March Madness: foolish talk

Sadly, many coaches and athletes get themselves in trouble, cause damage to others, and even derail their careers while doing something we all do every day: speaking. What we say matters, especially as a coach with a significant sphere of influence. Continuing the “March Madness” theme, we’re often guilty of a crazy (meaning, “foolish”) approach to the use of our tongue – and the fallout can be far-reaching. However, when we speak wisely, the opportunity for Christ-honoring impact is just as immense.

Proverbs has much to say about the use of our tongue. How we speak is an important indicator of whether we are wise (living according to God’s good design) or foolish. Here are three themes regarding avoiding foolish talk and instead speaking wisely:

1. Speak with discipline. Prov. 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Prov. 21:23 puts it another way: “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” Because you’re a coach, you have a captive audience. The bar is raised even higher for you to speak wisely – and this requires discipline. Exercise the disciplines of thinking before you speak, of doing more listening than speaking, and of being especially careful about opening your mouth when your emotions are running high.

2. Speak what is true. When trying to gain an advantage or avoid discomfort, it can be tempting to say something that not fully truthful. Proverbs points to the dangers of deceit and the rewards of always speaking what is true: “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment… The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful” (Prov. 12:19, 22). As a coach, you want your players to be able to trust you and what you say at all times. Speak what is true, always doing so with love and grace.

3. Speak what adds value. When considering whether to say something, in addition to asking, “Is it true?” also ask, “Is it beneficial to those listening?” Prov. 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” Prov. 18:21 goes further: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” As a coach, what might this look like? Here’s an example: you could say truthfully to Player A, “You’re not as skilled as Player B.” It’s likely Player A is already aware of this (so you’ve added no helpful knowledge), and now Player A feels less confident that he or she can contribute (your statement, while true, was not life-giving). Instead you could say truthfully to Player A, “If you keep working hard at developing this specific skill, I believe you can have an important role in helping the team succeed.” Now you’ve offered knowledge that gives Player A an opportunity to grow and thrive. Your words are not only true – they’ve added value to Player A’s life.

You largely carry out your role as a coach through what you say. It’s madness to fail to think about avoiding foolish talk so you can instead speak wisely. Be a Proverbs-minded coach: speak with discipline, speak what is true, and speak what adds value. In doing so, you’ll use your tongue to honor Christ in the sphere of influence he’s given you.

For reflection: Which of the three areas discussed (discipline, truth, value) is the biggest struggle for you in how you use your tongue? Confess this to the Lord, receive his forgiveness, and ask him to help you grow in speaking wisely through his power and grace.