Coaching Association of Canada

3 Tips for Delivering a Clear Message

As a coach, it’s essential for you to talk about you and your team’s aspirations and values. Athletes and those who support them need frequent reminders about why they are working so hard or struggling to resolve a difficult problem. 

There are a variety of situations you will experience as a coach where the most appropriate leadership action is to get your message across:

  • You need to name an issue that will continue to prevent your athletes from achieving their goals unless it’s resolved.
  • You want to challenge a decision or prevailing point of view that you believe is based on faulty assumptions.
  • You want to correct a situation that is putting your athletes at a disadvantage.
  • You want to reinforce the important contributions being made by the volunteers who organize competitions.

If others are to understand your point of view, you need to deliver a clear message — one where there’s no doubt about what you mean. Delivering a clear message is about:

  1. WHAT to say;
  2. HOW to say it; and
  3. NON-VERBAL cues and BODY LANGUAGE. 
  • 1. What to Say: A Four-part Clear Message

    Clear messages have these four parts.
    I SEE
    Start by telling others the issue you want to talk about. State the facts.
    “We’re here to talk about the next team we’ll be playing.”
    “I notice that the budget for new equipment was increased.”

    If you describe someone’s behaviour, do so without judging or interpreting.
    “This is the third practice in a row where you’ve left early.” Not, “It’s obvious you’re not as committed as you were at the start of season.”
    “You interrupted me again.” Not “You never listen to anyone else’s ideas.”

    I THINK
    Add your opinion to your message.
    “I think we’re well prepared and ready to give them a real game.”
    “I think that’s a good step forward.”

    Don’t confuse stating your opinion with offering advice. “You should feel good about how you’re playing” Or “You shouldn’t be worried this will set a precedent” may express your perspective about a situation. However, these statements also give advice, which may make the listener defensive. Instead of listening to you, the listener may start to think about how to defend his or her perspective.

    I FEEL
    State your feeling about the situation.
    “I’m worried you’re not sure about our preparation.”
    “I’m pleased the board approved this expenditure.”

    Coaches are not alone in their reluctance to declare their feelings. However, your emotions are an essential part of delivering a clear message. Unless others know how you feel, your message may have less impact than you’d like. If you can pinpoint how you feel about a situation, it makes it easier to identify the outcome you want.

    I NEED
    It’s essential to be clear about what you want to happen. Athletes, staff, boards, etc., depend on you to be clear about what should happen next. Otherwise, others have to guess. It’s unwise to depend on others’ ability to read your mind. State your needs explicitly.
    “I need to hear exactly what you might be worried about.”
    “I need to know that there will be an ongoing budget for new equipment.”

  • 2. How to Say It: Some Hints

    - Pay attention to your tone of voice. It’s easy for someone to infer unintended negative feelings
    - Avoid up-notes at the end of a statement, they can make it sound as if you’re asking a question rather than making a statement
    - If you have a soft voice, develop ways to attract others’ attention or quiet the crowd so that you can be heard
    - Recognize that a loud voice may be intimidating
    - Slow down if you normally speak quickly
    - Get feedback on your tone of voice from a trusted colleague — is there anything you can improve?
    - If you’ve been talking a lot before you want to say something important, take a drink of water before you start speaking
    - Think about which words you’re emphasizing; misplaced emphasis can change the meaning of a sentence
    - If you’re nervous, make sure you are breathing deeply so that your voice doesn’t sound unintentionally harsh

    It is important to be aware of the way your tone of voice can take away from your message. The more important the intervention, the more important it is to anticipate ways to neutralize any tone of voice challenges you know you have.

  • 3. Non-verbal Cues and Body Language: Some Hints

    It isn’t enough to just get the words right. Words carry the content of a message, but the emotion of the message comes through in the non-verbal elements. Communicating a clear message — one that’s not open to misinterpretation — depends as much, if not more, on the non-verbal as it does on the content we take so much care to get right.

    - Establish eye contact with the athlete, staff person, or administrator you’re speaking to
    - Keep the emotions on your face consistent with your message
    - Use gestures to add emphasis; avoid those that may distract from the content
    - When you communicate as a leader, sit or stand up straight
    - Appreciate that physical size can create a barrier; stand, sit, kneel, or take your place on a higher step so that you can look in the eyes of the person you are speaking to
    - Being too far away or too close to your audience can be distracting
    - Eliminate as many distractions as you can: traffic noise, music, off-side or unrelated conversations, objects that block your view, temperature, etc.
    - If you speak to a group, pay attention to how the group is arranged
    - You can reinforce your message by using appropriate props or visual images 

The Coaching and Leading Effectively module, part of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Multi-sport module series, discusses interventions, instruction, facilitation, and much more. Contact your Provincial or Territorial Coaching Representative to register!