Small Decisions, Big Impact. Word Choice.


We make a lot of small decisions on a daily basis that have various amounts of impact in our coaching.  Over the course of a year the amount of small decisions we make can feel overwhelming. Some we make with more thought than others, some with haste, some after much procrastination, some we delegate to someone else to handle, some with emotion.

Some of those decisions make little impact on our players and our program, some may seem small but cause all sorts of conspiracy theories about your intentions to surface. We can get caught up in small decisions, trying not to rock the boat, we can lose ourselves in the pile of small decisions surrounding us.


This is the reason why knowing our purpose, our beliefs and having a clearly defined vision is vital to coaches. This is what keeps us on the right track no matter the chaos surrounding us.

  • Does this decision bring me closer to my team’s vision?
  • Is it in line with my purpose as a coach, educator and leader?
  • Will my players’ perception of this decision be in line with my known philosophy?

One of the decisions we make every single day is how we decide to talk to our players. (including in person, through messaging, email, etc) We’re short on time, we’re sometimes emotionally charged up, we want to fix this yesterday, we see potential and want to charge full speed ahead. After all, they can take it, they’re athletes, right?

But will it derail our progress, our culture, and our belief system if we disregard how our message comes across? Can we finally break the old fashioned belief that trying to make the message about believing they can do better rather than shaming them for doing poorly is weak or coddling?  It’s been proven over and over again that teams who are secure in their core that their coaches believe in their abilities, even when they fail, perform BETTER in the long run then coaches who use fear and shaming as a tactic for short term results. Let’s embrace that edge and use it!  But it’s not just game day, or team talks that matter. It’s every single interaction, even those small ones that we don’t put much thought into. Sometimes, it’s even our lack of words that can break someone, are they searching for some sort of explanation or feedback that isn’t coming?

Example of word choice for the same goal-

Option 1: “There’s going to be a lot more running, you guys are slow and out of shape, that was embarrassing.” True? Probably. Quick? Yes!  Did you just tell them they are slow and an embarrassment? Yup. Hard to convince them at the next game that they can be better? Maybe. Are they excited for change or dreading the next round of hill sprints and possible insults?

Option 2: “How did you guys feel at the last game with your speed and conditioning? Did anyone feel like they were struggling out there? I definitely feel like we have the athleticism on this team to improve on that and really outrun them instead. How much time do you think we should add on at practice to catch ourselves up? Anyone want to lead conditioning outside practice on the weekends? Let’s do a time test today and then retest and see how we do, how does two weeks sound? Team goal for time improvement?”

What’s the difference in the message from each option? If you take out the subject of conditioning and speed, what message did they hear about themselves as a team and individually as players from their coach?

The words you choose may be the most important decision you make in these kids’ lives. Each sentence or phrase may be a small decision made repeatedly day in and day out. But the sum of those words can build or break your players, your team, your culture, and your program. Your goal of improving skills is the same, but how you choose to motivate them can bring about drastically different results in the performance, self esteem and overall experience. Choose them carefully.

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