Ask WHAT, not WHY

Coaches this one is for you. I have posted before about the importance of being careful with your language, this time though I am going to discuss the importance of asking your players what instead of asking them why. The question I hear a lot of coaches ask is “why did you do that?”, when I believe the question they should be asking instead is “what did you see when you did that?”. These two questions may seem similar on the surface, but if you look closer they are very different.

Now it is important to take into consideration the level of play and goal of the club. The goal of a youth team should typically be player development. While a more competitive league will put more emphasis on winning. That being said this is aimed more towards youth teams than competitive leagues, but a competitive league coach might find this useful also.

The question “why did you do that?” Has several implications. First it means you do not trust your players decision making ability. You have put them in to the game for a reason, whatever that reason may be you have to trust that they are going to do whatever they can to help the team. If your aim is to develop players and help them improve to get them to the next level, than asking them why did you do that will leave them questioning themselves and could unintentionally cause them to question their play moving forward. Why is usually accompanied the statement “you should have…” which again causes a player to doubt themselves and what they are doing.

As a coach we might know what we want our players to do. We have probably worked on situational play and set pieces in practice. We put our players out hoping that they execute what we have worked on during the week. But we have to remember several things. First and foremost when we are at practice we are working against ourselves and everyone is getting the same coaching, when we step into a game there is another team. This other team has been working on their own situational play and their own set pieces. They will be looking to prevent your team from executing the way you want them to just as you will be looking to do to them. It is also important to keep in mind that jus because you saw something from the sideline does not mean your players saw the same thing. Perspective changes situation and how people react. Seeing the same thing from two different perspectives is going to cause both people to have different reactions.

That being said I believe the question you should be asking is “What did you see in that situation?” This will give your player a chance to tell them what they were looking at and why they did what they did. From there you can have a better understanding of what was going through your players mind at the time. You can follow this up with a statement along the lines of “I understand, but maybe next time you can…”. This will make your players feel validated in what they are doing and make them feel more comfortable on the field and with you.

A simple shift on the language we use can change the entire mentality of a team. You can build a team up or tear a team down simply by the way you interact with your players. So next time you are not completely happy with something one of your players did, remember that you are not on the field to see what they are seeing.