What’s the right way to communicate with your players on match day?

How do you communicate with your players on match day? Are you a shouter, or do you deliver your messages in a different way?

Understanding what to communicate, and how you communicate is very important during a game. Players, too, will respond to different methods and approaches, while sometimes saying nothing at all can be more effective.

Antonio Conte

Our football coaching CPD course, The Art of Effective Communication, and the supporting free webinar, teaches coaches about the fundamental skills when interacting with their players, and how it can help them become a more effective coach.

And now, more than ever in the elite game, with large crowds still prevented from attending games, there has been a greater focus on how managers act on the sidelines.

No doubt many coaches will watch top-flight matches on the television and analyse the coaches to see and hear how they communicate from the dugout.

And this was the subject of a recent report on TalkSport, hearing the thoughts of people from within the game about what communication meant to them, and their general view was that shouting and screaming from the side, is not an effective way of encouraging and engaging with players during a match.

Former England player and U21s coach Stuart Pearce, now first team coach at West Ham United, recalled the methods of his manager at Nottingham Forest, the great Brian Clough.

“When we talk about communication, the first thing that springs to my mind isn’t shouting,” said Pearce.

“I worked for Brian Clough and sometimes it could have been just a thumbs up, that was a really powerful message to me as a player and on occasions it made you feel ten feet tall.

Stuart Pearce

“Communication comes in many different forms and probably the top leaders and educators know what is the right tone to deliver that at the right time.”

Michael Caulfield is a sports psychologist with more than 25 years’ experience, and suggested that a more vocal approach from coaches in the dugout is not necessarily the right one.

He said: “There is a golden line which I’ve heard recently from a rugby player: ‘Coaches can see things we can’t see, but we feel things they can’t feel.’

“If all you’re doing as a coach is pointing and ranting and shouting, it’s mainly hot air and it’s mainly being ignored and actually, I would think one in a hundred comments is listened to by the players.

“Coaches know that, but they use the dugout to get rid of their angst and tension during a game. And sometimes that is actually passed onto the pitch. The brutal truth, what you do on a Monday to Friday is far more important than conducting yourself on a Saturday.”

Meanwhile, Gary Rowett, manager at Championship club Millwall, says that for some managers, being vocal on the side can be their way of supporting their players and showing they are in the battle with them. 

“If I’m the type of manager who wants to try and give a lot of encouragement, being on the touchline in the moment and giving that encouragement is as important as tactical knowledge. I want to be part of it on the touchline with the team trying to help them,” said Rowett.

“It’s impossible to play as one without talking and communicating with each other, it’s vital. As a manager you’d look for two or three leaders on the pitch who will impart that information and will be responsible for giving that info to players who need it, as players deal with it differently.”

Gary Rowett

Rowett also recalled some advice he had been given by his mentor that helped him reflect on his own performance as a coach. “He said, ‘put a dictaphone in your pocket for one game and listen to what you sound like’.

“It’s interesting as sometimes what you feel might be encouragement to the players can actually sounds like you’re just shouting at them all the time and they haven’t got chance to relax and just play the game.

“So, you have to limit how much you shout at players, but at the same time you have to try and be yourself as well.”

Using a voice recorder was also an idea Steve Sidwell, now a youth development coach with Brighton & Hove Albion, has adopted with his players to help them understand how they should communicate on the pitch.

“We put a dictaphone in the back of the players’ GPS monitorsthey wear during training, and we listened to exactly what they were saying,” said the former Chelsea midfielder.

“There is no hiding place with that. What sort of key phrases are they saying? Are they talking at the right times?

“On the flip-side to that, we’ll have psychology sometimes watch us from the side to see what language we are giving off. So Big Brother is always watching!”

It’s clear that different coaches and different personalities have many alternative ways that they communicate with their players and, indeed, develop their own skills and the skills of their players.

Understanding how you communicate with your players and what you communicate is therefore a huge part of becoming a successful and effective coach.

If you would like to learn more about The Art of Effective Communication, our CPD course draws on the experience of two MiMentor experts; our coach development mentor Sarah McQuade and UEFA Pro Licence coach Ben Garner.
Click here to sign up for the course, or here to watch our Art of Communication webinar (free MiMentor account required).