Speak Softly: How To Coach So People Will Listen

Scenario:  Hot July night in Davis, CA.  Little League Fields are full of spectators smiling and sweating through the sweltering 100 degree plus heat amidst umbrellas, ice chests, and the search for shade.  Hundreds of people were gathered to watch our local children battle it out in the District 64 all star games. 

I do love Davis Little League baseball.  Starting with T-ball, our sons and daughters learn to run, bat, throw, catch, and play hard.  As they move through Farm, AA, AAA, and into Majors, games turn from endless marathons of good natured cheers and encouragement to intense moments of strategy, skill and endurance.  But tonight’s game got me thinking about HOW we teach them to play the game.

My son has had dozens of amazing Davis Little League coaches.  As a teacher, I am always amazed at and profoundly grateful for the contribution they make to the program-my son wouldn’t be the player he is without their dedication.  I’ve watched them coach through rain, wind, cold, and heat with smiles on their faces and a constant positive attitude.  They teach, supervise, and prepare their players to do their best and never give up-excellent life lessons.  But tonight I watched a different kind of coaching-this came from a visiting coach from a neighboring town during the all star games. 

This visiting coach used the ‘bark and drill’ approach.   He was loud, and barked as if he were conducting a symphony of soldiers on the field.  I tried to listen to what he was saying, and I have to admit that most of what spewed out of his mouth was ‘positive’- but the kind of encouragement that I would expect from someone training kids to win at all costs.  The strategy he used didn’t seem to involve his head or his heart-it was intimidating, loud, and abrasive.  Because I was sitting merely 10 feet away from his ranting, I couldn’t help but wonder how the players on the field (namely the third baseman) could keep their focus.  He yelled, but did anybody hear him?

Baseball is a game of concentration and observation.  Players need to plan ahead, think it through, and know what they will do if and when the ball arrives in their space.  This ‘coach’ was taking all individual thought away from his players in favor of overwhelming them with his plan.  Is this what we really want our kids to learn about playing a sport?  Are these the life lessons our kids should learn?

What I’ve learned is that the best way to get people to listen to you is to let them hear you whisper.  Trying to “lift up” versus “shout down” has always served me best-both in and out of the classroom.  What I’m still learning is how to deal with these yell leaders-if you have any ideas, please let me know.  And please, thank those coaches in your life who teach by example, and know how to really communicate what’s important.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe at jenniferwolfe.net.

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  1. Well-said and well-written! I’ve seen and heard the coach you are referring to….I was score-keeping one of his games and just cringing the whole time. I don’t have any good ideas about how to deal with it either 🙁 I feel bad for the kids. But I agree, for the most part the LL coaches and soccer coaches are wonderful. Thanks for writing this!

  2. I have observed and heard many stories similar to this about a teacher that my children have had (no Jen, not you). I went and had a very calm but serious conversation with the teacher and share the same things you have stated… That being positive and encouraging goes a lot further than yelling and intimidating. I was pleasantly surprised that over time, the stories I heard about this teacher’s behavior changed from negative to positive. The teacher actually approached me recently and told me about how our talk had led to some serious thinking an changing of ways. I was surprised and happy to see that I had contributed to positive change that not only helped my kids, but many other kids as well. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you! I appreciate your comments. So many people dedicate huge amounts of time to make these sports programs successful-it’s frustrating to see people who don’t really know how to work with kids in coaching positions. Davis coaches have been great to my family!

  4. You are the soft-spoken coach in the teaching world–until you start rapping–then you bring it. But all has its time and place.

  5. Thank you! There is a time and a place to be loud, for sure! But no matter how loud we are around kids, we still need to be aware of what we are saying…

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