Great is not good enough in communication

How often have you heard: “No, yes, good, great,” and then lots of sighing.

Does this sound like a coach you know? And does this really seem helpful?

Let’s consider how we enhance our language to engage players and most importantly understand them.


Asking questions is not a new phenomenon, but what you ask, when you ask and how you deliver these questions is essential.

Being Scottish, I can be deemed as somewhat confrontational at times. Sometimes passion and being hyped up can seem like you are overbearing in your questioning.

But not this not always the case. It really does matter on who you are with.

Also, some players just don’t have the body of knowledge to know, so they do need to be told. I cannot stand answering questions with a question. If a player comes and asks, then yes have a discussion. But ultimately they have come to you wanting your knowledge so give it to them.

  • Try to understand the mood. The “who”.
  • Only ask a question if they want a discussion.
  • Give an answer if they want knowledge.


A head coach can be a misleading and grandiose title for some giving them the impression, they know all and others know little. Players then live in fear of challenging and even holding a basic conversation with this coach.

Patronising language suggests that you are helping but really you are displaying your superiority. People see through this and you lose a bond of trust.

Just because you are head coach doesn’t mean you need to be authoritarian. Being brash and rigid will merely put players off. It creates a culture of which very little challenge happens, so no honesty comes to the fore.

Development needs open and challenge accepting cultures/environments. Don’t just shut down if you are challenged. These players aren’t making a personal attack. Turn it into a professional opinion.

Avoid being defensive and sharp (believe me its never good). Instead, look at it from the point of view of the problem you are trying to solve.

For example, if a player says that a tactic doesn’t work, focus on why it doesn’t and what can change, if indeed it needs to change. Don’t make it about “your” tactic.

  • Being head coach doesn’t mean you should be patronising.
  • Challenging conversations allows for development.
  • Take a challenge professionally, not personally.


I made a point earlier of saying “good” and “great” isn’t the clearest of language, unless you are saying it sarcastically when you’ve been given another pair of socks for Christmas.

Words like good and great are adjectives and adverbs. They modify a noun or a verb. For example, a player can kick the ball, and you can add a sense of the kick with good or great (or rubbish!). But if they are on their own as words, what does the good or great refer to.

It’s what you say either side of good or great creates clarity or the athlete. To make this work, you should both have a common understanding of what great is. Thus have a common standard.

So, if you simply pronounce “that’s good” then does the player know what you are talking about. He or she could think what they did was good, but actually, you were speaking about another part of the skill which you appreciated.

Instead, you could say: “Your grip in the tackle was good”. It’s specific and if it something that you and the player have targetted previously, it’s even more powerful.


The best communication is where both sides understand what the other is trying to say and why.

This clarity comes from knowing each other. Don’t be superior or defensive.

From my own experience, you are always improving how you use language.

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