Coaching can be difficult.
Coaches want to help athletes reach their full potential and accomplish great things individually and as a team, but sometimes, it seems like the players don’t want to help themselves.
Many coaches get frustrated with these situations. How many times have you heard a coach yell, “How many times have I told you?” or “I’ve told you a thousand times!” after a player makes a mistake. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time around sports, probably a whole lot.
But as a coach, what are you really revealing when you speak like this to your players? Ryan Horn, the Director of Sports Performance for Wake Forest Basketball, recently offered some excellent insight on the topic on Twitter:
Mike Leach, head football coach at Washington State University and former Pac-12 Coach of the Year and Big 12 Coach of the Year award winner, has expressed a similar sentiment:
Coaches need to realize that their players are, save for a few rare exceptions, trying their best. If they continue to make the same mistake over and over again, there’s a good chance they don’t truly realize why what they’re doing wrong, nor how to do it right. They might nod their head when the coach chews them out and then asks them if they finally get it, but just because they’re tired of being embarrassed—not because they actually know how to correct their mistake moving forward.
Repeating the same explanation over and over isn’t going to get the player anywhere if they don’t comprehend it. Good coaches are able to explain things in different ways. Does the player know why what they’re doing is wrong, or do they simply know that it’s wrong? Knowing the logic behind the execution can go a long way toward better comprehension. Will showing them something on film help? Will drawing something up on the board help? Will re-phrasing your coaching point help? Will having a teammate try to explain it to them help?
There are a lot of different ways to coach a kid up, and it can take a few tries before a player has that “light bulb” moment. If you’ve told them “a thousand” times and it’s still not working, you need to re-think how you’re coaching them.
The second issue with this common coaching phrase is that it often embarrasses the player. It’s almost always screamed in exasperation, and it makes the player feel dumb. No one likes feeling dumb. And when players get embarrassed for making mistakes, they’re more liable to play scared.
Nebraska head football coach Scott Frost spoke on this topic at a press conference earlier this year.
“We’re not going to yell and scream at kids. We’re not going to cuss at kids. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. And I also don’t want to make kids afraid to make a great play. If someone misses a tackle or drops a ball, they don’t need to be yelled at—they need to be taught the right way to do it so it doesn’t happen again. Once you take away that fear of what might happen if you make a bad play, it really frees you up to go make great plays. I want our team to always play with a desire to excel and no fear of failure,” Frost said.
If you’re a coach and you find you aren’t getting through to your players, sticking with the same coaching style or tactics over and over is like trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. Alter your approach. Experiment. Adapt. There’s not just one right way to coach, especially when leading a team filled with different personalities.
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