10 top tips for concise coaching communication

Guide 5 - 11

Mark Carter, FA regional PE coordinator, provides his ten top tips for concise coaching communication. The tips below are aimed at coaches working in grassroots settings and primary schools.


1. Less is more

Some of the best learning happens when children work things out for themselves. This may prove time consuming during your session, but it can be hugely beneficial as children can explore their own ways of learning and create strategies for when they don’t know what to do. Because of this, don’t be too quick to intervene and give answers to problems the children seem to be struggling with – they may just be working things out.

2. Plan it first

During an effective session the coach shouldn’t be the centre of attention. When planning your session ensure the children can be active without lots of input from you. This means you can take the role of observer and plan how you can help. Preparing your interventions and what you are trying to accomplish before you speak is crucial. When you do, try to be clear, coherent and complete. If you find yourself rambling then try to pose a question instead. A good question can stimulate the same amount of thought with fewer words.


3. It doesn’t all need to come from you

Helping children find their own solutions with their teammates may be a more powerful approach than listening to the coach. To do so, it is important that you facilitate communication, rather than deliver it. Allow children time to talk to each other and discuss ideas. Here are two methods to try:

Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce

Ask a good question. Give time for the children to think about it. Pounce on someone to answer. Rebound or bounce their answer back to the rest of the group for them to consider and respond.

Pair and share

Ask a good question. Encourage children to discuss this with whoever is standing next to them. Listen for interesting responses which can be shared as a whole group.


4. Who is this message for?

Do the whole group need an intervention or are some fine to carry on? If three children in the class are struggling with the task, then you don’t need to stop everyone.

Intervene more at individual and small group level - as would happen in a maths class. Having children work in smaller groups or teams may also help with this. In your next session, try to stop the whole group a maximum of four times, with all other interventions at smaller group level. It’s more difficult than it seems.

Parm Gill gives instructions to a player during a Guru Nanak Juniors training session.
Use interventions wisely to allow the session to flow whilst helping those who are struggling with a task.

5. Make changes while they are active

When children are playing in the playground, games move quickly and rules, spaces and people are fluid. They don’t usually need to stop to have lengthy talks about small changes. Children are adaptable, observant, masters of play. Make progressions to the activity or group without stopping the activity. If you want to add another tagger to a tag game, change the size of the area or hand out bibs - just do it as they play. Keep the kids active and playing.


6. Get yourself timed

Find a friend or colleague with a stopwatch and ask them to time your interventions. You might even ask them to stand behind the group as you intervene and give you a signal once you’ve talked for 90 seconds. If you want to measure Active Physical Learning Time, then a good way is to choose one child in your group, and ask a parent or coach to record the amount of time that child has had to move and be physical. Also get the overall time for the session - this can give you a percentage. You may be surprised by just how much you talk.


7. Use simple activities

Sometimes it’s hard to be concise when the activity we have planned is complex. Instead, start with simple activities and make changes as you go. Don’t try to explain everything at once. Reducing your instructions will give you more time to make important contributions later in the session. Here are more tips:

  • Plan how you will explain the initial activity
  • Start by showing the children the physical area. This is best done when the children are at the side of the area
  • Use a quick and simple demonstration if you think it would help. A whiteboard is often helpful too – but only if it’s used well
  • No need to over explain. Check for understanding with quick review questions
  • If just one or two children don’t get it, then no need to repeat everything - you can help them later whilst they watch the rest of the group
  • For quick interventions don’t bring all the children in. Use a ‘freeze’ moment - a quick 5-second progression or demo - then restart.

Clever activity design will help you bring out the outcomes you want


8. Use technology

If you are delivering a football lesson focussing on staying on the ball, you could use part of your lesson to teach and demonstrate techniques for shielding the ball and dribbling out of trouble. Or you could show a slow-motion video of Lieke Martens or Lionel Messi before the practice.

9. The game is also a teacher

Clever activity design will help you bring out the outcomes you want, leaving you less to communicate with words. For example, if you’re working on combination play use a scoring system where a goal is trebled if everyone on the team has touched the ball in the build-up. This will encourage combinations to happen in the game and allow you to get into more specific teaching with individuals or small groups

10. Paint quick pictures with your words

Recently I went to watch a coach deliver PE at a school in Charlton. He was delivering a throwing and catching activity, similar to the way we might work with young goalkeepers. The coach wanted the children to get their hands ready to receive a pass before the ball arrived. So he told them to imagine they were wearing a t-shirt made of glass, and they mustn’t let the ball smash their t-shirt. Most of them immediately started to get ready to catch, with knees bent and hands up and open, ready in case the ball came in their direction. When some of the children forgot, all the coach had to say was “your t-shirt” and they quickly remembered.

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