The Ultimate Guide for Coach and Player Communication

The best methods for coaching, sending messages, and improving communicationnication

Quite often, coaches and players encounter misunderstandings and breakdowns when communicating. It can be difficult for coaches to send messages or instruct players, because individuals react differently. Furthermore, it can be difficult for players to understand what their coach wants if they are not clear on the message or instruction they give. If you have experienced trouble communicating to players, you understand how this can negatively affect the player or team. Effective communication limits misunderstandings and gets everyone on the same page. If you want to improve your communication with players and experience more success, this article is for you.

The Basics of Sending Messages

Communication is a two-way street; there is always a sender and receiver of a message. In sports, the coach is usually the sender while the player is the receiver.  Players can misunderstand coaches for a variety of reasons: unclear or irrelevant information, failure to provide honest feedback, or inconsistent and confusing messaging, just to name a few. Here are some key points to remember in order to properly send a message:

·       Be clear and concise - If the message is filled with irrelevant information, the receiver may not know what to interpret. Be specific so your player knows exactly what you are saying.

·       Be honest – Being honest can create a trusting environment between coach and player. Although, your player may not like it if you tell them they will not be a starter this year. Having that said, confusion is limited and they know what to expect.

·       Own your message- If you feel a certain way, own up to it. If it’s your message, don’t put it off on another person because the receiver could be confused.

·       Reinforce with repetition – Many times there are breakdowns in communication because the receiver may forget what was said. Therefore, repeat the message over and over again to ensure there is no room for ambiguity.


Be Conscious of External Factors

There are many external factors that can affect the way a message is sent and received. For example, the location and the timing of the message can make a difference. In order to avoid embarrassment, a coach should never reprimand a player in front of their teammates. It is usually best to talk one on one in these situations. The timing is equally important as location; send your message in the moment instead of putting it off. When issues aren’t addressed immediately, the player may not associate the instruction or message with the situation it relates to. If the message is sent during the situation, they are more likely to remember and associate the message with the situation next time.

Making Sure Messages are Received

As stated previously, communication is a two-way street; the receiver is just as important as the sender. Therefore, try to make sure players are receiving the messages and instructions you are conveying. Here are some tips for coaches to improve the way players receive their messages.

·       Reiterate back – After sending a message, have player repeat it back to you. When the player paraphrases or repeats what you tell them, there is less room for miscommunication. This also creates more accountability for their actions going forward.


·       Encourage questions – Create an environment where players are not afraid to speak up or ask questions. This will limit misunderstandings and encourage players to engage and listen. This is also a way to get plenty of feedback as to why your messages are not being received clearly the first time.


·       Adapting to players – Players receive messages differently because they respond to different coaching styles. For example, some do well with being yelled at while others cannot handle it. Make sure you are familiar with different players and how they prefer to be coached.

Coaches as Receivers

Many times, it can be difficult for an athlete and coach to have good communication. Sometimes, athletes are reluctant to communicate with coaches because they believe their coaches will not listen to what they have to say; they believe that silence is better than expressing how they feel. This should not be the case. As a coach, make sure players know that they are free to express how they feel at all times. Coaches who promote a democratic style rather than purely autocratic may see more success. Players who feel they have a say in things will have a better experience which may ultimately lead to better performance. Therefore, coaches should adopt a democratic style and encourage a trusting relationship by creating an open door policy for their players.

Positivity is Always Best

A coach should always use a positive approach when communicating with their players so it is easier for the player to receive the message. When coaches use a negative approach, the player may listen to the tone of the message rather than the message itself. Avoid negativity by using the sandwich approach to constructive criticism: a positive statement, the future-oriented instruction and a compliment. For example, “Your effort level is great. Next time, try to get lower when you are shooting the ball. Keep up the good work.”


Breakdowns and misunderstandings between coach and player can be the difference between a winning or losing season. Communicating properly will enhance performance because players will be able to learn and receive better instruction. Furthermore, coach and player relationships are enhanced because players feel valued, there is a trusting environment, and a positive coaching style is used. When a coach is able to communicate messages effectively, it always translates into success and enhanced player experience.