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5 ways to encourage good communication

It is amazing how often, as coaches, we can’t get players to stop chatting while we are setting up, during drinks breaks or even when they should be listening to instructions! Yet when they step onto the grass, conversation quickly dries up and it is more akin to a library than a football pitch. Encouraging players to not only communicate, but communicate effectively, is a challenge faced by many coaches, yet it is such an important component of any successful team. Here are some methods to try in your sessions to turn up the volume.

 

1. NO TALKING!

It sounds a little counter-intuitive, but by putting a condition on a small-sided game which says no player can talk, you might suddenly find they are all desperate to give support and instructions. Start by awarding a free-kick to the opposition any time a player communicates out loud – and by not allowing talking, it might help some players realise the value of it. Of course, there are other ways for players to communicate too, whether through hand gestures or eye-contact, and this can help them explore these methods more.

 

2. ONLY ONE PLAYER PER TEAM CAN TALK

A lot of teams have one or two players who do the talking for everyone, which can make them over-reliant on that select few. A condition of a small-sided game could be that the coach selects one player per team who is the only player allowed to use their voice. This also gives quieter players the chance to lead, without being drowned out by the naturally louder players. Some players, however, may not be as comfortable being in the spotlight, so perhaps the chosen player could be rotated every five or 10 minutes.

 

3. STRATEGIC GAMES

Strategy games are fun ways to get players talking and issuing instructions. Try noughts and crosses/tic-tac-toe (played by two teams racing relay-style to drop bibs onto cones, or dribble balls into squares) or versions of tag (e,g, two teams playing with a ball in hand, players try to tag opponents with the ball for a point but are not allowed to move when in possession of the ball). These are easy playground games that players will already know well and have a good tactical understanding of, so they will often naturally start guiding team-mates or verbalising their ideas and strategies.

 

4. BLIND FOOTBALL/ OBSTACLE COURSES

This is a great method for educating players about effective communication. Supportive comments like “well done” or “great shot” are certainly not to be discouraged, but we also want our players to give useful information to their team-mates – where to press, what pass is on, which shoulder a player is approaching, whether to turn or protect the ball, and so on. A few cones and bibs are all that is required for this game. Teams can compete in relay races to add an element of jeopardy and really encourage players to give good, clear instructions to one another. One player begins blindfolded with a bib, while their partner has to guide them around an obstacle course. You can add a number of challenges, from dribbling a ball, having to collect certain coloured cones, avoiding other players passing across the course – or get the players to come up with their own ideas.

 

5. DEVELOPING LEADERS

While the above examples can be used in training sessions on an ad-hoc basis, the best way to encourage communication within your team is often over a period of time. Developing a culture within your team, where players are given the opportunity to lead in different scenarios, is a great way to embed values and build confidence – hopefully resulting in better on-pitch communication. Take players aside in training and give them the chance to coach from the sidelines for 15 minutes. Some may choose to loudly issue direction, others may be more comfortable relaying to you, the coach, what they have observed, while others may want to take a half-time team-talk. You could rotate matchday captains through the season, giving everyone opportunities to lead. Again, some will be loud leaders and others will lead quietly by example. Players can also be given ownership over warm-ups, progressions or constraints of practices, organising teams for small-sided games, choosing matchday formations or tactics, or any number of responsibilities which will empower them and help develop leadership skills.

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