What is the point of yelling at a team?

My guess is you’re probably thinking of something along the lines of communicating to them your displeasure. In response to that I ask two questions.

First, does your displeasure actually need to be communicated?

When does most coach yelling and screaming happen? Generally when a team is losing and playing badly (or has just done), right? Do you think the players aren’t already well aware of that? Seems to me Coach isn’t providing them with any extra information or feedback by hollering in a situation like that.

In fact, most of the time yelling at a team in that scenario is really just piling on and making them feel even worse. Is that really necessary? Doubtful. In which case you must evaluate the real motivation for the yelling.

I contend – and I know others agree – yelling in a situation like that is very often more about the coach venting than any kind of actual useful communication between coach and team. I have seen situations where coaches ripped into teams. They even brought up the recent death of family members in post-match talks. No good comes of something like that. There are much less destructive ways for a coach to blow off steam than taking it out on their players. This is especially when we’re talking about youth players and young adults.

The second question is in situations when your displeasure does need to be communicated, is yelling really the best choice?

Personally, I hate yelling. I have something of an aversion to drawing attention to myself. Being loud like that is very attention-drawing! As I told a player once, if I get angry enough about something to feel the need to yell, then I become doubly angry because I hate being put in that sort of situation. I don’t turn into a raving lunatic or anything. I’m definitely not a happy camper in those situations, though.

As you can probably imagine, based on that and what I wrote about yelling as player feedback, I am not one who thinks yelling is the best choice in most cases. I can express my disappointment or displeasure perfectly fine without raising my voice or using abrasive language. I seem to be able to get things across with a combination of facial expressions, body language, and saying things like “I’m not happy” in a fairly normal tone of voice. That said, though, clear expectations are key. It goes a long way toward making it easier to express one’s self without having to resort to histrionics.

Some yelling may be required, though.

Having said that, I will admit there are times when I think yelling is justified. Mainly this has to do with getting attention and focus. If players are goofing around or chatting amongst themselves or otherwise not engaged as they should be – especially if it means they are not performing a job like ball circulation or keeping their teammates safe from balls rolling under their feet – I will have a few sharp words with them. That’s it, though. I don’t go off on a rant. I get their attention and make my point, then get back to business.

On occasion I have yelled and/or used colorful language (with an age appropriate group) for a kind of shock effect. Since I don’t often yell or swear – especially with my women’s teams (young men with their lack of focus seem to need it a bit more) – when I do it tends to get them to take notice. Obviously, this is something we need use very selectively, though. The examples that stand out to me have been times when a team simply did not play up to its standard (winning or losing) in a particular match.

The point of all of this is to have you think about the motivation and reasons for yelling and what you want to accomplish when you do so. If you yell, make sure it’s to positive effect. That sounds perhaps a bit paradoxical, but it’s the idea of being constructive rather than just making players feel even worse or keeping the focus on the past rather than the future.

A final piece

I’ll leave you with a quote from the book Do Hard Things.

Being a demanding dictator? You’ve stripped your athlete of their autonomy, taking the decision away from them. Using fear and punishment or pushing people toward defaulting to surviving doesn’t create intrinsic motivation; it creates the opposite. Yelling, screaming, getting in someone’s face to push them forward? Same result: motivation via fear or pressure, which may seem to work in the short term but ultimately fails when it matters. Using control and power to force obedience? It falls by the wayside when it counts. Creating bonds through mutual suffering without true support? The old-school method of toughness runs contrary to just about every one of our basic needs.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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