Choosing the right words can engage and motivate players, just as the wrong words will turn them off. So follow our coaching tips and adopt the language of success…

Avoid asking “WHY?”

If you start any question with “why”, it rarely elicits the response that you want. Indeed, your players could well put the barriers up and become defensive and offer just excuses. For instance, if you ask “why did you not make that pass?” it forces your players to justify themselves rather than just admit to making a mistake or volunteering a better solution.

Don’t exaggerate

Words like “everyone”, “all”, “always” and “never” can create a block in communication between a coach and the players, because the statement tends to be dramatic rather than accurate. The players knows this and won’t listen with the same enthusiasm. So soften a sentence to encourage the players to hear what you’re saying: “You’re often late for training…” or “Almost all of the defending was poor”.

Don’t make assumptions

Before you jump in with a statement, try to establish the facts. For instance, don’t say: “You three weren’t at training and there was no message, so you’ll start on the bench today”. Instead, try saying: “You three weren’t at training and I didn’t get a message. Is there a reason for that?” They might have had a valid reason and asked a team-mate to pass on the message – and he forgot.

Ask open questions

Open questions are the best kind of questions. Using words such as “what”, “how”, “where” and “when” will give you much more information and engagement from your players than starting a question with a verb, such as “do” “is” “are” and “have”. For instance, asking, “Did you see the space?” would give you the answer yes or no, whereas if you ask, “Where was the space?” it opens the question up and forces players to consider what you mean and to think before giving an answer.

“You” can be negative

When addressing your players, try to avoid starting any sentences with the word “you”. This can sound like you are accusing someone. For example, if you say: “You missed too many tackles”, it points a finger of blame at a particular player. Be more constructive in your statement to help make the player listen, even if it’s criticism that you’re dishing out. Instead try saying something like “It would be much better if you didn’t miss so many tackles”.

Soften the message

Don’t be definitive with your answers. It can turn an opinion into a fact. If you say something like, “That was our poorest training session we’ve had for a while”, it sounds pretty direct. So look at softening the message by using expressions like “I think”, “I would” or “I feel” and ask them to think about your statement. For example, you could say to the players: “I think that was possibly our poorest session for a while. What do you think?”