by Shannon Caughey
“Coach speak” is a term referring to the jargon and clichés often used by coaches. A few examples: When in the midst of a successful season, coaches say, “We’re just taking it one game at a time.” When asked what their team needs to do, coaches respond, “We just want our players to give 110%.” When describing a disappointing loss, coaches say, “We just didn’t score enough points to win the game.”
This type of “coach speak” is typically harmless if not overly helpful to the listener. But another kind of “coach speak” has far more impact. This “coach speak” is the way coaches talk to their athletes day by day. The words of a coach are weighty. How a coach speaks can bring about significant good or cause substantial damage in the minds and hearts of athletes.
James 3:9-10 addresses the power of our words for good or to bring harm: “9 Sometimes the tongue praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”
Out of frustration or anger, coaches say things that “curse those who have been made in the image of God.” Even if the coach doesn’t use literal curse words, what they say can belittle or shame an athlete. The coach may excuse their harsh words as byproducts of the intensity of the competitive environment. But the damage has been done – and that damage is often lasting.
If we’re committed to following and honoring Jesus Christ, we must take to heart James’ conclusion: “Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” We recognize the power of our words, especially in light of the significant influence a coach has in the lives of athletes. We repent of “coach speak” that is harmful, and we resolve to use our words for good – even in moments when we need to confront or correct an athlete.
What specifically does it look like to pursue Christ-honoring “coach speak”? We’ll consider this in more detail in our next several devotions. In general, Christ-honoring “coach speak” requires discipline. Earlier, James emphasizes the need to “keep a tight rein on our tongue” (James 1:26). Through the Lord’s enabling, we discipline ourselves so that our words serve his purposes rather than inflicting harm.
To utilize a favorite coaching cliché, there are “no days off” when it comes to this discipline. Christ-honoring “coach speak” requires daily practice. James uses this analogy: “A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire”(James 3:5-6). If we’re not vigilant in “keeping a tight rein on our tongue” day by day, a few thoughtless words can cause a forest fire of damage and undermine our influence for Christ. But with Jesus’ help, we can daily practice the type of “coach speak” that honors him.
Coach, don’t underestimate the power of your words. Resolve to communicate in ways that are life-giving and Christ-glorifying. Commit to the daily discipline required for Christ-honoring “coach speak.”
For reflection: Confess to the Lord any ways your words have been harmful to others. Thank him that he can and will transform the way you speak as you rely upon his grace and power.