by Bob Vandersluis

There is no doubt that being an effective communicator can have a profoundly positive effect on your life and the lives of people around you.  Communicating with ease and clarity is a skill, an art form.  Personal contact is so crucial to influencing people and creating real, meaningful relationships.  As parents and coaches, these values should be at the forefront of what we are doing: raising mindful, successful children.


Over the years I have read many books on coaching and have been to countless seminars on how to be a good coach.  These portals are great for information gathering and getting some great ideas from some amazing minds.  I have found all of the X’s and O’s very useful, and have had some mild success implementing many of the ideas of team play, individual skill, and program design.


However, one way that these seminars and books often fall short, is instructing parents and coaches on how to deliver the information.  There isn’t really a blueprint on how to give good instruction per se, but there are a few techniques that we should be using to effectively communicate ideas and do a great job of influencing people.  To be able to communicate across the generational, gender, and multicultural divides requires a connection that helps athletes what we are saying and why we are saying it.


“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world, and must use this understanding as a guide to effectively communicate with others.” – Tony Robbins 


Tip #1- Don’t criticize


This is a tough one…in fact, this may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.  Be mindful of how you talk to people, especially those who you love.  Being critical is like quicksand.  It will cause angst, anxiety and eventually disregard.  No one wants to hear criticism constantly.

Be prepared to hold back your initial thought if you see someone doing something that you don’t agree with.  This is difficult, but if you consciously begin to take this road, it will surely lead to long term success and the utmost respect and desire from your players and team.


“Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them.  That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness.”  Dale Carnegie


Tip #2- Give Honest and Sincere Appreciation


This follows tip #1 because this is what you should be doing instead of criticizing.  There are always ways that you can appreciate people.  Everyone has something that they are good at.  I have learned so much more from the athletes that I have coached, than they could ever possibly could learn from me.  They all have unique talents and abilities to recognize and pay some appreciation towards.  I truly mean it when I tell them how amazing they are for the things they have succeeded in or the obstacles they have overcome.


Make someone feel good about their accomplishments, no matter how small, and watch them give their best effort next time as well.  People love recognition and praise, as long as you mean it, and it’s not fluff.


“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” – Mother Theresa


Tip #3- Be Clear and Concise


Clarity is a by-product of purpose driven coaching, and knowing where you and the athletes are going.  Coaches need to ask themselves: What messages do I need to send my athletes today at practice?  What do I expect from them this week and how will I design lessons to deliver this message.  What sort of behaviour do I expect from them?  What do I need to communicate to empower them and prepare them?

We must communicate to them what we expect from ourselves as coaches as well:  to love them, and to help them become involved, responsible and devoted young men and women.  It is only fair to turn the expectations back on ourselves as coaches, once we have laid out what we expect from our athletes.


Clear communication requires explicit expectations for how we will treat each other, stand by each other, and encourage each other.


As an example, we have a Peak Code that the athletes and coaches live by, and I’ve had a similar one with many teams that I’ve coached.


– BE mindful of others

-DON’t criticize

– BELIEVE in each other

-RESPECT each other

– NO profanity


These are laid out well in advance, and this is the code that is expected to be followed once you walk through our doors, and hopefully carried out when you leave as well.


Tip #4- Be a Good Listener  


Despite this being number four on the list, this may be the most important.  Being attentive and showing someone you actually care what they are saying, can lead to increased understanding, but more importantly increased feelings of importance and respect.  Don’t be a conversation participant who is always thinking about the next thing to say, or how to put your opinion first.  Here are a couple keys to being a good listener.


Contact- can occur with a look, a kind word, a question or a pat on the shoulder


Connect- verbal or non-verbal way of showing you understand


Body Language– sit/stand tall, don’t fidget, and ensure you aren’t wandering with your attention


Ask Questions– stay engaged and dig deeper into the athlete’s story with some meaningful questions that will encourage elaboration


Tip #5- Make People Feel Important 


People desire to feel special, unique, which they are.  We as coaches, should appreciate all of our players, not just the ones who score the most goals, or get the most touchdowns.  Athletes have a desire to be recognized for the positive actions they are trying to take.

When I coached, we always had two players of the game (coaches choice and players choice).  The criteria for “Coaches Choice” varied from game to game, but we always used the baseline of “who was the best teammate”.  And that could mean, who didn’t get frustrated when we were losing, who stood up for his teammates, who back checked the hardest, and so on.  We recognized this effort with an achievement, and the kids really relished in wearing the hard hat we gave as the award out of the arena.

At Peak we award an “Athlete of the Week”.  This award can  go to someone who had a significant athletic accomplishment that week, or someone who was working their tail off in the weight room and got noticed.

Feelings of importance don’t always have to be formal.  To make someone feel important, an action as simple as “Hey buddy, great job on the squat rack today”, or “Hey Jill, I’ve noticed your hard work the last few weeks, keep it up.”

This goes a long way to motivating and encouraging, but also creating a bond that is strong and can make people feel connected.