In today’s world where more and more coaches hold the same qualifications (UEFA Pro / A / B) we must ask ourselves – what separates good coaches from elite coaches? Out on the training pitch when coaches are implementing the same drill to teach the same theme / skill what differentiates between coaches? Of course, game knowledge and intelligence are indispensable but coaching science research indicates that social interaction, which lies at the heart of the coaching process, plays a pivotal role. Elite coaches possess essential verbal communication skills, allowing them to explain their players exactly what they are required to do, concisely without meandering of topic.

When discussing communication within coaching, the term used within academia is ‘Discourse’. Defined as the language used to explain and / or describe an activity / skill when coaching, including the use of; instructions, questioning, silence, scold & praise.

Similar to the act of coaching itself, discourse can be influenced by a wide variety of variables;

Things to Consider Regarding Discourse

“It’s not what you said, it’s the way that you said it”

This phrase is commonly used within many different situations and environments on a daily basis but how many coaches have ever reflected on its meaning in relation to their coaching practice. ‘What’ is said and ‘How’ it is said to the players should be tailored to both the situation and the individual in order to be effective. Coaches must ensure that ‘What’ they are saying is credible, specific and relevant, whilst considering ‘How’ they are saying it; tone, manner and environment (one-to-one / in front of group).


Discourse in Action

The graph below represents the breakdown of data collected investigating discourse used by high level football coaches working with elite youth players (England Premier League Academy), focusing on four specific types of discourse.

Key Themes?

  • Praise -> frequently given to the players => research suggests that successful coaches use praise far more than unsuccessful coaches.
  • Praise -> used to aid in the coach-athlete relationship in the form of ‘reward power’.
  • Scold -> the lowest form of discourse => coaches observed worked in conjunction with similar coaching philosophy’s where a positive working environment is considered to be a key component in delivering a high quality coaching practice.
  • Silence -> 4th most used form of discourse, providing the coach the chance to observe and analyse, whilst allowing the players to practise without constant interference.
  • Questioning -> was used sparsely by coaches who relied heavily upon an authoritarian style of coaching, resulting in very few active player discussions.


Current Practice

Within the current football culture in Britain, the majority of coaches still conform to traditional coaching methods. Unfortunately, this particular style has been discovered to include certain characteristics and trends where abusive, threating and explicit language is ever present. Coaches tend to use an authoritarian coaching style resulting in an abundance of one way discussions with their players, whereby the athlete is given no chance to ask any questions. Furthermore, players were spoken to both more frequently and in different ways depending on whether they were either a ‘Favourite’ or ‘Reject’ in the eyes of the coach.

Coaching science literature indicates that players prefer coaches who; (1) possess good verbal communication skills, (2) allow players time do try something first without being constantly bombarded with questions (Silence) & (3) are able to employ humour within their coaching sessions.

A current trend in discourse based research is investigating the uses and effect which humour plays within coaching. The impact and positive influence humour can have is often neglected by coaches who view it as childish or unprofessional. Humour comes in various forms including; practical jokes, antics & sporting ‘Put-Downs’. Many individual and group bonds are built upon the ability to ‘share a laugh’ and therefore humour can also help ensure positive social and professional relationships between players and coaches. Coaches must remember that being a professional footballer (or trying to make it as one) in the current culture is very stressful. Humour can help to provide relief from overly structured sessions whilst helping the players to cope with pressure and anxiety which can result in decreased performance levels. Importantly, humour can help create a more relax environment in training allowing the players to feel comfortable and as a result express themselves.

It is widely understood within football that players play for coaches and not clubs, therefore it is essential that coaches acknowledge the importance of discourse has to play in both creating and maintaining relationships. Discourse can provide boundaries that help to define the coach athlete relationship and the roles each party plays within it. However, coaches must remember to maintain ‘arm’s length’ which helps maintain the power dynamic and respect within the squad. Coaches should consider the impact of ‘what’ and ‘how’ they communicate with their players as this could influence not only the coach-athlete relationship but also the relationship between the players.


Cameron Campbell



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