Lesson Four – The Power of Words


The way we talk to each other matters. From the words we choose to our tone of voice,
all of it is significant. More times than I can count I’ve read quotes from athletes that say
something like, “when my coach yells at me, I know it’s for my own good, so I tune out the
yelling and pay attention to the words.”

Think about that for a second. Here’s a translation of that quote. “My coach is such a maniac that he/she lacks the self-
control to communicate with me like a human being, but since his/her intentions are good, and they know the game, I can
take the advice as it’s intended.”

Would it not make much more sense to get in the habit of thinking before we speak? To make sure that not only are
our words helpful, but our entire style of communicating?

Practically, there are two components to this lesson. The first is to develop the habit of speaking to our players as people rather than athletic commodities. These young people are not players on your fantasy team, they are precious, invaluable souls that are desperately in need of love and nurturing. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not here to love and nurture these kids. I need to be tough, because they need to be tough.” Who said anything about not being tough? Where did the lie come from that nurturing coaches who prioritize the healthy development of their players are coaches who lack discipline in their programs? Ask any (reasonably good) parent and they will tell you that toughness, discipline and love are not mutually exclusive.  They go hand in hand.

Think about this — is it an act of toughness to intimidate a child? I dare say no, it’s not. It’s cowardly. We’ve probably all done it at one time or another, but that certainly doesn’t make it right. Of course, as coaches a huge part of our job is correcting behavior and fixing mistakes. There is no doubt about that. But is correction not an opportunity to nurture and show love? Of course it is, when done effectively.  Another aspect of speaking to our players like human beings involves showing that we care about them and have an interest in them beyond the playing field. For me, as a young coach I would typically walk out to the practice field each day with other coaches. What if each day I had gotten in the habit of walking out to practice with 2-3 players and asked them simple questions about their lives? Certainly there’s no downside to that. I definitely would have gotten to know them better. They probably would have responded to me at least a little more favorably. They would have understood that their coach valued them beyond what they could produce athletically. (There is a short list of helpful daily practices on page 199 of InSideOut Coaching.)

And I probably could have gotten to a place where I had at least a handful of conversations like the one Joe Ehrmann details on p. 61 of InSideOut,
in the middle of chapter 2. Author Rod Olson refers to this type of talk from coaches as “Speaking Greatness”. As adults, we have an opportunity
to give every young person we coach a vision for what they can become by utilizing their natural strengths and abilities. Why would we ever want
to miss that chance?

The second piece of this lesson concerns a tool that some coaches have used with great effectiveness in positively transforming the culture of their programs. It’s known by a few different names, but the original name (to the best of my knowledge) is the “Put-Up Game”. Coach Frosty Westering used this in his college
football programs, and coaches at all levels have been following suit for years. There are at least a few different variations of the put-up game, but the basic idea is that we give our players the chance to praise each other in front of their peers. They give each other “put-ups”, which are simply the opposite of put-downs. It might sound kind of hokey at first, but I have personally used this with everyone from t-ball players to adults, and honestly, it’s never been poorly received. People of all ages have a need to be affirmed and encouraged by others.

Check out this short video to learn more about how the put-up game and the place it could have in your program. http://vimeo.com/67968085


For discussion/reflection:

1. How have you benefited from the words of a teacher or coach?

2. How have you been harmed by the words of a teacher or coach?

3. Making “walking to the practice field” time into a time to get to know your players is one
practical idea that any coach could implement immediately. What is another that you
could include in your routine from now on?

4. The “put-up game” or “player spotlight” has become an important part of many
coaches’ programs. It usually takes 1-4 minutes at the end of a practice, so time isn’t
really an issue. What would it look like for your team to begin using the put-up game?
What obstacles might need to be dealt with at the outset or along the way?