Where Coaches Sometimes Go Wrong With Communication

Communication Mistakes To Avoid When Coaching Kids

The girls dawdled down the slope from the car park chatting and laughing, seemingly oblivious that they were late and I was waiting.

Being on time (or early) was one of my key standards, and it being school holidays was no excuse for their tardiness and careless attitude. I could feel my frustration rising. These teenagers were clearly in no hurry.

When they finally arrived, I glared at them and waited for an apology. When none came I gave them a good old “dressing down” about being their late, their attitude, and making me wait. They looked upset and embarrassed.

Which was exactly how I felt when one of them quietly explained that they had been at the beach with their friends and left early so they could get to training.

If my actions weren’t bad enough to that stage, the most regrettable thing was I didn’t apologise. I gruffly brushed it off.

Unsurprisingly the mood of the session had been ruined and a dent put into a relationship that I now recognised was never fully repaired.

The fact that this incident has stuck with me for years shows how deep an impression it left on me. I jumped to conclusions and let my temper get the better of me. Trying to teach the girls a lesson became a lesson for me.

It’s not uncommon to hear of coach/athlete relationships, even at the highest level, being ruined by a lack of communication or emotional intelligence. There are stories of team coaches and athletes not on speaking terms after a disagreement or other negative interaction.

I might be naive but I suspect that at least some of these situations could have been avoided by a bit of emotional intelligence, some mindful communication, a bit of courage, and swallowing of pride – often on the coach’s behalf.

There are at least two key things that I should have done differently in the incident I describe above and that I hope to highlight to fellow coaches

1. Learn Before Launching

Don’t assume or jump to conclusions. Take time to ask some questions before blaming or accusing. It can save a lot of pain and quickly diffuse a situation. A simple “Why are you late, girls?” Would have prevented what both the girls and I had to endure. Looking back on my coaching career I have regrettably and unreasonably “flown off the handle” on several occasions and negatively affected relationships with athletes. All of them could have been avoided by pausing, stepping back, and a calm conversation.

2. Admit & Apologise

It’s not easy, but I feel that instantly admitting that you were wrong, without excuses, along with a genuine apology, is the way to go. Explaining your behaviour if there is a genuine cause (e.g. you may be unwell or had a sleepless night with a sick child) may be appropriate, but I think that taking the blame fairly and squarely, if deserved, may go some way towards regaining respect and healing a potentially fractured relationship.

I wish that I had done both of these things.

Over To You!

In summary:

  1. Take time to learn before launching in on someone.
  2. And when you are wrong, admit it and apologise.

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.


Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.

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