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UK Coaching Research Team
Rapport Building and Communicating

Communicating with Players During a Match

Evidence based tips from elite level coaches on how to communicate during competitive matches

What can we learn from how elite level coaches communicate with their players during competitive matches? The answer: well, quite a lot, as a team of academics from France, the UK and Australia found out.

The academics worked with six elite level French rugby union coaches (five male, one female) from the national under-21, France  A women’s and France amateur teams.

The coaches’ in-match behaviour was monitored during world championship or European championship matches.

The researchers recognised that coach behaviour is influenced by things that take place at a wider level than simply the competitive match itself. So, to ensure they could fully understand why the coaches communicated in the ways they did, they monitored their behaviour in a number of different ways.

The researchers analysed:

  • the number of times the coaches communicated and at what stage of the match
  • how they communicated
  • what they said
  • their intentions, and
  • the result of their communications on the players.

What they found out is in one sense not surprising, but it does provide us with some helpful tips that coaches in any sport, and at any level, may use when communicating with players during a match.

  1. Don’t stick to a rigid, predefined in-match strategy - adapt your communications to specific situations and events that occur during a match, particularly when these present opportunities for your team
  1. Reflect on your in-match communications the day after a game (or as soon as possible). This will help you understand what you did, why you did it and what impact it had on your players. Ultimately, this can help you prepare for similar situations in future matched.
  1. Consider changing your behaviour - the research showed that some coaches’ in-match behaviour is influenced by the culture of their sport. If coaches in your sport are influenced in the same way, would changing your behaviour to differentiate yourself from the opposition give you a competitive advantage?
  1. Use gestures to communicate with your players during the match, rather than shouting or calling.
  1. Nominate individual players to receive instructions during specific points of the match (eg in rugby union, the hooker may take all messages that relate to the line-out from the coach)
  1. Give players feedback that reflects their performance (although the coaches in this study gave mainly positive feedback, when negative feedback was provided on technical errors they had made, players’ performances subsequently improved).

Related Resources


  • Communication and Coaching

  • Strategies for Getting Feedback from the People You Coach

  • The Learning Zone: Be Comfortable with Feeling Uncomfortable


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UK Coaching Research Team