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Tips for Effective Player to Coach Communications

By Katie Williams, 04/19/17, 1:30PM PDT

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I've mentioned communication in previous posts, but I thought it was important to go into more detail for athletes. This is such an important piece of the puzzle and can really determine the type of experience a player has.  

Regardless of your relationship with your coach, it’s imperative that you learn how to effectively communicate with them. There is going to come a time where you will need to be able to articulate yourself accurately, respectfully, and in a form where your message will be received. Every coach is different, but here are a few things that all players can and should do when attempting to communicate with their coach. Follow Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How:

  1. WHO: You’ve decided that your coach needs to hear something, but is there anyone else you should involve (i.e. Players, Captains, Athletic Directors, etc…)? Think about who needs to hear your message. Is this something you should bring to the captains' attention, directly to the coach, or should be conveyed to a higher level, i.e. the AD?

  2. WHAT: What is your message? What point(s) are you trying to get across? Time is precious, and you need to make sure that YOU understand your message and what you are trying to articulate before you begin to communicate. You don’t want to say something you don’t actually mean, or forget to say something important to you. If it is an especially heated topic, we recommend you take 24 hours to let the email “simmer” before pressing send, or charging into your coach’s office.  

  3. WHERE: Decide the best place or avenue of communication. Sometimes, email is the most efficient way to communicate. If you have a simple questions that isn’t time sensitive or are relaying a message that isn’t emotionally engaging, then an email is an acceptable form of communication. Usually in-person, 1-on-1 meetings are the best route to go, especially if you are trying to relay something personal/confidential. If you are going to set up a face-to-face meeting, make sure you reach out to whom you’re looking to speak with prior to the conversation as to not put them on the defense. 

  4. WHEN: Is this a “RIGHT NOW” issue or something we can come back and visit later? Regardless of what your message might be, understand that in order for your audience to be receptive, you need to catch THEM at a good time. While a topic might seem important and immediate, your coach might not be in a place to hear you or have time to address the issue. Timing is everything, sometimes it’s helpful to “put a pin in it” and revisit at a different time. In the middle of practice or right before a game usually aren’t good times to try and have 1-on-1 conversations. Again, if it’s a “heated” topic, it might be best for both parties to take some space BEFORE hashing it out.  

  5. WHY: This sort of ties in with WHAT, but it’s important to also know WHY you need to communicate this. An easy answer could be “my coach needs to know WHY I’m missing practice.” An answer also could be as complex as “my coach needs to know why I think I’m struggling this season.” Regardless of what you are trying to say, understanding your why is going to help stress your motive, which will help your audience to hear your message. 

  6. HOW:  

    1. HOW do I determine WHO: think about who your message involves and how being a part of this conversation might affect someone. 

    2. HOW do I determine WHAT:  I always recommend taking some time and writing down your main points. This way you can brainstorm the outline of the conversation to make sure you aren’t saying anything you don’t mean, but still communicating everything you DO want to say. Think about what you want to say, but also how you want it to be received. What are the possible outcomes?

    3. HOW do I determine WHERE: Think about a setting where you can best communicate and where your message will be best received. If you are trying to communicate your emotions to your coach, it’s not best to do that in an email/text/phone conversation where you cannot adequately express yourself, or where your emotions could be misinterpreted. 

    4. HOW do I determine WHY: Everyone’s “why” is different. So know yours. Why do you feel the need to communicate this message and what are you trying to accomplish by doing so?

A couple of other points:

It’s important to keep in mind that most coaches aren’t full time coaches. They dedicate as much time to their respective programs as they possibly can. Don’t take it personally if they do not have time to talk to you. It doesn’t mean they don’t WANT to talk to you, they are just busy with other things. (And as busy as you think your schedule is, it’s not as busy as an adult’s schedule.) 

If you do schedule a time to speak with your coach make sure you follow up at the date/time you said you would. There is nothing more frustrating to a coach than blocking off time to speak with one of their athletes and then having them not call or show up to the meeting. 

It’s fine to rope your parents in for advice, but your mom and dad shouldn’t be the one talking for you. Sports have always been a great avenue for youth to learn valuable lessons that will help them later on in life. IF you have other people speaking for you, your message could be misunderstood, and the outcome may not be something that fixes the issue. This is a great time to learn to speak up for yourself!