Coaches mean well, I love coaches… I am a coach. Many times I have said comments to athletes and  just assumed that they understood exactly what I said. Last year I decided to do an experiment with my young students. I wanted to know if they really listened and really understood my coaching.

To start the experiment I had my athletes perform a simple skill called a round off. Usually after they perform this skill, I would give them a correction. The corrections that I commonly gave were “keep your arms by your ears, look at your hands, land with your feet together.” But for this experiment I decided to give nonsense corrections after each student took their turn.

The first girl to take her turn was seven years old. After she performed her roundoff, I gave her a nonsense correction of “your hands are Northwest I want them to face Southeast”. After she was told her correction, she nodded her head in agreement and walked back into line.

The second girl to take her turn was nine years old. After she performed her roundoff, I gave her a nonsense correction of “you’re zipping your elbow like you would zip a jacket”. She too nodded her head in agreement and walked back into line.

I continued giving nonsense corrections to the entire group. I told them corrections such as “try to tweedle a little more, you have got to land like you’re in a jam with a little peanut butter, and keep your lips on your face”. Every single kid nodded their head in agreement and walked back into line. Not one kid said, “Huh, What do you want me to do?”

When it was the seven-year-old’s turn again I told her to think about the correction I gave and I asked if she remembered the correction, she said yes. When I asked her to tell me the correction, she froze. I asked her again if she remembered the correction and she finally confessed, no.

I walked over to the group and I asked each and every one of the kids what their corrections were. One girl raised her hand and said that I had said something about tweeddling, but she didn’t understand. Another girl said that I told her to stand in peanut butter.

I confessed to the group that I had given them nonsense corrections. Then I asked if they understood the correction that I had given them; and most of them said no. So then I asked them why they agreed with me if they didn’t understand. Their answers were very insightful.

One of the little girls said that she had never understood anything I have said.

Another girl said that she was scared to tell me that she didn’t understand my correction.

And another girl said that I had always told her to keep her arms by her ears so she just thought that I had given her the same correction.
This led me to the understanding that in order for my athletes to truly make corrections and have to truly understand what I am asking them to correct. I always just assumed that because I used simple words and spoke clearly that my athlete’s understood what I asked them to do. But clearly that was not the case.

This experiment helped me change the way I communicate with my athletes. Now after I give them a correction, I ask them in a non-sarcastic or judgmental way if they understood the correction. I then ask them to repeat the correction back to me, and before they take their next turn I asked them to repeat the correction again.

I now tell my athletes that if they do not understand the correction they have permission to tell me to explain it in another way. Obviously our goal as coaches is to teach our athletes, but we have to make sure that what we say to our athletes is understood.

Try this simple experiment with your athletes. You may be surprised with what you find. You may find out that the kids that you thought did not pay attention actually do. You may find out that your athletes are scared to communicate with you. You may find out that they don’t understand most of what you say. The important part of this experiment is as a coach you need to find out if your athletes are paying attention, listening to the corrections, and understanding those corrections.

Making sure your athletes understand your corrections will help them learn skills faster and make your life less frustrating.