In this post I WILL MAKE ABUNDANT USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS! In case you don’t know, writing in capital letters online means the writer is screaming or yelling the words. I will be using capital letters often in today’s post because I want to get to what I believe is a poor behavior among new coaches, which happens to be SCREAMING and YELLING at young players.
I’ve found that new coaches, regardless of sport, yell instructions at their players. The more the players mess up, the louder the coach gets. What I hear regularly during games all over the state of Georgia is, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT? I TOLD YOU TO NEVER DO THAT!” Generally that statement is screamed at a youth player who just shot the ball from twenty yards out or lunged hard as a defenseman and got beat. The new youth coach doesn’t understand why the player would do such as thing when he screamed and yelled about not making those kinds of mistakes in practice. What the new coach does not understand is how to communicate effectively.
New coaches usually try to emulate coaches they see on TV. Unfortunately, the camera only focuses on the college or professional coach doing one of two actions. One, the coach is staring stoically at the field. Two, the coach is screaming to high heaven at his players or the officials. This is what new youth coaches see and then replicate during practice and games. Problem is the camera rarely catches what the coach is doing the most. Namely, communicating calmly with his coaches and players. The cameras don’t tape those exchanges because it makes for boring television. Because new youth coaches see extremes in coaching behavior, either silence or YELLING, they model their behavior after what they see as effective. After all if a successful college or professional coach is SCREAMING at his players all the time, it must be an effective tool.
Imagine for a moment a job where you have a boss or manager. During the entire day the boss either sits quietly in his office, occasionally peeking outside to make sure everyone is working, or venturing out of his office and SCREAMING LOUDLY AT YOU TO FINISH YOUR WORK! HE YELLS REPEATEDLY THAT YOU ARE MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES AS YESTERDAY AND HE IS SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING FIRING YOU! After hearing that coach day after day either being silent or incredibly loud would you be enjoying your work? No! You’d be spending those precious quiet moments dreading your boss coming out of his office for another round of verbal whipping. That is what goes through the heads of youth players when all you do is go from one extreme, silence, to the other, being loud.
This loud behavior continues on the sidelines also. The new coach yells at his players even though they are three feet away from him, and often that yelling is neither positive nor instructive. I am often shocked that new youth coaches do not see how destructive their behavior is. Like the example above, their extreme behavior does not help them win games because it turns the coach’s players into scared kids who are more worried about disappointing their coach instead of focusing on making a good play. The problem is exacerbated during the season because the new coach, who is likely losing a few games, decides that the players aren’t listening to him and decides to yell louder and more frequently. The coach never realizes that his players are tuning him out. At that point, the coach cannot communicate effectively with his players because they no longer want to listen. He has SCREAMED them out of wanting to learn the game.
What then is a new coach supposed to do if they can’t yell at their players? Here are a few strategies to save your vocal cords:
- If your going to yell, yell positive – I SCREAM and YELL all the time when I coach youth games. However, I try to make sure I am yelling positive comments to my players. I don’t yell out, “WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU THINKING?” I yell, “NICE ROLL DODGE!” There is a huge difference between yelling negatively and yelling positively. Kids will latch onto your words if they are positive. So find things during the game that your players are doing well and yell out your praise to them.
- Keep yourself quiet when talking one-on-one – If I had a dollar for every coach I’ve seen scream into a youth player’s face I could retire. Screaming negatives doesn’t help when the kid is all the way across the field, and it certainly doesn’t help when you are face-to-face. I make sure that I lower the decible level of my voice whenever I speak to a kid on the sidelines. They often need encouragement if they just came off the field, especially if they made what they feel was a bad play. If they screwed up get down to their eye level and say the following, “You did a great job winning us that faceoff. Just make sure to pass the ball when you get double-teamed. If you do that you will probably get an assist or lead us to a goal.” That is two positives surrounding one negative, otherwise known as a praise sandwich. This technique, which I love, has worked wonders for me when I coach youth players because it reinforces what they did well and gives them advice on what to do when they hit the field.
- Have a “pay attention” word – This is an excellent tool for getting a group of youth players focused on you and what is coming out of your mouth. Whenever I coach I have my team do the following: When I say “Eyes up!” The players must look at me and respond, “On you!” This gets all the players looking directly at me and gets them focused on what I am saying. If I’m in a loud environment I’ll raise my voice to be heard, but otherwise I calmly say what I want to say and break the huddle. Come up with your own “pay attention” word and tell me what it is in the comments section below.
- Ask a parent or friend to watch you during practices and games – One effective tool in making sure you are not yelling out negatives is to enlist the help of someone you trust to watch you during practices and games with a clipboard in hand. Each time you yell something negative, your friend marks that on the clipboard along with any positive statements you make. After the practice or the game review the marks that your friend made. Your goal is to have fewer or zero negative marks and multiple positive marks. This is also a great way to show the kids’ parents that you are working on becoming a better communicator.
- Never yell in anger – When adults yell in anger to kids the kids get scared. When they get scared, they screw up on the field. When they screw up on the field the coach yells even more and gets even angrier, which leads to more mistakes. That cycle can be stopped before it ever starts by making a commitment to yourself, and your coaching staff, to never yell in anger. If you feel yourself getting angry, pause for a moment, take a breath and remind yourself that angry communication is poor communication.
I hope this post has given youth coaches some insight into why yelling, especially yelling in anger, is not an effective tool when communicating to young athletes. Follow the strategies I set forth above, and you will be amazed at how much better your players respond to your coaching.