When You Say Nothing At All…

Ronan Keating had a bloody good point, sometimes we need to learn to shut up and let everything else do the talking. Maybe doing just that could make your coaching a lot more effective.

Rule 1 – Do my words add value?

Before you speak, ask yourself a question – ‘is what I’m about to say useful?’ If the answer’s no then it’s probably a good idea to keep your lips sealed.

Don’t become the fridge in the corner

This analogy I’ve stolen from Nick Grantham. The coach who gives a play-by-play commentary on an entire session soon becomes little more than background noise; the hum of fridge in the corner that no-one pays any attention to. Remember that the more you speak, the more you dilute your words.

Non-verbal coaching cues

How did you learn to walk? Did your parents sit you down when you were six months old and start talking you through weight distribution, joint angles and fascial sling systems? No. You observe, you try things out and you persist until you can do it. Words can become a barrier to movement. They can complicate things unnecessarily.  Why talk through a good triple extension position when you can just demonstrate it? The latter is more efficient and more effective.

The power of a look

Athletes often find a simple gesture an easier form of feedback to process than anything you could provide verbally; body language allows you to express little subtleties you may not be able to with words. Moreover, I think provokes a much more powerful emotional reaction. I call this ‘the Mary Berry effect’. For those of you unfamiliar with The Great British Bakeoff (shame on you), think about the last time your mum give you the ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed’ look. Far, far more powerful than any verbal scalding, right?

Let them do the speaking

A lot of people aren’t comfortable with silence at the best of times, let alone when they’re looking for some sort of feedback or reinforcement. Embrace this. Force athletes to process things themselves. Let them give you their own feedback. Coaching in this manner means that the athlete engages more deeply in the training process. They not only strengthen their learning but also increase their drive to improve.

Distance coaching

It’s a good idea to have a sign language system in place if you’re working with large groups of athletes. Some athletes may have a lower priority in terms of your coaching time but you still need to be able to communicate with them during the session. You should at least be able to convey these basics:

  • Approval – nod the head/thumbs up.
  • Disapproval – shake the head/thumbs down. Follow with a non-verbal coaching cue or go over for a chat.
  • Increase the weight – point up.
  • Decrease the weight – point down.
  • Ask ‘how was that?’ – open hand gesture, raise eyebrows.
  • No more sets/reps – cutthroat gesture.

You set the atmosphere

Attitudes are contagious, are yours worth catching? It’s a given that you need to exude enthusiasm, energy and motivation, but there is more to it. Great coaches have something I call the ‘coach aura’. The unspoken something-in-the-air that just lets you know who the coach is and that they have the respect of the room. I don’t think that this is developing by screaming and shouting, it comes through the way you carry yourself and the body language you project. Whether your office is the gym floor, the court or the field, you need to own it with an understated air of composure and confidence.

Less is often more in life, coaching is no exception. Take a moment to reflect on your own practices and evaluate how effectively you utilise all these little non-verbal coaching tools.

Coaching, Performance, Psychology, Youth Training , , , ,

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