How to Read Your Athletes

Help your team and make a difference in your athletes' lives by reading their emotional state at the beginning of practice. Here's how.

Coach and Athlete

While working with high school tennis players, I've noticed that during the school year, some adolescents have a tendency to come to practice with a bad attitude. When players practice in an emotional funk, they're not as effective and they often bring others down with them. By taking five minutes to chat with the athlete while everyone else warms up, you can not only improve that player's training session, but also strengthen your player/coach bond.

Read your athletes before practice starts by checking these three things:

Body Language

Body language is usually the first and strongest signal that something's wrong. If you see an athlete with his or her head down and shoulders slumped, find out what's wrong. The athlete may not want to discuss the problem, but a five-minute conversation could work wonders for a teen who just wants to let off some steam.


Make a habit of greeting your athletes as they arrive to practice and listen to their tone of voice when they respond. If they sound upset, sad, depressed or disturbed, have a chat.


If you can't read an athlete's body language or tone, look for red flags in demeanor. An athlete could be struggling if he or she fails to make eye contact, remains quiet or is reluctant to participate.

If you start paying attention, it's not difficult to pick out athletes who are having a bad day. Once you identify them, take a few minutes to show you care. You may be surprised by how big a difference you can make with just a few words of encouragement.

Want more tips for connecting with your athletes? Check out STACK's Coaches and Trainers site or Sport Psychology page.


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