How much do words matter?

An unexpected insight for me since I began writing this blog has been how sensitive I am to how people phrase their feedback. Obviously we are talking about the same topic but sometimes just using different words or phrases to mean the same thing make the sentence sound completely different to me and so affect my thinking.

One of my first blogs was about me challenging a long held personal belief that it is better to coach players to be two footed. In the comments, tweets and emails I received Coaches had to use a term to differentiate between which foot they were referring too.

I was already aware of how much I disliked the terms ‘wrong foot’, ‘bad foot’ or ‘weaker foot’. I just find them so negative and it makes it difficult for the players to believe that they can ever expect success if they use their ‘bad foot’. Almost justifies them not taking the time to practice because it will always be their ‘bad foot’ no matter what they do.

I have never thought much about this beyond how I thought the other terms were negative but really I am actually trying to shape their thinking simply by using a different phrase.

I prefer the term ‘other foot’ with the full title being ‘other foot that needs more practice’ which I think doesn’t have any negative connotations and by the way instead of ‘strong foot’ I prefer the ‘foot that gets all the practice’ but don’t use that too often.

It was more in other blogs when I wrote about small sided games that I noticed something. I got a fair proportion of feedback from Coaches suggesting that they didn’t agree with playing 2-Touch or playing the 5 – Pass Rule at all because they liked to let the players play, they encouraged freedom or players being allowed to express themselves.

This was quite a shock for me as I have always regarded myself as a coach who did allow players freedom to express themselves and certainly allowed them to play plenty of football. To be honest I reread all the comments and my answers to the various coaches numerous times.

I thought to myself have I developed into a negative coach without realising it. To revisit one of my blog topics did I have a long held belief of what type of coach I was but actually I wasn’t that type of coach anymore. Was I the Substitute Teacher at school who thought they were super cool but was the complete opposite?

In rereading the comments I noticed that coaches who told me to allow the players to express themselves tended to refer to the rules applied to the small sided games as ‘game restrictions’ not ‘game conditions’ as I do.

I have no idea why I use the term ‘game conditions’ it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision but it holds no negative connotations for me whereas ‘game restrictions’ certainly does.

Maybe when I first heard about applying rules to small sided games it was called ‘game conditions’ and so I have always thought of it as a way to encourage players to play in a certain way and not about restricting them.

The question is does the term used make the coaches view the same rules in a different way. Or am I just a substitute teacher talking crap.

Look forward to hearing from you

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Till next time


3 thoughts on “How much do words matter?

  1. Sean – I will say this – just the subtitle of your blog has a word I work hard to eliminate from my teaching, coaching and parenting – One that Yoda knows the truth about. Try/Trying is a word that gives an athlete an excuse for not doing it. If I said I will try to come to your party, what am I really saying? Yep…I am not coming and when I see you again, I say, well, I tried… In short, try is a failure strategy, not a success methodology. Keep up the good thinking and writing.


    • Thanks for the feedback. To be honest this is a completely new one for me because I like using the word ‘Try’ but you have alerted me to a negative side to using the word that I never considered.
      The reason I like it is because for me it allows the player to know that I am happy at this stage of them learning the technique/topic for them to attempt what I am asking them to do and whether they are successful in that attempt isn’t as important as the giving it a go.
      Is it a glass half full or half empty situation?
      A motivated player sees it as a word that allows them the freedom to make mistakes while learning and an unmotivated player sees it as a word that means they don’t have to do it.
      Again thank you as it has made me think.


    • Interesting angle John. I use this in the context of decision making e.g. ‘Try to play on one touch’. That’s not an absolute and leaves room for the player to make a decision. E.g. If the player decides to take more than one touch and dribble with the ball then that’s ok.

      Be interested to know what you substitute try with?

      Liked by 1 person

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