Coaches: Words Matter

Coaches: Words Matter

I’m known for my use of profanity. But I’d argue as long as I’m conveying my message with conviction and clarity to my readers as well as athletes, I’m doing just fine.

Today’s guest post comes from Maryland-based soccer and mindset coach Alex Oshinsky on the power of words. As coaches, we must choose our language wisely so our athletes understand what we want out them. Enjoy.


Hey coaches, let’s talk for a minute about how we use language in sports.  We as humans are able to communicate ideas, emotions, concepts, and so much more through our use of language.  But there is a fundamental flaw in our use of language, particularly in sports, and we really must address it.  We fail at speaking the language fo the sport we are trying to coach.  We fail at standardizing the language of our sport.

What I mean is that we must speak “soccer” to soccer players and “weight lifting” to weight lifters.  Speak a language that those you are working with will understand.  A soccer player isn’t going to necessarily understand all the muscles they are working with their strength coach, but if the strength coach talks to them in terms of soccer it will make more sense.  Same thing in psychology, a sports psychologist can not sit down with a soccer play and discuss psychological concepts with them, we must speak their language.

Imagine going to another country, France or Italy for example and trying to speak English.  They won’t understand you nor will they particularly care to try to understand you.

A strength coach or a sports psychologist might work with many different athletes from many different sports. While the concepts and ideas might remain the same the reasons behind doing it will most likely differ.  The skills and muscles a hockey player must build could be very similar to those of a soccer player, but no one would mistake a soccer player for a hockey player when they are competing.  As such a coach can’t treat them the same in practice just because the skills and concepts are the same.  We can’t expect a hockey player to care to about working on his endurance if we are working them the same way we would work a soccer player, nor can we expect a soccer player to care about improving their lateral movements if we treat them the same as hockey players.  We as coaches must learn to speak the language of athletes we are working with, not vice versa.

Note from Erica: It’s worth mentioning that sometimes, the less words, the better. This means we must come up with creative cues to elicit a certain behavior or skill from our athletes.

While we are on the topic of language it is also important for organizations with farm systems to ensure that the language and skills being trained on the first team are the same as those being trained on the second team.  In the event of an injury or suspension and a player needs to be called up wouldn’t it be nice if they could step right in and understand exactly what is going on without needing time to learn a new system, new terms, concepts or language?

One final pet peeve of mine is a term almost all coaches use and that is the idea of giving more than 100%.  I’m sure we have all heard it a million times, whether it be as players, coaches or parents, but let’s think about that for a minute, how can you give MORE THAN 100%? You can’t! It isn’t physically possible! The idea isn’t necessarily wrong, but the language is. We can only give 100%, that is all we have to give.  Instead of asking our players to give MORE THAN 100%, what we should really be asking is what can you do to raise your 100% to the next level? What kind of training can we do? Do you need to work on endurance? Do you need to work on passing? What is it that each individual player needs to work on to raise their game to the next level, to improve their 100%?  From there it is a matter of continuing to improve and work and continuing to raise their individual 100% so that they are continuing to give more and more.  It isn’t a matter of giving 110%, rather it is a matter of finding a way to improve your individual 100%.


Alex Oshinsky is a soccer enthusiast and player. He has been goalkeeper for most of his soccer career but occasionally challenges himself to play field.  Goalkeeper is his passion for both playing and coaching.

Alex received his undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in philosophy from Allegheny College.  He went on to get his masters in sports counseling and sports management from the University of California Pennsylvania.

Alex began his soccer coaching career in 2011.  He wants to share his passion for soccer with young athletes. His goal is to help young athletes raise their game by improving their mental capabilities.


  • Steven Shaw
    Posted at 18:51h, 19 September Reply

    Great article coach! Communication is key and sometimes less is more. I think it is important to identify what each athlete responds too. In a team setting you may be giving the same message multiple ways for the good of the team.

    • erica
      Posted at 19:08h, 19 September Reply

      Steven, less is usually more, totally agree.

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