Why & How Athletes Can Have Tough Talks with their Coaches

by USA Field Hockey

Having a tough talk with your coach doesn't have to be a stressful, scary thing. Whether you want advice on how to get more playing time or you're having a hard time with a teammate, these conversations might feel like a train wreck in the making, but they can go smoothly with a little thought and preparation.


Here's what TrueSport Expert and President of Now What Facilitation, Nadia Kyba, MSW, wants you to do to have a great talk with your coach.


Do it yourself

It's tempting to have your parents or caregiver call your coach for you, but learning to talk to adults about tough topics is important and sport is a great testing ground. A trusted adult or your parents can still help you work through what you want to say, but you should be the one asking the coach for a meeting. Of course, if you feel in any way unsafe around your coach or are uncomfortable with something happening on the team, you should definitely tell your parents or another adult!


Make a plan

You can always ask your coach for a meeting via email, but specify that you'd like to meet in person or talk on the phone. One sentence about why you want to meet is plenty—save the specific details for your talk so you don't accidentally end up having your tough conversation via email. Face to face or over the phone is better. Say something like, 'I'm hoping to get some feedback, can we meet to talk about it?' in your message.


Plan your 'ask'

Think through what you want to say to your coach. Do you have examples you want to bring up, or certain questions you want to ask? What are you hoping to achieve by having this meeting? Often, we skip this planning stage and end up in meetings unsure of what to say. Write your thoughts down and bring the notebook to the meeting. Not only will you be prepared and less likely to forget anything important, the notebook shows your coach that you're taking the meeting seriously. It also gives you a prop: When you're nervous, you can pause for a few breaths and collect yourself by glancing at your notes!


For even more success, think about what you want for yourself—like more playing time—but also think about what that would mean for the team. Your coach will appreciate that you're thinking about the good of the team, not just your own interests.



This is where your parents or a friend come in: Practice having your talk and test the different ways your coach might respond so you're ready for it. Practicing is especially helpful if you know you tend to get angry or upset when you're having tough talks. If you can practice your conversation ahead of time, you're going to get out some of the emotion that might be building up, so you can go into your real talk with your coach feeling confident and calm.




Take a breath before going in

These meetings tend to take place after practice. And that's great, unless you're feeling gross, sweaty, and hungry. Take five minutes to hit the locker room and clean up, get changed, and have a quick snack. You'll feel more in control.


Ask open questions

Try to avoid asking your coach questions that can be answered with a yes or no. So instead of saying "Can I have more playing time?" consider asking, "What can I do to earn more playing time?" With an open-ended question, your coach will be required to provide a more specific answer, such as next steps regarding your practice, your personal development, and your contributions on the court to earn more playing time. If the answer you get isn't clear, you should always feel free to simply say, "Tell me more" or "Can you elaborate on that?"


It's OK to pause

Taking a break during the conversation to check your notes or gather your thoughts is completely acceptable. Pausing can help you settle your emotions, and it gives you a chance to rethink any of the questions you were hoping to ask.


Agree on next steps

Every conversation should close with a follow-up plan: How will progress be assessed? What are our next steps? Will we meet again? When will more feedback be provided? Ask your coach to recap their takeaways from the conversation. It's tough to do, but this is the most important part of the conversation. If you don't make a plan, the odds are good that this conversation will repeat itself in a few weeks.


Follow up

After you leave, take a few minutes to type up what you discussed and email it, along with a thank you, to your coach. This way, you're able to double-check that you understood what was discussed and the steps are in writing. Remember that your coach is just as busy as you are, and if you don't follow up, they may forget what they agreed to!



Tough talks are never easy, but they can be less difficult with some preparation and practice.

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