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  • Writer's pictureDPH

An Athlete's Guide to Effective Communication with Coaches and Adult Leadership

Communication is as vital to your success on the field or rink as any physical skill you develop. Think about it—you could be the most technically gifted player, but if you can't express yourself or understand others, you're not reaching your full potential. Effective communication is a skill that serves you well beyond your athletic career, right into whatever profession you choose down the line.

The Art of Verbal Conversation

The respect of face-to-face communication is powerful. It allows each party an opportunity for understanding and immediate feedback. However, ensure you pick the right time and setting—preferably when both of you can talk without distractions. Put your phone on silent. Be aware of your body language, maintain eye contact, listen actively, and thank them for their time at the end of the conversation, regardless of the outcome.

Handling Disagreements with Coaches

Disagreements with coaches are bound to happen; it's a natural part of the athlete-coach relationship. The key here is to handle disagreements with maturity and respect. When you find yourself in such a situation, take a deep breath and assess your own feelings first. Are you reacting emotionally, or do you have a logical point to make? Once you're clear on that, approach your coach calmly and ask if they have a moment to discuss your concern. Use "I" statements to express how you feel, avoiding blame, and ask for their perspective too. Remember, coaches are there to help you grow, and often, a disagreement can turn into a learning opportunity.

Not Understanding a Coach's Decision

If your coach makes a decision that leaves you scratching your head, don't jump to conclusions or let frustration simmer. Instead, ask for clarification. This could be a strategy you don't understand or even why you're not getting as much playing time as you'd like. Frame your inquiry as a desire to understand and improve, rather than a challenge to their authority. "Coach, can you help me understand why we're adopting this strategy? I'd love to learn." This shows maturity and a willingness to grow.

Conflict with a Teammate

Conflicts between teammates are often inevitable in the heat of competition. If you find yourself butting heads with someone, the first step is to address the issue privately, without the involvement of the whole team or coaches. Discuss your perspectives, find common ground, and if needed, agree to disagree respectfully. Only involve coaches or other authorities if the conflict significantly impacts team cohesion or if it turns hostile.

Maintaining a Professional Demeanor

Your demeanor on and off the field sets the tone for your relationships with adult leadership. Always be punctual for practices and meetings, dress appropriately, and address everyone respectfully. This level of professionalism doesn't go unnoticed and not only prepares you for your athletic future but for any career you might pursue afterward.

When to Choose Email, In-Person Conversation, or Parental Involvement

Each mode of communication has its own benefits and drawbacks. If the issue is complex and requires nuance, an in-person conversation is usually best. Emails are good for straightforward questions or to arrange a time for a more in-depth discussion.

Involve your parents/guardians in your communication process and share your thoughts with them. Invite them to be a part of your conversations with your coaches, even if you're leading the conversation, your parents could listen in. CC them in your emails to your coaches, have them on a Zoom call and they can add as another layer of support.

Age-Specific Communication Practice Suggestions

These suggestions will vary among age, maturity, level of play, etc.

Ages 12-13

- Practice active listening in conversations with your coaches.

- Work on expressing yourself clearly and concisely in your own words.

- Ask questions to seek understanding.

Ages 14-15

- Begin asking more in-depth questions about team strategy and individual technique.

- Start building rapport by sharing your athletic goals with your coaches.

Ages 16-17

- Take the initiative to set up regular check-ins with coaches to discuss performance and growth.

- Begin to advocate for yourself, but always within the framework of team goals.

Ages 18-19

- Hone your ability to give and receive constructive feedback.

- Understand that your relationship with coaches is becoming more of a partnership as you mature.


- Build professional networking skills and meaningful connections, as many of your coaches, teammates, may be contacts or references for your future.

- Learn to balance the demands of both your academic and athletic commitments, keeping your coaches informed about both.


- Fine-tune your communication skills in a setting that's nearing a professional level.

- Be prepared to have more in-depth tactical discussions with coaches and teammates.


- Understand that your relationship with coaches is now fully professional.

- Master the art of media communication, as your words will have broader implications.

Remember, the journey of becoming an elite athlete isn't just about physical and mental performamce. Your ability to communicate effectively can elevate your entire team and enhance your athletic development long-term. Make the most of every interaction and you'll learn from every conversation you have.



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