An athlete messes up in a game.  Maybe you see it, maybe you don’t.  You then hear the coach say, “I’ve explained this to you a hundred times.”  Heck, even as parents you’ve probably said that to your kids…a lot.

So what does that tell you?

The athlete has a learning disability and is not picking it up?  The athlete is purposely screwing up because he/she enjoys seeing the coach lose his/her mind?

Or, what might be the more logical answer, the coach hasn’t found a way to communicate effectively to the athlete.  The coach continues to tell something to the athlete, but has failed to teach that athlete the point that is needed to get across.

I learned a long time ago that you might have to continue to say something to an athlete in order for a point to get across.  But at what point does it get through the coach’s head that maybe a different tactic has to be taken in order for that point to be driven home if you are continuing to have to repeat yourself?

Coaching and teaching are essentially the same thing.  You need to be able to figure out how to coach an athlete many different ways because not all athletes process information the same way.

Here is my simple list on how to approach coaching your athletes and getting them to understand your point:

  • The first is the easiest. You explain your point to them.  The athletes understand and apply it.  Simple right.  This works a fraction of the time.
  • You explain it, they don’t pick it up, so you demonstrate or illustrate it to them somehow. That helps and does the trick.
  • You explained it, they got it, but a day later or so they have forgotten. You explain it to them again and ask to get a confirmation that they understood it.  They did.
  • Let’s go back to the first thing I said. What if you explained it, but they aren’t processing it right then and there?  You need to figure out how to say what you want to say differently.  The words that are coming out of your mouth isn’t registering with them and it doesn’t help if you just repeat those words louder.  Two people can certainly interpret the same phrase differently.  Figure out how you need to say it differently and see what happens.
  • Finally, this is the scenario that we started this post with. You just keep repeating the play, the drill, the solution, whatever it may be and the athlete continues to screw it up.  Figure out a way to say it where the athlete at least acknowledges an understanding.  At that point, have them explain it back to you.  Have them verbally illustrate that understanding.  From that point on if the athlete messes up again, don’t tell them how to do it, ask them to explain why we want to do it that certain way.  Continue down that path.  They’ve already heard you say the explanation.  They said they understand it, but now they need to repeat it and explain it their way.  That will help with the learning process and the athlete will be taught not told how to do something.

99% of the time when an athlete messes up, they are not doing it on purpose.  They thought they were doing something the correct way.  Or it could be a situation where the athlete doesn’t quite know how to do something, but is too intimidated to speak up.  Basically, they are just hoping eventually they will get it right.

It is never ill intent, so treat them as such.  Reassure them that we appreciate the effort, we just need to figure out how to get them to understand it a little better.  I feel that if you can first ask, what do you need to do, then they are repeating what we are telling them.

But, if we follow up with WHY do you need to do it that way?  That is where the learning comes in and we should be heading down the correct path.

Feel free to leave comments in the box below.  Is there another tactic that you use that could work?  Sometimes there is a simple way that has been overlooked.  Take these ideas and see what happens to your athletes.