Coach Speak: questions are key

by Shannon Caughey

Effective coaches use a communication tool that other coaches neglect: they ask questions. They don’t use questions as a weapon (“How could you mess that up after we went over it so many times in practice?”). They ask questions as an engagement tool. “What did you do well during our last game? What would you like to improve?” Or, “How can you best prepare yourself mentally for this upcoming event or competition?” Effective coaches create a dialogue rather than only using a coach-to-athlete monologue approach.

Asking questions is also an important means of engaging with athletes at the heart level. In these “Coach Speak” devotions, we’re considering how we can communicate in ways that honor Jesus and bring about his good purposes – especially in light of the significant impact of the words of a coach. As we read through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we see how often Jesus asked questions. According to biblical scholars, over 300 questions from Jesus are recorded. Here are a couple ways you as a coach can follow the model of Jesus and use questions for the benefit of your athletes:

1. Use questions to draw out your athletes.

In a conversation with his disciples in Matthew 16, Jesus starts with a less-personal, information-gathering question (v. 13): “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” After his disciples share answers, Jesus asks a follow-up question (v. 15): “But who do you say I am?” This follow-up question draws them out and enables Jesus to engage at a more personal level. You as a coach can do the same. For example, rather than stopping at broad “how’s it going?”-type questions, think of questions that invite them to go deeper, such as, “What’s been the most encouraging/challenging thing in the past week for you?” Use questions to draw your athletes out so you can build genuine, caring relationships with them.

2. Use questions to help your athletes consider important matters.

In Luke 10, a Jewish religious leader is attempting to justify what he’s doing (or not doing) in response to the Bible’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then tells a story about three people who come across a man who had been robbed and beaten – and the only one who helps the injured man is from a people-group that was despised by Jews of that day. Jesus then asks the religious leader (v. 36), “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Rather than just telling the religious leader what it really means to love your neighbor, Jesus asks a question that invites him to consider this crucial biblical command.

As a coach who desires to have a transformational impact in the lives of your athletes, you can engage them in conversations about important topics that are part of their everyday lives – such as what’s healthy when it comes to social media, or how to relate to people different from them, or what’s ethical in specific scenarios. Ask good questions that challenge them to consider these matters more deeply. Through thoughtful questions, you can guide your athletes toward thinking more biblically – even if in your coaching context you cannot specifically reference the Bible. 

These are just a couple ways you can use questions to engage your athletes at a heart level. We learn even more about the power of questions as we read through the Gospels and take note of what Jesus asks and why he asks these things. Asking good questions takes intentionality and practice. However, the effort required to resist the monologue-only approach and to instead cultivate regular dialogue with your athletes is worth it.

Consider how you can make asking questions a central component of your “coach speak.” You’ll be following the model of Jesus. And you’ll open new doors for Jesus to work through you in the hearts and lives of your athletes.

For reflection: What are ways you can incorporate more questions into how you interact with your athletes? Ask the Lord for his wisdom and his empowering to do this.

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