and valleys, emotion, disappointment, elation and tension right up to the final buzzer. As a coach, you almost certainly understand this.

However, how you communicate with your players should be consistent, helpful and controlled. While you may occasionally become frustrated and raise your voice, there can never be a time in which you use inappropriate or demeaning language. In an education-based athletic program, this would be totally unacceptable and being upset can never be used as an excuse.

In order to take a good, constructive approach with your players, the following suggestions should help.

  1. Remind yourself prior to every game as to the purpose of communicating with players during contests. Whether it be on the sideline, during time outs or at half-time, you should be trying to make corrections and to provide suggestions. It is not all about you and a time to emotionally vent and release frustration. You should be trying to help your players.

  2. Try to take a calm, logical, business-like type approach. While this may not be easy, players need clear, easily understood instructions. Emotional outbursts rarely help a young person to understand what you want done.

  3. Provide a brief explanation of why you are making your corrections. Also, try to impress upon the player that your efforts are an attempt to improve execution and not a personal attack.

  4. Try to be as positive as possible, as difficult as it may be, in your interaction with your athletes. It is important to remember that everyone reacts and responds better to constructive help. Very few individuals preform better after receiving negative criticism.

  5. Be as concise as possible, since you have limited time for corrections or instruction. Your points have to be made quickly and easily absorbed. One or two sound suggestions will work better than reeling off a lengthy list of needed improvements.

  6. Use the same terminology that you regularly use in practice and in team meetings. This avoids confusion and you also want players to understand what you are explaining. Consistent wording will help.

  7. Ask your players if they understand or have any questions. By taking this approach, of course, your comments should again be brief in order to provide a little time to provide answers. Your ultimate goal is for your athletes to totally understand what you expect.

  8. Provide positive reinforcement if a player makes the suggested correction. “That’s it. Way to go. You got it!” Taking this approach should also help when you need to make additional corrections, because the athlete feels supported and you recognized their efforts.

While games are often hectic, stressful and perhaps emotional, everything that can be done to help young people to improve should be the ultimate goal. Understanding this objective is the important first step.


David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association’s Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at:

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