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Yelling & Telling

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We all have our own values and philosophies of what ethical coaching should look like. Like me, I’m sure you have some specific things that bother you with regards to ‘bad coaching practice.’

When I first started coaching, I, like many, felt a position of power and authority over the young athletes I was working with. With power comes great responsibility, and a serious one too. We are responsible for the physical and emotional well being of our athletes.

Fortunately for me, I grew out of this power trip phase, and learnt the importance of an athlete-coach relationship. Personally, I believe in an athlete centered approach to coaching, but I respect that this isn’t for everyone.

As I’ve developed as a coach I have completely overhauled my priorities. The morale of the athletes I work with is more important to me that any medals they win.

I can’t think of anything worse than coaching athletes with poor morale and emotional control each day. I spend more time in the gym than my own home, why would I engineer a hostile environment?

So in case you haven’t already noticed, I’m not a fan of the ‘yelling and telling’ approach to coaching.

If I need to shout at any athlete in order for them to work hard, then;

(1) I’ve done a pretty poor job in coaching them to this point, and

(2) I’d rather not coach them at all, even if they were an international medal hopeful.

Yelling doesn’t fit with my values, and those are more important to me than anything else. Motivating athletes with threats, punishments and consequences is all too common;

‘If you do that again then you have 5 more’

‘Next time you do that you’re climbing the rope’

‘If you don’t change your head position then I’m sending you home’

Do these work? Sure, lots! I’ve seen many an athlete magically become capable of fulfilling their coach’s wishes after being threatened with a consequence.

BUT, these are often the athletes that have poor emotional control whilst training. They are the athlete that will cry, without being provoked, after failing a skill several times, as they KNOW what is coming. A punishment, a consequence, a threat. Is that what you want?

For me, athletes should have the freedom to fail, without consequence.

If your athlete is giving you sub optimal effort when training then the likelihood is you're polishing a rock not a diamond, and you need to coach their mindset as much as their technique.

As coaches, we are the adults, and our role is to guide the athlete through triumph and adversity and therefore shouting purely shows the frustration of a lack of control over the athlete.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that a firm word every now and then might not be a great tool in your coaching repertoire to refocus your athlete or ensure their safety. But if you’re using this as your daily ‘default’ approach to motivate your athletes, then perhaps reflect on your approach and consider further creative ways to get the best from them.

Nick Ruddock

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Comments (4)

Very well put, Nick. I think we have seen 'yelling and telling' all too often in gymnastics and I am happy to see an open conversation about giving athletes 'freedom to fail, without consequence' as you put it, taking place with young coaches coming through the system.
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I am a Uni Lecturer in Coaching and I always tell my students to coach the person first - social coaching - and from that good things should happen be it improved confidence, motivation, skills or just more fun and engagement. I agree that there is too much shouting; my background is rugby and I have seen it only recently with some youth players. It seemed to me that the coach wanted to look impressive in front of the watching parents and to exert his authority....the looks on the players faces told the real story as they were yelled at to run another width of the pitch and do more press ups having dropped the ball....fun? What fun?!
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If you are 'yelling and telling' all the time you are taking away from their learning experience. What happens when you do need to yell to emphasis a point or a safety issue? Your important feedback will ‘fall on deaf ears’. I think some times coaches yell just to remind everyone who the ‘leader’ or ‘boss’ is. Little do they know that they are creating performers that will struggle to perform outside of their current environment.
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I hate yelling, I was once told years ago if I need yelling at I will go home for that. I find that I many schools I work in I hear teachers yelling no wonder children don't wish to continue there work.

By making Pe sessions fun, exciting you will have no reason to shout, some behaviour is due to boredom, lack of understanding, and lack of respect due to the shouting. If you need to Talk, sit them down and talk quietly and calmly.

You will get better performance from your athletes with a calmer and more controlled approach. Remember you was once a child. Put yourself back in there shoe's.
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