Yelling vs Coaching

I stand in front of seven 6th-grade basketball players as I try to teach them a lesson in communication.

<Opening Scene>

“Imagine you are on the playground 100 feet away from your best friend and you want to know if they want to join your game.”

“Like jump rope?” asks Taylor.

“Sure, like jump rope. You yell out ‘Hey Tasha, want to join our jump rope game?’”

Emmerson interjects. “It’s not really a game, coach, we call it a turn.”

“Okay, great, thank you Emmersen. So you yell out to them to take a turn using this voice [I raise my voice as loud as I can] ‘Hey Tasha, come take a turn.’

That is me yelling to Tasha to join us. Now, here is a different way I could do it [I use a deeper voice with attitude and frustration] ‘Hey Tasha, come take a turn!’ I used the exact same words, but do you hear the difference in how I said it?”

Chase raise her hand, excited to contribute. “I do! The first one you were encouraging. The second one you were mad.”

“Yeah,” Tasha agrees. “It’s like the first one you were yelling to us, but the second you were yelling at us.”

“Well said, both of you. Now, what is something I say during the game, a lot?”

“Get your hands up!” says Alex, our best defensive player.

“You’re right, I do say that a lot.” I look over at one of the shorter players who often forgets to make herself bigger by raising her hands in the air on defense. I raise my eyebrows–she smiles and puts her hands up. The team giggles.

“Like a thousand times a game, coach.”

“That sounds about right, Maddie. Okay, Alex, scoot back 10 steps and yell to me to get my hands up. Camryn, you go with her and yell at me to get my hands up.”

We yell at each other, to each other, the lesson is learned, we giggle, we high five, then begin practice.

<end scene>

Communication is dependant on the relationship between the sender and receiver. If there is a problem with the relationship, that will affect how the receiver interprets the message.

If the relationship is healthy and there is trust both ways, then communication will be received as trying to help.

If the relationship is rocky and trust is absent or has been broken, then it will be heard as trying to hurt.  

In my experience, the people who can communicate the most effectively often end up being the most successful in their field. I have heard it said many times that success belongs to the one who can tell the best story, and I agree. Former NFL Football coach Jon Gruden*, said he chose to study communication in college because he knew he would, for the rest of his life, need to be able to communicate a game plan to his players and coaches. I was in my third year of college when I read that sentence and it made so much sense to me that I literally changed my major to communication the very next day.

There was an unintentional side-effect of the scene described earlier. During practice, the girls got loud–real loud. They had now been given permission to yell to each other with the understanding that is was not to be taken personally. That trickled into our games and improved everything because there was trust that one person could yell in the direction of a teammate and not offend them.

During the game, parents are cheering, feet are hitting the gym floor, basketballs are flying, whistles are blowing, and music blasting. Any good coach knows they have to use a loud voice in order to be heard over these noises, but the better coaches know there is a right way and a wrong way to yell. More importantly, do what you can to foster trust between yourself and the athlete by taking an interest in their world outside of sport.

Teach your young athletes to know the difference between yelling to hurt and yelling to help and keep your own emotions in check. Use yelling as a tool and use it sparingly so when you need to get their attention on something important, it doesn’t sound like everything else you yelled to them.

*Gruden, J., & Carucci, V. (2003). Do you love football?!: winning with heart, passion, and not much sleep. New York: HarperCollins.  Amazon Link

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As a Leadership Coach at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, James Leath teaches athletes from the professional ranks all the way down to elementary school about character and leadership of self, team, coaches and critics. His widely read blog at jamesleath.com is a top resource that educates athletes, coaches, and parents in sport psychology and personal development. James is currently finishing a graduate degree in Performance Psychology.