What Not To Say

by Orest Stanko

There are some statements that you might want to reconsider uttering either as an athlete or as a coach. These phrases or comments can often be interpreted as self-absorbed, demeaning and fundamentally have no real, constructive value. They can have a significant, detrimental effect on both individual performance and the overall team dynamic. And, worst of all, there’s no taking them back once they part your lips.

“Words and time, use them carefully because you can never get them back.”

Following is a list – by no means exhaustive – of phrases that I have heard, and “mea culpa“, even employed, during my playing and coaching careers; phrases that that you should probably avoid as an athlete and a coach, regardless of the circumstance(s).

As An Athlete

  1. “It’s not fair.”

    That’s our collective lot as a species; I’m sure that we have all heard the phrase, “…life isn’t fair.” Some people win lotteries, most don’t. Some get more playing time than others. Some win and some lose. Fairness has nothing to do with it. If you want to know why you are not on the starting line-up then ask the coach. Maybe what you need to do is improve your skills, show more intensity in practice, show-up to practice on a regular basis and be ready to perform, etc. Stick to the facts and leave “fairness” out of it.

  2. “I’ll try.”

    That’s kind of the fundamental, underlying reason you elected to assume an activity in the first place, i.e., to “try”, and that applies to whether you’re mowing the lawn, playing the piano, or pretty much any activity that you make a conscious decision to undertake. It’s implicit. Have you decided to play volleyball “not to try”?

  3. “It’s not my fault.”

    That’s finger pointing even if you’re not naming names. Not a good “team first” attitude! Don’t even think it in order to rationalize a poor performance. Accountability for one’s actions is the foundation of every successful team.

    The moment you start pointing fingers at teammates is the moment your teammates start seeing you as someone who lacks accountability for their actions and is not a good teammate. Some will avoid interacting with you altogether, and others will take the initiative and blame you when something goes wrong. Not a good team environment.

  4. “I can’t.”

    Hoist the white flag! I give up! That’s the inference of “I can’t”. It has all sorts of negative implications including: I don’t want to extend an effort; I don’t really want to do this; I’m not prepared to contribute; and in some respects, it’s an extension of “it’s not my fault.”  If you really can’t do something, e.g., perform a particular skill, then ask for assistance or guidance.

  5. “My alarm didn’t go off.”

    I thought I’d throw this one in just for fun. If I had a loonie for every time that I heard this from an athlete who was late I’d be a rich man. Bottom-line, be on time!

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As A Coach

  1. “How many times do I have to tell you?”

    Sorry coach, but take for granted that you will have to repeat yourself and especially if you are coaching very young athletes. I mean really, if you don’t think that you will have to repeat yourself multiple times when coaching 10 year-olds then you are delusional. You will undoubtedly have to repeat yourself on an ongoing basis; ask the parents. And, if that’s the case, maybe it’s not the audience but rather your message or the delivery. Perhaps your instructions aren’t clear and you need to rephrase; maybe the drill that you have devised requires a MENSA member to decode.

  2. “You’re just being lazy.”

    That’s kind-of the catchall comment or assessment when things are going south in practice or in competition. I really do not like employing the term “lazy” when speaking to an athlete. Disparaging your athletes is not good coaching technique. Your job is to help them improve. And if they are not prepared to help themselves there is absolutely nothing to be gained by calling them out and publicizing their perceived shortcomings.

  3. “Just do as I say.”

    Even though you are the coach and designated leader you are still a part of a team. As a team member you have an obligation to explain why, even if the path you have chosen is irreversible. Just as you expect your athletes to be accountable, you too must be accountable for your decisions and actions. “Just do as I say” suggests that you haven’t put too much thought into the direction that you have chosen.

  4. “I think …This may be a silly idea …I’m going to ask a stupid question.”

    These relatively passive statements can erode your credibility as a coach. Even if you follow these comments with a great idea, they suggest that you lack confidence, which makes the athletes you’re addressing potentially lose confidence in your leadership. If you lack self-assurance or conviction in what you’re saying, it will impact how you coach and how your athletes perform.

As indicated, the aforementioned list of phrases is by no means comprehensive. But it’s a step in the right direction to make you a better athlete and coach not to mention a better person.