by Shannon Caughey
Recently the news carried another story about a coach who had to resign suddenly because of something he said to his players. This was a long-tenured, highly accomplished coach. But one day in practice he spoke some very offensive, hurtful words. In the wake of his resignation, the coach was contrite and insisted he didn’t mean what he said. He just failed to think before he spoke.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case. Many coaches and athletes get themselves in trouble, cause damage to others, and even derail their careers as a result of the same failure to think before they speak. In this series of devotions on “coach speak,” we’re considering the impact of the way coaches talk to their athletes day by day. As followers of Jesus, we want to make sure our words honor him and bring about good rather than harm in the minds and hearts of those we coach.
In the previous devotion, we looked at some passages in James about the power of our tongue. James 1:19 gives additional direction: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James is reiterating a principle we find in multiple places in the Bible: Christ-honoring “coach speak” includes being careful with our words.
A few thoughts on how to apply this in coaching and other areas of life:
1. Do more listening than speaking.
This is where James starts: “you must all be quick to listen.” Proverbs 18:13 warns against the pitfalls of poor listening: “He who answers before listening — that is his folly and his shame.” In your position of authority as a coach, it’s easy to do lots of talking and not much listening. Work hard to listen consistently and listen well to your athletes, fellow coaches, and others who are part of your program. Listening carefully enables you to deepen both the understanding and empathy needed to then speak carefully.
2. Think before you speak.
While this would seem to be common sense, most of us have gotten ourselves in trouble because we’ve failed to be “slow to speak,” as James advises. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Develop the “think before speaking” discipline. In your mind, ask yourself questions such as, “Is what I’m about to say true? Is it helpful or will it cause harm? Does it show understanding or is it self-centered? Is it better left unsaid?” Thinking before you speak is essential to exercising care with your words.
3. Be especially careful about what you say when your emotions are running high.
James links being “slow to speak” with being “slow to get angry.” We’re more prone to say damaging, hurtful things when we’re upset. The competitive context of sports has intense moments when emotions run high. In those situations, be especially vigilant about thinking before you speak – or refraining from speaking until your emotions have cooled. As Proverbs 21:23 advises, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” Don’t allow strong emotions to sabotage your commitment to being careful with your words.
What you say has a significant impact, Coach. By Jesus’ power and grace, resolve to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” Christ-honoring “coach speak” includes being careful with your words.
For reflection: Take a few minutes to talk with the Lord about specific “next steps” to grow in speaking carefully. Do you need to focus on doing more listening? Pausing to think before you speak? Guarding what you say when you experience strong emotions? Trust Christ’s power and grace to do this.