I recently attended a Kansas City Chiefs home game and observed first year Coach Todd Haley yell at a player when he came to the sideline after missing a tackle. As I watched Coach Haley get in the face of his player, it made me think about motivating and communicating with athletes at all ages. What works and what does not? Over the 30 years I have worked as a sport psychologist, I have observed some coaches yell at players continuously, some talk calmly and others communicate at a variety of levels in between.
A coach’s job is to coach, to motivate and to get their athletes to perform as close to their potential as possible. Every time I speak to a group of coaches, I always tell them that they are psychologists. They have to evaluate and understand their player’s psyches, their goals and their fears. As a result, they need to know when to push an athlete and when to put their arm around their shoulder.
I believe the key issue in terms of motivating athletes revolves around respect. When a coach and athlete are able to communicate clearly, openly and honestly it doesn’t matter what method they use, it is the message they are sharing. However, if a coach feels the need to scream and yell at an athlete, I feel that they are missing the point of being a coach. Does yelling work? Sometimes it does, but most of the time, I believe it is done out of frustration. A coach who is able to communicate his or her thoughts clearly and calmly will get more out of their team then the one who feels the need to lose control.
A coach who yells at an athlete may get their attention initially, but eventually will lose them if they do it too much. Coaches are teachers, as well as psychologists and motivators. They must be able to communicate in a balanced and controlled manner. A coach must have balance in their communication skills. If they feel they need to get their athletes attention sometimes raising their voice can work, but repeatedly screaming will eventually result in losing the athlete, and probably the game as well.