To Yell or Not to Yell – That is the Question

This article was written and contributed by Scott Rosberg

This is the next post in a series of posts that come from some ideas I have on coaches being teachers. The majority of this post comes from a section in an upcoming course on coaching that I will be offering later this year. I will have more information on the course as we get closer to its release later this summer.

Teachers and coaches both use a variety of communication methods when dealing with their students and athletes. While most teachers don’t yell too much at their classes, we do see this happen more often in sports with coaches yelling at their teams. Today, I want to talk about the concept of yelling in coaching. Should we or shouldn’t we?

There are some people who believe we should never yell at children, and there are some who seem to make it a daily habit. As with most things in my life, I believe moderation is probably the best course to take when it comes to this. Unfortunately, too many coaches seem to believe that this is the only way to communicate with players.

Think of the long-held stereotype of a coach or the concept of an “old-school” coach. There is a good chance that part of your thoughts have a coach barking at players in some fashion, trying to “motivate” them to perform. Many of you are probably seeing a specific face in your thoughts, too. That face is probably either a coach you had in your life or a famous coach. Is the image you have of this coach one where s/he is yelling?

While yelling in and of itself is not necessarily good or bad, some of the keys to consider when deciding to do it are the audience, the timing, the purpose & intent for your yelling, what you yell, and how you yell.

Audience

When considering yelling at a team, you must first consider who your audience is. If you are coaching high school boys on a football field, chances are they expect you to yell at them. I’m not saying that is necessarily right, but it is an image that many kids have of being on a football team. However, if you are coaching 3rd graders in any sport, you really need to be re-thinking your method if you are yelling at them.

Are there moments when you need to yell, no matter who the audience is? Sure. If you need to get a large group’s attention that isn’t paying attention to you, and they are somewhat spread out in a gym or on a field, yelling at them (or more likely to them) is an acceptable method to get their attention. But for the most part, you need to consider who you are communicating with before you start raising your voice at them.

Timing

Along with the audience, another critical thing to consider is when to yell. Have they just gone through a very frustrating time in a game where they lost a lead or lost a big game? Have they had an extremely difficult, physical or mentally draining practice? Are they being lazy? Are they not paying attention? Are they being poor teammates to one another? Are they getting in trouble in school? Did the team suffer a tragedy recently?

You need to consider each of these questions and hundreds more like them before you choose to yell at your team or individual players. In other words, what is the team going through at this particular time? Is yelling at them an appropriate response to bring out the best in them, or could it have the opposite effect and basically crush their spirit? Understand their psyche at this particular time and choose your words and methods for conveying those words wisely.

Along with this, consider how much you yell. The greatest chance for success for a coach who yells is if s/he only does it occasionally. Too many coaches make yelling at teams such a common part of their approach that the team tunes them out when they start yelling. This is not good, for there may be a very important message in the words, but because they have learned to tune the coach out when s/he yells, the team never picks up the message.

For the greatest impact to occur, it is better to pick and choose your moments when to raise your voice and yell than to deliver a steady diet of it to your teams. That way, when you do yell, your teams will subconsciously think, “Uh-oh. This must be really important because we never hear coach yell at us like this.” Again, moderation is a good guide when it comes to the amount of yelling you do.

Purpose & Intent

Why are you yelling? What is your purpose in choosing this form of communication? Is it the best method to elicit whatever it is you want as an outcome from your team? Are you yelling because you believe that this will benefit your team or this player with some motivation to perform, or are you yelling to benefit yourself because it makes you feel better to “get it off your chest”? In other words what is your intent when it comes to yelling at your team?

If you truly believe that it is an appropriate way to communicate to your audience, the timing is good, and your purpose is genuinely intended to help bring out the best (or stop the worst) in your team, then by all means yell. But always keep in mind that you can’t “rewind the tape” and take it back. So if you are yelling to help you feel better, or you are yelling while you are not completely in control of your words and emotions, you need to re-consider this method of communicating at this time.

What You Yell

When most people think of a coach yelling, their first thought is that the coach is mad and that s/he is scolding the players. However, there are lot of things that coaches yell at players that have nothing to do with being upset at them. Sometimes, it is based on the arena in which they compete. To communicate across a large field or in a loud gym requires coaches to raise their voices, so they yell. At other times, they are merely yelling instructions or words of encouragement. Of course, there will be times when coaches are upset and they will yell. When doing so, though, they must choose their words wisely so as not to hurt, belittle, demean, or embarrass their players.

How You Yell

Along with the words that you yell, you must also consider how you yell. What is your body language, facial expression, and tone like when you yell? Are these non-verbals expressing what you want expressed? You must consider how you yell what you yell. In fact, you should consider this dynamic even when you are not yelling. How one says what one says speaks volumes to the audience to whom one is speaking. Choosing your words carefully is important; choosing how you communicate those words can be monumental.

The idea of coaches yelling at their teams is ingrained into our image of being involved in athletics. However, there are some parameters that all coaches should consider and abide by if they choose this method of communicating with their teams. When done incorrectly, it can create a real disconnect between player and coach, and the team’s chance for success and the athletes’ chances at having a great experience can suffer. However, when it is done with the right intent and in the right way, yelling can be a part of the team experience that actually leads to some moments of inspiration, motivation, and success.

Do you see a place for yelling in coaching? Do you yell at your teams? I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the Comments section below or on the Coach with Character Facebook page.

About the Author of this Article

Scott Rosberg has been a coach (basketball, soccer, & football) at the high school level for 30 years, an English teacher for 18 years, and an athletic director for 12 years. He has published seven booklets on coaching and youth/school athletics, two books of inspirational messages and quotes for graduates, and a newsletter for athletic directors and coaches. He also speaks to schools, teams, and businesses on a variety of team-building, leadership, and coaching topics. Scott has a blog and a variety of other materials about coaching and athletic topics on his website – www.coachwithcharacter.com. He can be reached by email at scott@coachwithcharacter.com.

Scott is also a member of the Proactive Coaching speaking team. Proactive Coaching is dedicated to helping organizations create character and education-based team cultures, while providing a blueprint for team leadership. They help develop confident, tough-minded, fearless competitors and train coaches and leaders for excellence and significance. Proactive Coaching can be found on the web at www.proactivecoaching.info. Also, you can join the 200,000+ people who have “Liked” Proactive Coaching’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/proactivecoach. Scott can also be reached through Proactive Coaching at scott@proactivecoaching.info

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