We’ve all seen it. That misbehaving child in a public place who won’t listen to his mother. No matter how many times she says “Joey, stop it. Joey, sit down. Joey, don’t do that. Joey, be quiet...” he doesn’t listen. She keeps telling him over and over to behave, but he doesn’t listen because her words have become meaningless and he knows she won’t actually enforce them.
Maybe there’s someone in your life who nags you relentlessly. Do you tune them out or ignore them? I bet you do. I wouldn’t blame you.
As coaches, it is very easy for us to become a person who is ignored by our players. In fact, many of us are. We say so much and give them so much information that our players are tired of hearing it. After all, they signed up to play soccer, not listen to a lecture.
Everything we say must have a purpose. If words come from our mouth, there must be a specific reason for it. Those words must bring value to our players – value that is specific and meaningful in that particular moment. If you do not have something of genuine value to add to a moment, don’t say anything. There’s nothing wrong with several minutes of silence from the coach during a game or practice.
There are two reasons that we must be very selective about what we say:
1. If we talk constantly, we become white noise. Our players won’t hear us even if they wanted to. We are just part of the usual background noise.
2. When we say something, our players must know that it’s important. If we are mostly silent, the few times we actually do speak, our players will know that what we’re saying must be important because we wouldn’t otherwise speak.
It is better to miss a moment and stay silent than to wrongly choose a moment and say something out of place. We all miss coaching points occasionally – but some of us regularly turn these missed moments into disasters. They become disasters when we decide to say something out of place and coach something unnecessary. Our players will know it. Even if they don’t realize it right away, if you do this too often, they will eventually figure it out. This is when our words become meaningless to our players and they start to ignore us.
If you miss a coaching point by simply not saying anything, there is no damage done. Sure, perhaps your players could have learned something. Ideally, we need to sharpen our ability to recognize every moment and catch them at the right time. But we all make mistakes. Even if we don’t say a word, there’s a good chance our players will get immediate feedback from their play. If they made a mistake in the attack and lost the ball, it is instant feedback to them that something went wrong. They will realize their mistake and try something new the next time. We don’t always need to say something. And if they don’t learn from it, there will be another opportunity for us to correct it the next time they are in that situation.
Of course, this does not mean that we should sit in silence throughout an entire practice or game. We need to provide guidance and information to our players. But when in doubt about whether or not to say something, stay quiet. That will do less damage than speaking too much or out of place, and it will provide us another opportunity to make our point the next time.