“Your Actions Speak So Loud, I Can’t Hear a Word You’re Saying”!

By: “The Other Coach K,” David Kelly,
High School, College and Professional Football Coach

A few weeks ago during my morning workout, one of my workout partners commenced to tell me about how his daughters had performed in a lacrosse match. (“Yes, we are proud parents who are always talking about our kids!”) He was stating that one of the big lessons he is trying to teach them about is “body language” and coachability. Hearing him say this stimulated the idea for this blog. So many times in my football coaching career, I have been able to predict how our team was going to play or practice by observing their body language during the first five minutes of being on the field. Body language and coachability are tell-tale signs to be aware of, to practice, and to master on your road to becoming a true champion.

In coming up with the title for this blog, “Your Actions Speak So Loud, I Can’t Hear a Word You’re Saying!”, I must admit I can’t take credit for it. I initially heard it a number of years ago when Lou Holtz was addressing one of his great Notre Dame football teams prior to a huge game versus the University of Miami. Interestingly enough, I heard it again recently when Jimbo Fisher, Head Football Coach of the National Champion Florida State Seminoles, was speaking at the ACC Media Conference. In any type of competition (or any interactions for that matter), your actions are what’s most important.

As preparations begin for a new sports calendar year, I want to challenge you to consciously improve yourself in two areas:
(1) Body Language (non-verbal speak: the process of communicating non verbally through conscious or unconscious gestures and movements); and,
(2) Coachability (being grateful that someone cares, being vulnerable to know you’re not perfect, being open to honest feedback, and working to actively change bad habits).


Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, had one of his worst statistical performances against the Jets, going 19 of 39 for 185 yards and one touchdown. In his post-game interview, Brady responded, “I’ve got to do a better job with my body language. I can definitely improve on that.” Brady recognized that his body language was critical as a leader for his team, and particularly in communicating with his young group of wide receivers. Jay Cutler, quarterback for the Chicago Bears, is another high profile athlete who has caught flak for several years because of his negative mannerisms and facial expressions. Once you are tagged with a label such as this, it becomes extremely difficult to change the perceptions from your teammates, coaches, or fans.

“Championship Body Language” “Loser Body Language”
energetic attitude sleepy eyes
head held high rolling your eyes
chin-up slumped shoulders
shoulders back poor energy
determined eye-contact sulking
puffed out chest deflated-balloon appearance
walking with a strut “woe is me” attitude


Sports are filled with mental challenges, many of which we athletes bring upon ourselves. The coach-player dynamic is only one of the multitude of difficulties we face, but at the same time it is often the most difficult to navigate. And it’s not surprising why: receiving criticism in any area of life is tough – from teachers in the classroom, from the boss on the job, or from family or friends in our personal lives – but being able to graciously receive advice and mentorship is a necessary part of growth.

Uncoachable athletes show certain key behaviors:
– We tend to roll our eyes or take things personally that we shouldn’t.
– We can seem ungrateful even to those who help us most.
– We read into things more deeply than we should.
– We often believe everything is about us, even someone else’s bad day.

As a former collegiate athlete, I’m guilty of all of the above. While I tried my best to be coachable and to not take things personally, my attitude was (and sometimes still is) something that needed constant attention and required constant mental work.

Becoming more coachable isn’t something that can be achieved with more drills, more reps, or multiple coach-player conferences. A player’s coachability is a mentality that requires diligence and attention from the athlete. In other words: coachability is up to the athlete, not the coach. The worst of it is that, most of the time, athletes don’t even KNOW they’re uncoachable! It can be a shock to find out that it isn’t the coach, it isn’t the team, it isn’t the sport, isn’t the equipment … it’s actually themselves who are making life so hard.

If you are willing to make this commitment, below are examples of things you can do to become more coachable:

1. Listen to “what” your coaches say, and not “how” they say it.
2. Coaches really (REALLY) want you to be your best.
3. Always say “thank you” – say it more than you think you should.
4. Always look your coach in the eye, and never roll your eyes.
5. If you really have something to say, say it – but always communicate in a respectful manner.
6. Ask directly for feedback, or set up a weekly check-in with your coach.
7. Be prepared before practices and games – truly release yourself from other activities and distractions.

To become a great athlete, you MUST be coachable! You must be truly humble and willing to accept that you can’t do it all on your own. Don’t unintentionally erode trust from your teammates or your coaches by communicating things you don’t really mean. In other words, “Your Actions Speak So Loud, I Can’t Hear a Word You’re Saying!”

Well, I can’t believe it’s already early August and football season is less than a month away! Make sure you’re getting hyped up for what appears to be an exciting upcoming 2014 football season. Until then,

“The Other Coach K”

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