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Look at Your Coaching Language

Communication is obviously a big part of coaching. But how much time and effort do you put into your coaching language—the words and phrases you use to convey your thoughts and instructions to your players.

A blog post on the Basketball Australia website explores the importance of coaching language and offers tips for sharpening yours. The concepts have little do with basketball, however, and apply to well to coaches in all sports.

The post starts by explaining that the best coaches have a way of taking large amounts of information and distilling down to key phrases or teaching cues that their players easily understand. It goes as far to say “the learning lives in the language.

Fortunately, most sports already have a language of their own that is familiar to both coaches and players. This is often packaged in the form of jargon that takes a series of actions or ideas and represents them with a quick word or two. As examples, the post mentions in basketball a dribble entry is often called a “push,” a middle ball screen is a “hit” and keeping the low post down in a pick and roll is a “stay.” Thus a coach can quickly remind players what he or she wants by saying “push, hit, stay.”

Unfortunately, this language is far from universal. The same concept can have many different names, so it’s vital to make sure your team shares the same language. Don’t assume that everyone else uses the same terms and description you’ve learned. Instead, take time early in the season to detail and explain your coaching language so there’s no confusion over what you want players to do.

At regular intervals, and especially when taking over a new program, you may want to meet with your assistant to determine exactly what language to use. The blog entry says there are three main values to consider during this process: simplicity, clarity, and understanding. And don’t insist on always using the terminology you’ve most familiar with. The idea is to make it easier for players to learn, develop, and perform, so that should be your guide.

This blog item suggests starting by assessing the language of your sport. Take some time to do a “brain dump” of phrases and terms covering everything from fundamentals to concepts to strategies. Don’t spend time analyzing them yet, that will come later. Simply list as many as you can.

After taking a day or two away from this list, return to it and assess each item for its clarity, simplicity, and understanding. Drop those that simply aren’t working and tweak those that need some adjustment. Then give the list to a colleague outside your program to do the same. You can take the process a step further and give the list to someone outside your sport, who will likely have a completely different perspective and raise issues you may not see.

With this input, you can then document your language so you and others can refer to it as needed. While most of these phrases are second nature, the simple act of writing them out will reinforce them. You should also add to this document as needed as you continue to learn and evolve as a coach and teacher

The blog closes with a few short tips about your coaching language.

• Don’t be stubborn. Your way isn’t the only right way. Be open to different ways to communicate your ideas.

• Old habits die hard. Don’t worry if a player or coach sometimes uses a different phrase from time to time.

• Use action words. The more descriptive and prescriptive, the better.

• Make it fun and dynamic.

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