Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian philosopher who coined the phrase “The medium is the message,” signifying that the way the message was delivered was actually more important than the message itself.
The way you deliver the message as a coach is crucial, and something worth thinking about. Having a presence as a head coach is extremely important, and being able to command the room and deliver a strong message is a big part of that. It should be clear to everyone who is in charge, and you want your message to be concise and direct. So it makes sense to deliver it with a strong, forceful tone loud enough that everyone can hear (we work in gyms and arenas, don’t we?). Delivering a strong message is a big part of being the leader.
To deliver the message effectively, however, you certainly need to think about your tone. This is something I struggled with when I first became a head coach. I had a loud voice and a strong presence, and there was no doubt that everyone in the gym knew who was in charge. I wanted it that way. There also couldn’t be anyone questioning the validity of my message. Strong and powerful was the way to go.
Over time, however, the effectiveness will wear off. I learned that delivering my message the same way every day – with the same tone – lead to the players tuning me out a bit. They heard a lot of the same stuff said the same way with the same tone day after day, and it became white noise to them. The right message, delivered directly and concisely, should have connected with my players. But it didn’t because of the way it was being delivered – the medium.
I’ve noticed this going to visit different practices and watching how different coaches speak to their teams. Sometimes you see things more clearly from the outside looking in, as opposed to being right in the middle of it. I’ve recognized the importance of varying your tone when you deliver your message.
If you have strong, powerful voice and a commanding presence in practice (a good thing), make sure you aren’t always talking to your team as the “voice of God.” Blow the whistle, bring them in around you, and talk to them calmly and directly, in a softer voice. Connect with your guys one on one at times while practice is still moving, so they know you are focused on them as an individual. Ask questions of your team instead of constantly telling them what to do – get them to talk to you. There are a lot of different communication strategies you can use, if you take the time to think about it, that will help to keep your message effective.
When I was at Rhode Island College I’d get out to see a fair amount of local practices, and I got to see Danny Hurley at URI a few times. Danny is an intense coach who gets after his guys, but I always noted the way he was with his teams in practice. He got after his guys for sure, but he wasn’t constantly yelling and berating them. When he wanted to make a point to a specific player he would usually walk up to him and speak with him softly, in a one-on-one conversation. There was a difference in the way he delivered the message, and you could see the way his kids responded to it.
Setting the right tone and commanding the gym is really important as a head coach, but you can’t stay at the same level all the time. If the tone of your voice never changes, your message will gradually become less effective. Vary your tone to continue to connect with your team.