Coaching beyond the cliches of sports

Mar 28, 2011
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Sports language is full of clichés. Too often we hear that an athlete has given 110 % in a game – as if effort is something that is easily measured and converted into a percentage. 

My favorite phrase is the athlete who, in describing the brilliance of their performance, declares: “I’m absolutely speechless!” They then embark on a 5 minute soliloquy of self-adulation.  Phrases like “It’s a slam dunk” or “it’s full court press” have even been used to describe strategies in politics, war, and government budgets!  It might be argued that sport clichés are just harmless language and provide nothing more than a boost to the car bumper sticker industry. Regrettably, I have observed some of these phrases being used by some coaches as a philosophical underpinning of their views about sport.  I believe these clichés actually undermine the involvement of special needs athletes.

No pain- no gain!”  This is a cliché that suggests that we must be willing to experience pain or discomfort in order to enjoy success.  For many special needs athletes, pain is a daily experience and is something they would rather avoid than have to face. They definitely don’t need to be told to “Suck it up,” or that “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Athletes with weight issues do not want to hear “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Sometimes you will hear:“Second place is first loser!” This is a cliché that diminishes the efforts and achievements of athletes for whom success is gauged using a more personal metric.

The personal triumphs of special needs athletes on the sports field, and in their lives, are often achieved as they cope or overcome challenges. Let’s help them to achieve their goals by using less colorful language!

Author: Gary Barber