Irish Grassroots Football

How Does a Good Coach Communicate?

Communication can be defined as ‘The Receiving and Giving of Information between Two or More People.’ We receive information primarily with our eyes and ears. We give information mainly verbally, with our actions or in writing.

As a football coach here is a test I would like you to try. How much of the time time with you players do you spend receiving information from the players and how much time giving information to the players. Pick the answer that is closest to your coaching communication style.

When I am communicating with my players I spend

  1. Less than 25% of the time receiving information.
  2. Between 25% and 50% receiving information.
  3. Receiving and Giving Information 50% each.
  4. Between 50% and 75%  receiving information,
  5. 75% or more of time receiving information.

If you are closer to number 1 you favour giving information over receiving it and if you are between 3 and 5 you value taking in information.

As a coach is it possible to give correct information to the players if we have not taken in information from them?  Stephen Covey in his bestselling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ says:

‘It is important to understand before we seek to be understood. To me it is critical the coach understands the information he is getting from his players before he draws conclusions and makes his coaching points or decisions’.

 So how does a coach take in that information?

As stated earlier he uses his eyes and his ears to receive information. The use of the eyes to receive information in coaching terms is known as observation. The coach must observe his players. This is best done in silence with the coach maybe standing a little bit away from the play and concentrating on the parts of the game or training he wants to observe. Observation works best when the coach has decided before hand which areas to concentrate on e.g. attacking play, defending etc.  That may require more flexibility during a match as it develops.

Are Irish coaches good at observation?

I believe it is the weakest area and the one that needs most work. I hear coaches who fail their Youths Badge regularly complain that they did not get a fair deal. Without them telling me I ask ‘Did you fail on observation?’  A lot of them did. Do you know what, the FAI tutors were right. I watch the sessions and I would fail them on observation also.

They are so keen to get in a make a coaching point and shout Stop Stand Still that they forget to observe what is happening in front of them. So without the right information how can you make the right coaching intervention?

The second way to get information from the Players is with your ears.  So how do we do this in Coaching Context? I have used the Guided Discover Method of Coaching for the last five years. Guided Discovery dates back to Socrates but is little used. I and Aaron Callaghan, the Bohemians Manager have worked together on it over the years and I know others are advocates of the approach. It is the approach we are introducing in the Kildare Academy.

Guided Discovery

allows players learn by linking the training activities and tasks with questions asked by the coach who seeks to gain information from the players.  This information will help the coach understand

  • The level of understanding the players have of the task.
  • Solutions to football problems the players may have themselves.
  • The level of fun the players are having.
  • The pace of progression required.

To get the information the coach needs to observe and then ask questions. The questions can be simple with young players ‘When should you pass?’ to more complex questions. as they progress ‘When should you mark tight or when do you mark space?  The coach then really needs to listen attentively to the players answers. I have observed many situations where the coach asks the question but then answers himself. That tells the coach nothing about the players’ progress just reinforces the information he already has.

So for Guided Discover to work:

  1. Observe the practice.
  2. Stop the practice at the point that you want information.
  3. Ask the question or questions.
  4. Listen to the answers attentively.
  5. Then make your coaching point quickly and demonstrate or preferably get the players to demonstrate.

Once we have received all the information we require as Coaches it is now time to deal with giving of information.How do we give information as coaches?

It is mainly verbally or by our actions with very little in writing. With our actions we can send a message by dropping a player for instance. The main tool however for delivering information as a coach is verbally.  The components of Verbal communication are Words, Tone and Body Language. It is the part of coaching we are all most familiar with.

The coach shouting instruction for the side line. The coach bursting a gut to get the players attention so he can shout at him. Now a lot of coaches will defend this by saying I am shouting valuable information.  So here is an interesting piece of research.

  • 7% of communication is transmitted through words
  • 38% of communication is transmitted through tone
  • 55% of communication is transmitted through Body Language

Now you must remember that that research deals with adults who are communicating in a normal verbal manner not players running around a field trying to concentrate on a practice or a game. So even if the coach is using positive words but has to shout the tone may come across as negative. If the coach is standing on the side-line with a cross face and arms folded it really doesn’t matter what words he is using the player will know the coach is unhappy. Think of how this might affect young players. So it is clear the speeches and long talks no matter how well thought out will have little positive effect.

In my opinion I believe a good coach communicator is one who

  • Observes all the time
  • Listens a lot.
  • Asks considered questions.
  • Gives information in short bursts using demonstration more than words.
  • Never shouts.

This post was written by Mike Geoghegan

Academy Director Kildare Underage League and Head Coach Naas AFC.

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