We use cookies to give you the best experience and to help improve our website. By using our website you are accepting our cookies.  Learn More

UK Coaching Research Team
Rapport Building and Communicating

Communication: A Matter of Preference

Is there a one-size-fits-all approach coaches can take with their communication?

We uncover the reality behind communication styles and timing by analysing Ezzeldin Aly’s research from 2014.

Aly surveyed over 200 athletic students and 14 coaches at the Graceland University in America about the development of communication, communication styles and timing. Those surveyed were a mix of male and female students who took part in both team and individual sports. This provided results for a number of different contexts that would be interesting for coaches in different situations.

The coach’s preference

All the coaches in the study agreed that they used both verbal and non-verbal/visual communication methods, and all were aware that their communication differed depending on whether they were calm or nervous.

They also tended to believe that they were more focused in their communication before and after events than their athletes.

However, in other regards, communication styles and preferences varied, especially between coaches of team sports and individual sports.

Team coaches were much more likely to agree that communication enhances performance while those in individual sports were less convinced. This is likely to be due to the level of interaction coaches in team sports have during a competition compared to individual sports.

During games, coaches felt that they preferred to communicate with one athlete, rather than the whole team. All coaches agreed that they increased communication when winning, but when they were losing, coaches of individual sports felt they did not increase communication. Again, the type of sport may be playing a part here. 

Aly speculates that communication between athlete and coach happens before the event in individual sports, with little chance for change later, whereas, in team sports, the coach can change plans in the midst of the game. In other words, a coach’s willingness to communicate during competition is directly linked to how much impact it is likely to have.

One of the interesting mismatches to emerge from the study was with male coaches. They felt their style of communication was more verbal and they did not use non-verbal communication, whereas their players felt their style was much more non-verbal. Perhaps players are seeing things in their coach that the coach is not even aware of.

The gender factor

The biggest differences between male and female athletes were concerned with communication during a game and,  in particular,  the fastest way to get the message across. For male athletes, this could be either verbal or visual communication, but female athletes showed a preference for visual communication.

The research suggests that increasing the use of special signs and gestures would be a good communication strategy for coaches of female athletes. Conversely, increasing the use of such signs will have less impact on male players.

Sporting differences

When athletes were asked who they communicate with most frequently, those in team sports said their coach, but those in individual sports said their teammates. These results are again probably influenced by the nature of the sport, with athletes in individual sports (such as swimming) unable to communicate with their coach during a race.

It is interesting that there was no difference between team and individual sports in terms of communication styles. Preferences for verbal or visual communication do not vary by type of sport as they do by gender.

Improve your Communication Skills

Questions you can ask yourself that will make a difference to the effectiveness of your coaching

Learn more here

Related Content

  • How to Communicate with Children

  • Talent In Five: The Talent Equation

  • Effective Communication: Coaching Deaf People In Sport


Like this resource? We'd love you to share a link to it.

Want to reproduce this resource, or part of it, elsewhere? Please do the right thing and make a permissions request so we can licence its proper use.

UK Coaching Research Team