Effective coaching and teaching requires a strong knowledge base and great communication skills.
Communication has to be a two way street: information and instruction going out and processing, reaction, and action coming back.
When a Coach or Teacher gives of their knowledge, experience, time, and effort, they are hoping that the athlete will run with it and take a step forward in becoming better skilled and a more valuable asset to the team. I love to coach, love to give out helpful information, insights, experiences, skills, and difference makers to athletes. A receptive and eager athlete is a person we all strive to be around. It motivates us to give more and to help more in pursuit of their improvement.
I have found that the most important indication of whether an athlete or team is on the same page is by reading their body language. I’m smiling while writing this article because my players used to say things like, “How did you know I was thinking that?” and “How did you see that? You must have eyes in the back of your head…” or “I didn’t know I was giving you that impression.”
I always felt that even if a player never talked to me, I would know what he was thinking by the way his eyes, face, and body reacted to the teaching, critique, or challenge I put in front of them. Many kids will say the right thing, know the standard response, or will tell you what you want to hear, but the real answer is in their actions and facial expression and body language!
Nothing is more exciting than to coach an athlete who has light in their eyes, a smile on their face, and positive energy in their body. I used to tell my athletes that I can tell what you are thinking and how invested you are by your body language.
I have coached in over 2,500 Division 1 baseball games and I can tell you that we’ve won many games because of positive body language and exuding the message outwardly that we will battle you to the end and never give in. I’ve also played against many players and coaches that opened the door for our team to come back and win because we could read in their body language that they had thrown in the towel.
A player, after a poor at bat, cannot send the message to the pitcher and to his teammates that he’s defeated or beaten. As a matter of fact, we used to do something a little unconventional after our pitcher giving up a home run. Our catcher would get the ball from the umpire, and we would throw the ball around the infield as if we just got an out. It seemed better to me to send a more positive message to the pitcher to put it behind him and get the next guy out, instead of standing on the mound and watching the hitter enjoy hitting a bomb off of him. That is when, during struggles or failure, your body language has to be at its strongest!
A slumping player on the bench with his legs out and arms hanging back up over the top of the bench, might as well have a sign on his forehead that says, “Don’t put me in coach, I’m upset I’m not playing, I’m not invested in the team, and how I feel is more important than if we win or lose!” The athlete sitting upright and forward and paying attention to everything on the field, encouraging their teammates, and has light in their eyes, might as well have a sign on their forehead that says, “Put me in coach. I’m ready to play. Whatever it takes, whatever the role, I can help us win!”
I was always a coach that attacked bad body language as soon as I might see it. It can be contagious just as a bad attitude or a negative person can be in affecting your team. If the players are buying into your vision and culture and believe in you and the direction of the program, you will not see much bad body language and a lot of positive and eager body language. I was very fortunate, in my many years of coaching, to have kids who believed in our programs and understood the demands and benefits of hard work and were highly motivated to achieve success. So a bad message sent through their body language was rare, but when it was apparent, I was quick to challenge it so that the players and team knew it wasn’t acceptable in our program that had high goals to achieve!
Keep your eyes out, don’t ignore it, and continue to demand excellence and positive body language out of your team and players. The vibe they exude can be intimidating to your opponents and a pleasure for your fans to watch. The message you see from their body language should be like a sign on their foreheads that says “I love to play, my motor is running, we are ready to compete and we are here all day and not going anywhere, I am coachable, challenge me, I can take anything, I want to learn more, what can I do to improve more and help this team win, you can’t work me hard enough, thanks for challenging me and Let’s Goooo!!!”