Today is the first day of spring. I love spring. The weather gets warmer, the sun gets brighter, and the playing fields get louder. Here are a few tips I teach new coaches on how to increase communication with athletes. These tips will help get your message across to your athletes. And remember, if they keep doing the drill wrong, it means you are doing a poor job of explaining it.
1. Take off your glasses.
In college, I worked at an elementary school as a yard duty teacher. There was an autistic student who was notorious for being a troublemaker on the playground. He once told me I was the only teacher he would listen to. When I asked him why, he pointed at the hand on my side holding my sunglasses. He said, “Because when you talk to me to take your sunglasses off so I can see your eyes – you’re the only teacher who can see me.”
2. Take note of the sun.
After a long practice in the heat, my team took a knee but wouldn’t look at me. I began to get agitated and raised my voice. One of my athletes stood up and said, “Coach, I want to look at you, but right next to your head is the sun and we are staring directly into it.” Whoops, my bad. Bonus: try to have a wall behind you so there is less activity to distract them. If you are talking to a group of young men and behind you is a group of young women, your team is not listening to you. Set your team up for success, not failure.
3. Take a knee.
All day long children are literally looking up to their parents and teachers. Taking a knee or bending over to get on their level will allow them to make a better connection with you. Most likely you will be the only adult all day who met eye to eye with them, and kids remember that stuff because it is human nature to remember how a person made you feel over remembering what a person said.
4. Take a breath.
Kids are not mini-adults. I repeat, kids are NOT mini-adults. They don’t have the years of experience you have learning about emotions and how to control them appropriately. It is your job and the job of other adults who influence them to teach them the strategies they need to deal with these new emotions and how to act. You are there to teach them. Remember: Your behavior is louder than your words.
5. Take two minutes or less.
How many times did your focus waiver when reading this note? Remember that the next time you get mad at your athlete for not paying attention. We live in a world full of distractions. Focus takes energy and lots of practice. Coach Wooden rarely spoke to a player for more than 30 seconds and more typically for only five to seven seconds. His strategy was to teach, show, then have them do it, not give a 5-minute lecture on the history of that drill.
I hope these help you as much as they have helped me over the years.