Coach Speak: true and loving

by Shannon Caughey

Some coaches take pride in being brutally honest. They “tell it like it is.” But the “brutal” dimension of their honesty can leave a lot of victims in their wake. Other coaches don’t like to hurt their athletes’ feelings so they shy away from “telling it like it is.” In these situations, their athletes can end up feeling hurt anyway. The athletes say, “I didn’t realize anything was wrong with my performance until Coach stopped playing me. I wish Coach would have been honest with me rather than avoiding talking about the hard things.”

The words of a coach have significant impact. In these “Coach Speak” devotions, we’re considering the Bible’s guidance for how coaches talk to their athletes day by day. As those committed to living for Jesus, we want to make sure our words honor him and bring about his good purposes. In previous devotions, we’ve seen that this involves being careful with how we speak, including building others up so that they benefit from what we say. How do we then address topics and situations that are hard – the kinds of things that will likely be uncomfortable to hear?

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul contrasts spiritual immaturity with what Christ desires for his people. Here’s one of the qualities of spiritual maturity (v. 15): “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” The more we grow like Christ, the more we’ll speak the truth. We’ll be marked by honesty in what we say. Yet we’ll also demonstrate Christ-likeness by speaking what’s true “in love.” Our words will be honest, but they won’t be brutal. 

How does this get lived out in the coaching sphere when athletes underperform, or are doing something detrimental to the team, or are just acting immature? First, coach in ways that build a culture of genuine care for your athletes. This goes beyond verbalizing to your athletes that you care about them. Take steps to express your genuine interest in them as a person, not just an athlete. When they believe you really do care – and when you are, in fact, sincere in your care – the hard things you need to say at times will be heard in the context of your love for your athletes.

Second, before you speak, consider whether what you’re about to say is fully true. Are you frustrated or angry and therefore tempted to exaggerate the grievance you’re about to address? Or are you afraid they’ll get upset and therefore tempted to hold back on sharing something they really need to hear? Make sure what you’re about to speak is the truth.

Third, continually ask God to help you be responsive to his work to grow you more and more like Christ in every way. As he shows you areas in which you’re falling short, thank him for his grace and determine next steps to keep maturing in your walk with Jesus. Ultimately, speaking the truth in love comes not merely from implementing a communication strategy. We grow in speaking both honestly and graciously as we grow in Christ-likeness.

Because your words matter, Coach, make sure that what you speak is both true and loving. You’ll honor Christ and be far more effective as a coach.

For reflection: Which is the bigger struggle for you in your coaching role: making sure what you speak is true, or making sure what you speak is loving and gracious? Take a couple of minutes to talk with the Lord about this. Pray that you would be responsive to his work as he grows you to be more like Christ.

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