How Can I Improve My Communication in Soccer?

Soccer coaching is not a get-great one-week profession. You will have to work hard, be patient, fail, listen, learn, and evolve. It is a constant cycle of self-development. Communication will be essential to your success, the job role of soccer coaching is largely built on effective communication. Soccer coaching is such a rewarding journey and it is one that you will not regret if you have a passion and love for the game. 

Communication In Soccer – How do successful soccer coaches communicate effectively?  

Successful soccer coaches are expert communicators they are clear and concise with their verbal communication, instructions, and conversations. They are aware of how their non-verbal communication can enhance relationships and influence performance.  They can deliver clear messages which inspire and motivate. Top coaches carry energy that players want to be part of.

How Can I Improve My Communication in Soccer

Communication Expectations?

As soon as you begin soccer coaching you will be expected to communicate concisely and efficiently with several different people.  These people will include your players, the parents/guardians of the players, and the other staff associated with the club where you coach. Not to mention the oppositions coaches and match officials.

There are two basic types of communication that soccer coaches can master. Verbal and Non Verbal communication.

Verbal communication is the spoken stuff, the coaching points, the feedback, the how-to elements of each practice you deliver. You must get clear on the specifics of these conversations anytime you have them.  Coaching points offer perfect opportunities to communicate clear detail about performance-related aspects of the game moments.

This is why planning becomes important. 

If you have good information to provide it is often thought about before it is spoken.  That way when you come to provide it to the players you only provide the detail which they need.  When writing up coaching points for the players keep them concise and reduce their complexity wherever possible.  This makes them easier to understand from a player’s perspective and easier for you to remember from a coaching perspective.

When speaking verbally, think about how many people need the message, quite often I see coaches provide coaching points to a full group of players when it was only necessary for a couple of them to hear it.

Think about who needs to hear my message? 

Once you have identified the who, you need to think about how to provide this message?

Is verbal communication required alongside something else such as a demonstration, a video, a diagram, a walk-through, quite often you will find matching up your verbal communication with some other form of communication is more effective than just the spoken element on its own.

If you are not yet too confident in speaking verbally I would recommend turning your coaching points into questions or challenges that you can ask performers to attempt as they train.

This will help you get the message across and motivate the players to answer the questions through their actions or complete the challenge you have set for them based on the coaching points.  I have found this to be an effective way to influence behavior and support individual development.

For example, if you wanted a player to make effective use of their first touch you may ask an open question such as “how many ways can you find, that gain you more time on the ball?” this question can be interpreted in several ways thus challenges the players to investigate it through their actions, effective receiving skills would be one of the many answers.

You could challenge a player to use their first touch to take players out of the game. Challenges could be for everyone, a few people, or just between you and another player.  This is coaching, you must spot what players need and try to give them it in a way that motivates them to be better.  Sometimes it is a conversation, sometimes it’s a question, other times it may be setting a challenge.

Effective communicators are good listeners, so while practices are going good coaches are listening and watching. 

They are listening for signs that the practice is enjoyable (reasonable level of noise within the session, encouragement, players asking for the ball, etc.), they are listening to what players say to each other, they are listening to the answers players give when they are questioned and the best coaches provide the answers to questions that any of the players have in a way which they understand.

What am I watching for?

Coaches should be watching the engagement and effort levels of the players, if they are engaged in practice they will be engrossed, focused, they will often show good upright open postures, using lots of hand signals, eye contact, and body movements.  This is a good sign that the session is working well. Notice some of these things are non-verbal communications not verbal.

If you see the opposite to this you might need to investigate why this is the case.  Don’t attack the players if they are not engaged, It’s probably not their fault, it’s probably yours.

Before you have a go at the players make sure you look closer to home and self reflect, think about the way you communicated your initial message:

  • Were demands placed on the players?
  • Did you set the scene for what you wanted them to do?
  • Was there another drill which would have engaged them better and delivered the same outcome?
  • Did you need to make it a little more competitive?

Ask these questions before you point the finger and you may just reveal some new ideas or methods to deliver your messages more clearly.

Good Communicators check to understand.  Always remember that effective communication is a two-way process.

Once players have completed a session or a practice within your overall session and coaching points have been provided to them in the form of spoken words, questions, or challenges, it is important that the coach seeks some clarity on how well these things have been understood.

They can do this by asking questions about the session then listening to the responses the performers provide.  This could be done as a group or just with targeted individuals who have been provided with detail.

Once you have listened to the responses of the players in terms of their understanding of the practice, problems they had, you then need to formulate your response and provide the players with some feedback.    

Feedback is crucial to development therefore you must have clear understandable points that you wish to provide to the players that will enhance them.  If feedback is not relevant or does not enhance knowledge or performance, you must question why you are communicating it in the first place.

To give effective feedback try to frame it in the right way for the performer.  Draw them in with something about the professional game, this could be a question, a fact, or something which happened in a recent game. Ask them where they are at as a group with the key point you are making and give them some time to answer. 

Listen to the player’s responses then provide feedback and your opinion about what you have seen. As part of the feedback try to highlight someone in the group who has done, or is doing this well. This will give the players motivation to chase it and it will boost the individual who is showing it.

