May 1, 2017

    Speaking Sport: Breaking Down the Language Barrier

    The word communication may be one of the most overused words on resumes, job descriptions, and interviews. “Are you a good communicator?” Being a good communicator doesn’t mean simply being a great speaker, something many coaches are great at as they are often social and extroverted creatures. Being a good communicator doesn’t simply mean being a great listener. While this is an invaluable skill (arguably more important than being a great speaker), it is still only part of the puzzle. In order for communcation to be successful, information needs to be not only exchanged, but more importantly understood by all parties involved. In the world of sports this comes down to speaking the same language.

    What Language Are You Speaking?

    In order for sports organizations to have success, information must be passed and understood by all different types of people with all different roles, backgrounds, and biases. Owners communicate with athletes, sports medicine practitioners communicate with sport coaches, strength and conditioning coaches communicate with player development directors, and the list goes on and on.

    A general manager, sport coach, or scout can simply look at an athletes stat line or watch film to get a good idea of what type of player they are looking at. What are his or her strengths and weaknesses from a skill perspective. Today a data analyst may also be a part of that team, to understand what is significant and identify different correlations and trends (Moneyball). Though a completely obvious fact, it is often forgotten that the best way to predict an athletes ability to play a sport, is look at their previous ability of playing that sport.

    A strength and conditioning coach can view this athletes performance metrics and get a similar idea of who an athlete is, albiet simply through the lens of strength, speed, power, and agility type metrics. While there is some value in knowing the athletes strengths and weaknesses from a physical standpoint, many of these metrics have historically shown poor reliability and validity when looking at athlete success in their sport.

    A doctor, athletic trainer, or physical therapist will also get their own idea of who that athlete is based on a number of assessments they are more comfortable with. Looking at an athlete’s injury history, physical examination, active or passive joint ROM, or FMS scores, they try to get an inside like of who that athlete is. While again this metrics are not worthless, with the exception of injury history, research has shown little correlation with sport performance metrics or injury risks. (1)

    The official language of sports is “Sport”

    While the performance coaches and sports medicine teams may pride themselves on their scientific knowledge, it is actually the sport coaches and GM’s who truly have the most reliable and valid measurements of success. Because the goal of all of these disciplines is same, to improve the athletes ability to perform their sport (whether by keeping them healthy or improving their speed, strength, etc), the common language we must all speak is the native tongue of these decision makers.

    Speaking the same language

    A sport coach doesn’t care about an athletes lack of ankle dorsiflexion or their amazing ability to throw a medicine ball. Discussing vagal tone, lactate thresholds, and anterior pelvic tilt may make you feel and sound smart, but will not translate to helping your athletes or organization without the understanding and buy in of those at the top.

    This is partially why the popularity of algorithms such as readiness, player load, and fatigue index have become so popular. Telling a coach that an athletes rMSSD is 67.82 ms and explaining what that means is much more difficult than showing an athlete’s “recovery score” on a scale of 1-10. The challenge here is simplifiying and translating these terms, without decreasing reliability or validity by destandardizing these measurements.

    The language that sport coaches, performance coaches, and sports med use to describe (not define) the same thing are vastly different, and this is where miscommunication occurs. The realization here is that we need to learn to translate our terms, thoughts, and concepts to the language of those who ultimately have the power to make the bigger decisions.

    What to do: 

    1. Spend time watching your athletes play their sport, understand the physical requirements as well as the basic tactics of the sport you are working with.

    2. Spend time with your sport coach, view athletic movement through their lens and learn the terms they use to teach these to their athletes.

    3. Now, learn to translate. GMs, sport coaches, and athletes don’t care about strength or mobility for the sake of strength or mobility, they care about how it translates to sport.

    4. By doing these things you will not only learn how to best communicate with different people in your organization, but you will also get the opportunity to educate them along the way.


    1. Dorrel, Bryan S., et al. “Evaluation of the functional movement screen as an injury prediction tool among active adult populations a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach (2015): 1941738115607445.

    Tag(s): Sports , Education

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