The Jargon Trap


Often if I feel a session hasn’t gone well I blame myself. It’s the easiest thing in the world to blame the players, the weather, the pitch, the kitman, and just about anything else that gets in the way, but as a coach the buck stops with me.

Coaching is teaching, teaching is communicating and good communicating is good coaching. Communication is two-way process though –  both talking and listening are important.

Part of my coaching philosophy is simplicity and its something I am incredibly conscious of when coaching, do the players understand what I am asking? Was I clear and concise with my instructions? Did I listen to what the players gave as feedback? But most of all did I make it as simple as possible for the players?

Last week at the Football Medical Association Conference & Awards I listened to Prof. Damien Hughes talk about his brilliant book The Five Steps to A Winning Mindset  and present some practical ideas to demonstrate the Five Steps (Simplicity, Thinking, Emotion, Pratical, Storytelling). The first step, Simplicity, got me thinking. How many times as coaches do we overload players heads with information, that just doesn’t go in or its overloaded with fancy jargon?

Jargon may sound impressive to ourselves, but are we coaching ourselves or are we trying to impress others? Will the jargon get our message across clearly? Is the likelihood of us using all the relevant science to communicate key points to our players going to improve them during the limited session time we have? Probably not. Our brains do not easily retain abstract concepts, and some the spending 5 minutes within a session explaining how your session relates to the latest study with have very little impact on that session or that players learning.

When I was taking the first part of my UEFA B licence many years ago I was being assessed, and as a young coach I loved the sound of my own voice, I was eager to let my young subjects know that I knew the game inside out and that a long winded statement would get the best response from them. Afterwards my tutor pulled me aside and told me about the Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow who was himself being interviewed and had said that if he couldn’t get his points across to his subject in less than 30 seconds, he had lost the interview. I have never been able to find that quote, but it helped shape my coaching philosophy for the future.

In 1970, two Educational Psychologists Gallimore and Tharp followed the world renowned UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. They were amazed that this man of legendary status was completely the opposite to what they had thought the knew about coaching. In their 1976 article “John Wooden: What A Coach Can Teach a Teacher”  Gallimore & Tharp observed that Wooden’s “teaching utterances or comments were short, punctuated, and numerous. There were no lectures, no extended harangues….he rarely spoke longer than 20 seconds”

Gallimore and Tharp observed that Wooden’s most frequent actions and way of teaching was a three step process: (1) showed the right way to do something, (2) showed the incorrect way to do something and (3) remodelled the right way. The authors wrote how Wooden’s demonstrations rarely took longer than 3 seconds, but were so clear and simple they “leave a memory much like a textbook sketch”.

Wooden had a clear message: the simpler your message, the better your understanding.

Another great example to demonstrating simplicity as told by Prof. Hughes was that of an old tutor of his when he began his coaching career. His tutor asked him to stand up and threw a tennis ball at him and asked him to catch it and throw it back. Pretty easy with one ball. Then, his tutor threw two balls at the same time, and asked the same. “catch them and throw them back” he said. Simple. The coach then did the same thing with three balls, four balls and then five, none of which were caught. “There is your weakness” said his tutor.

Prof Hughes then explained what was behind all these balls being thrown at him – simplicity. The point his tutor was making was that very often we think that by including lots of lessons within a session (the five balls!) it makes an effective coaching session. The lesson here was that for great coaches its not about how many balls you can throw, its about how many your team can catch.

Video: Prof Hughes and his Tennis Balls

Great coaches understand that clear and simple language will have a greater effect on their players and rather than use un-necessary jargon, they will determine the single most important message and then use a high concept pitch to drive the behaviours they require from the players.





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