How to improve your communication skills
Want to up your game when it comes to coaching your players? FA coach mentor Sam Griffiths gives 15 top tips to improve your communication skills on the football pitch.
1. Consider your terminology
Young players might not recognise phrases like drop off, squeeze or get tight. Instead, stick to words and phrases that they’re likely to understand.
Move back, move forwards or stand close to a player might work better.
2. Think about the message your body language sends
Don't underestimate the power of body language. Simple things like a thumbs up, smile or high five can mean more to players than words.
On the flip side, players will pick up on negative signals, especially on a matchday. How do you react when they lose the ball or concede a goal? Stay positive and think about what your body’s saying.
3. Listen to your players
Listening is key to communication. If you ask a question and don't get the answer you hoped for, avoid dismissing the child’s contribution.
Instead, show that you value their input with a response like, “That’s a great answer, I hadn't thought about that.” Listen to understand, not to reply.
4. Avoid interrupting
Regardless of age, children can’t always express themselves quickly or clearly. Avoid becoming impatient with those who struggle to get their point across.
Instead, gently guide them to be more precise. Help them explain what they mean in more detail.
5. Watch your tone of voice
One of the basics of communication is how you sound to others. Use different tones of voice to show players when you’re being serious and when you're having fun.
To create a sense of achievement, try changing your tone of voice when giving positive reinforcement.
6. Drop your volume
There’s no need to shout. Believe it or not, talking quietly can be a great way to get players to listen to you.
If you don’t increase your volume, they’ll have to stop chatting if they want to hear what you’ve got to say.
7. Find different ways to connect
Explaining football concepts can be tricky. Try linking your explanations to something your players can relate to, based on their age and stage of development.
For instance, want younger players to work on their observation skills? Get them to use their Spider-Sense like Spider-Man. Want older players to practice deceiving the opposition? Ask them to move the ball like Jack Grealish.
8. Use questions to check understanding
Want to check what your players have learned? Ask them for clarification or further explanation to see if they know what they’re doing and why.
9. Vary your communication tools
Visual aids like a whiteboard, tactics board or cones on the floor can get your message across better than just talking.
Consider whether technology could help too. Why not join the many coaches using iPads and other innovations familiar to young players?
10. Understand the individuals in your group
Everyone’s different. Maybe some of your players are comfortable talking and responding to your questions. Others might feel better drawing something out on the whiteboard or moving pieces on the tactics board.
Remember, not every child is confident enough to talk in front of a group. Be sure to value all forms of response and communication.
11. Keep a narrow focus
It can be tricky to change more than one element of your coaching at the same time. If you’re looking to improve your communication skills, focus solely on that first.
Aim to make improvements over four to six weeks. In that time, don’t worry too much about other aspects of your delivery.
12. Ask for help
Bring in your co-coach, a parent, or a friend to help. Ask them to note down how long you’re talking (compared to the players) during a session. And invite feedback at the end. Filming part of the session on a phone might help.
The findings could be a lightbulb moment for developing your communication. Sometimes, it takes a different perspective to show us what we’re really doing.
13. Make praise specific
Avoid saying well done on repeat throughout the session. Instead, pick out exactly what was good. Add details like, "Well done, that turn was brilliant, as it really put the defender off balance.” This helps players learn what's good about their actions.
And don’t overuse praise, as this can make it lose value.
14. Plan for your communication
Avoid setting unachievable targets for yourself. Giving out individual challenges? Think about how many kids you’re working with before you start the session.
You can plan the length of your coaching points too. Try editing each point to the length of a tweet, to keep it concise and high impact.
15. Give yourself time
Big changes won’t happen overnight. For each of the tips we’ve covered here, give yourself time to practise and get better.
Tried something for a week and seen little in the way of results? Don’t give up yet. Instead, view improving your communication skills as a long-term project.