Ask The Experts
Coaching concern: Dealing with a stutter
Q: I will be coaching my first season of hockey soon. I have played and refereed the game for many years. Despite my experience with the sport, I'm afraid I might be unable to clearly voice my thoughts due to a bad stutter. I am mostly an even keel person and have many ideas to help improve player skills. Are there any suggestions on how to get my point across considering my stutter?
A: Congratulations on becoming a coach! It is such an important position because of the positive influence that you will have on your players. Part of that positive influence for your team will be modeling for them that anyone can do anything. People who stutter have important jobs that rely on their ability to communicate, like helping someone improve their sports skills!
My most important recommendation is to let your players and their parents know that you stutter. Be open about it, and invite them to ask any questions they might have. Most people I know who’ve chosen to do this find that it takes a lot of pressure off because everyone can discuss it openly. If you model that it’s not a big deal to you, it lets others know they don’t have to see it as a big deal either. You might share this when you are introducing yourself and sharing information about your sports experiences, just as a way to let them know more about you.
Then, share one or two things that they can do that you find helpful, like being good listeners when you are speaking. One idea along these lines would be to develop a kind of signal (like many teachers, camp counselors, and coaches use – just Google “large group attention grabbers” and you’ll find lots of suggestions) that when the kids see you use the signal it means they need to quickly gather and be quiet so that everyone can hear you. Kids are used to these kinds of strategies, so they won’t find it unusual.
Kids will also typically follow your lead, so if you let them know you’re not concerned about your speech while you’re coaching, and what is helpful to you as a speaker, they will likely try to do it. It also reinforces the team as a group who are collaborating on a task – “We are all here for each other and for the team to work we all have to work together.”
Another thing to remember is that coaching sports involves more than just talking. It also involves demonstrating skills, running drills, diagramming plays, etc. You have great experiences to help you manage these tasks, including your ability to communicate your knowledge!
Dr. Lisa A. Scott, CCC-SLP, is Vice President for Education at the Stuttering Foundation, a position she has held for more than 20 years. She edited the Foundation’s seminal workbook, Working Effectively with School-Age Children Who Stutter, and runs the Foundation’s continuing education programs, training speech-language pathologists on the most current techniques for the treatment of stuttering. Founded in 1947, the Stuttering Foundation is the oldest and largest nonprofit dedicated to the treatment and prevention of stuttering. It provides free online resources at www.StutteringHelp.org, including referrals and support to people who stutter and their families, as well as support for research into the causes of stuttering. Call toll-free 800-992-9392.
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