Coaching Association of Canada

Shawnee Harle, ChPC - Basketball

Communication – Choose Your Words Consciously

By Shawnee Harle, ChPC
Assistant Coach, Women’s National Basketball Team

With more than 25 years of experience in community and high performance coaching, Shawnee Harle, ChPC, is a Master Learning Facilitator for the National Coaching Certification Program where she trains and mentors both advanced and novice coaches from all sports. In July of 2015, Shawnee Harle was on the coaching staff that led Canada’s national basketball team to an undefeated 5-0 record and a Pan American Games gold medal. This success was followed by Team Canada winning the 2015 FIBA Americas Women’s Championship in August 2015, qualifying the team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Coaches have the opportunity to change lives. Most of the athletes we coach may never compete past the high school or post-secondary level, so the most important skills we can pass on are life skills. Throughout their competitive career, we develop athletes to ultimately reach the podium, but are we consciously equipping them with the tools they need to stand tall and proud on the podium of life?

Tools build and weapons injure
In my sport of basketball, I sometimes hear coaches say things like “stop turning the ball over” or “you have to make those easy shots”. These comments are weapons because they highlight the mistake, which creates fear and discourages risk-taking. Instead, expert coaches understand that mistakes are necessary in order for their athletes to grow. They teach the athlete that mistakes are simply problems that need to be solved. At the recent FIBA gold medal game vs Cuba, one of our players kept shooting over top of the big Cuban post. Instead of telling her to “stop taking those shots” (stating the problem), when she came out of the game, I went down and gave this feedback:

“That player is bigger and stronger, and when you settle for those shots, it works to her advantage. Use your speed and athleticism to your advantage and drive around her to score on the far side of the hoop (solution).”

She did exactly that in the fourth quarter, which sparked a run for our team and helped us pull away in the last four minutes of the game. Great coaches use their words to provide solutions and ultimately, teach their athletes to become independent learners who can solve their own problems.

Strong is empowering and powerful is controlling
Powerful means the coach owns the outcome as well as the emotions of the athletes. When coaches praise athletes for success and scold them for mistakes or losses, athletes become coach dependent. This creates a slippery slope where the athlete becomes needy and performs to please the coach, to garner praise, and to avoid disapproval. Empowering means we teach the athletes to own their successes and failures and equip them with the tools to deal with both. We release our athletes to the game or event and we let the entire experience belong to them. This accomplishes two things:

  1. The coach can rise above frustration and disappointment, and allow the athletes to own the outcome and live and learn from the associated lessons; and
  2. The athlete can rise above frustration and disappointment because the coach has taught them that mistakes and setbacks are temporary and simply a problem that needs be solved.

Feedback is best utilized when it includes logic and reasoning rather than emotion, yelling, or blaming. Expert Coaches talk with athletes rather than at them.

Putting athletes on the podium of life
If coaches pay attention and choose their words consciously, it allows them to build athletes that seek and embrace challenges and bounce back quickly from setbacks. When athletes understand that mistakes are necessary and all problems have a solution, they learn to become the super hero in their own lives and they step up to save themselves. When an athlete believes they can save themselves and understands that the most important approval is self-approval, it does not guarantee a gold medal, but it does build self-esteem, character, and resilience. I am convinced these are gold medal attributes on the podium of life.