I used to teach 5th grade, and the day I figured out that it didn’t matter what I said to my kids as much as how they heard what I said, I became a good teacher. “Be quiet” to me was a simple command that meant, “If I hear another sound I will burn your future to ash.” But depending on the student, it might mean ” I can talk, just not as loudly as before.” Was a differing interpretation of words the culprit in every case? No. But more often than not, finding a different/better way to explain what I wanted and why was the key to moving forward.
In the same way, coaches and athletes can have different interpretations of words. A coach saying “keep your stomach tight” might get one athlete to brace themselves better, but might cause another to suck in their gut like someone just whipped out a camera at the beach.
Things get even more complicated when we start talking about things with emotional baggage like personal goals. An athlete saying, “I want to lose weight” is probably “I want to look better” which is actually “I need to improve body composition by losing fat and gaining muscle” which is actually “my nutrition is going to determine success more than what I do in the gym.” To get to the real meaning behind the words might take some digging, and is something both the coach and athlete need to be consciously committed to figuring out together.
As coaches, it’s our responsibility to figure out what words to use with whom in order to be the best coach for them (italics). As athletes, we might need to be better at expressing our understanding with our coaches so they can get a better idea on how to help us improve.