I have found feedback provided in this type of way helps to enhance engagement and motivation.

An example of some feedback a coach could give to players:

Coach: Does anyone know what the pass completion rate of a champion’s league player is?

Players: They will provide answers and opinions

Coach: What would you say our pass completion rate is?

Players: Again players will provide responses

Coach: Can I tell you what I think? (The feedback, Our touch needs…, our passes need. our movement needs…), players A, B, C have been great at this today, well done.

What about Non-Verbal Communication?

The best coaches understand that actions speak louder than words and they are aware of this each time they step in front of the players.  What is meant by non-verbal communication, the three main areas to work on are your facial expressions, your body language, and your posture?  

Each of these things is under your control, in terms of your facial expressions, players want eye contact, they want a smiling face, someone who walks around with their head up, they don’t want a look of disgust or anger, children especially are good a reading facial expressions, makes sure your do not give off negative vibes.

Your body language gives a lot away too, do you slap the air when the team concedes a goal? Do you pace up and down the sideline? When things are not going well do you cross your arms? Do you turn your back on people? These are some examples of bad body language, it may be surprising to you to know that your uptight tense body language will rub off on the players?

If you act like this, how do you think the players will act?

Some positive body language would include your head up, your chest tall, a relaxed stance, and your arms behind your back, soft clapping, thumbs up for players, nodding when you see things that are good, smiling.  These are examples of good body language. Same question as before.

If you act like this, how do you think your players will act?

The final aspect of non-verbal communication is your posture, to keep this simple try to avoid a hunched posture and instead opt for a shoulder back, back straight, wide stance, arms by the sides or behind you. 

The positive posture sends out a message of confidence and belief in what you do whereas the hunched posture suggests you are down about something. Much of the detail here is aimed at players but much of it could be used to speak with anyone.  Experiment with it and see what happens. 

A final message is to remember, actions speak louder than words, players will get more from practicing and taking part in a well-organized practice as opposed to constantly being stopped so you can communicate to them.  Get a balance between this and you are well on your way to coach greatness.

Communication Key Messages

Find below a summary of communication skills you can start to master:

Plan your coaching points- chunk them down into concise understandable pieces of information Be a good listener – Good communication is not always one way, listen to the players they will provide ideas and inspirationUse Non- Verbal Communication positively – Your facial expressions, body language, and posture can help you communicate better
Be precise – Only Provide the detail that’s neededWatch the performers – Watch who is engaged in the practice and who is not, if someone is not engaged take some action and try to fix it, don’t just blame themFacial Expressions – Smile, make eye contact, keep your head up, avoid scouring, looks of anger or disgust
How many and Who – Think about how many people need the message and who it is forSelf Reflect – Do you communicate your message well? Did you set the scene? Were the players engaged? sometimes the answers to your questions reveal solutionsBody Language – Use positive body language to encourage players, Keep your head up, your chest tall, relaxed stances, thumbs up, all help
Pair up your verbal with something else such as an image or demonstration, a walkthrough to make the message clearerCheck Understanding – Check players understanding of the coaching points at various intervals during practice, check by asking questions, Coaches should observe the players implementing what they have asked the players to doAvoid slouching or hunching as it suggests you have an issue or problem, instead of standing tall arms by your sides or behind your back
Turn coaching points into questions or challenges – This encourages players to think and answer the questions or complete the challenge through their actionsGive Feedback – Players love feedback, use your knowledge of the game to frame your feedback and provide your observations, try to highlight players in your team who demonstrate the qualities you are afterActions speak louder than words – Ball rolling time is vital, don’t overuse your communication and keep stopping them to talk, it will only frustrate the players, get the balance right between coach talk and player action
The above table provides a concise overview of the types of communication discussed in the article

In Summary

There are different forms of communication that coaches can use to help send clear messages to their players. What you say, how you say it, along with your facial expressions and posture give clues to your players about how much you care. It is important to be self-aware of these things. Try to influence them positively.

Observation and listening are two skills coaches need to practice. Watch what the players are doing, ask them questions about why something was done in a particular way. Listen to the player’s responses then guide them towards success. Whenever you interact with the players be aware of your body language and facial expressions.

Self-reflection will help coaches to establish what is going on and how their actions are influencing the group. Checking player understanding can help the coach with their reflections as they will be able to gather information from the players. Feedback to players is essential to their development. Catch players doing things well and tell them.

Remember that actions speak louder than words so do not overdo it, players are primarily there to play the sport so make sure they get the opportunity to do so rather than listening to your voice. Set yourself challenges to communicate as clearly and concisely in as short a period as possible.

Related Articles

This is article two of a three-part mini-series and looks at the communication aspects of coaching. Article one on effective planning can be found here and article three on hitting the ground running can be found here.

Both of these articles were written for this site and will open in a new window.

Related Questions

How long will it take to improve this? It will take up to three months of practice, dedication, experimentation, and implementation to ensure the communication you use is clear, consistent, and concise. The time it takes to improve will also vary dependent on previous experience of coaching but the key is to stay consistent with it and you will get better.

Could these communication tips help the players? Starting with basics such as the players presenting good body language while they practice will help with non – verbal and encouraging reflection and feedback between players is a really useful way to develop verbal communication.