Sharpening Your Coaching Voice: Inflection and Tone

The human voice: it's the instrument we all play. It's the most powerful sound in the world, probably. It's the only one that can start a war or say "I love you." - Julian Treasure

The previous Sharpening Your Coaching Voice segments have focused on what nonverbal communication can signal to others, your physiology and how impactful the words you select can be. The component that completes the trifecta, the voice you use to deliver the message. Much like body language there are a number of factors to take into consideration, but we are going to examine the low hanging fruit components you can adjust to start empowering your athletes today.

Inflection: You Get What You Emphasize

The first is inflection. Inflection is the change in the pitch or tone of the voice; it’s what gives words life, excitement and will change the meaning of a sentence, depending on where it is used. We can all remember that monotoned teacher we had that always caused us to fight to stay awake during class. Inflection can be broken down into four subcategories (upward, downward, level, and circumflex), but I am just going to focus on two.  

The first type is an upward inflection which is when there is a change in pitch going from a lower to a higher note. This can be useful when we are listing directions like: “feet straight, shins vertical, knees on your instep.” When used at the end of a sentence it can also be useful when you are wanting to express doubt or clarify that a sentence is a question. For example: “do you understand?” You have to be careful with this one because if you use too much and apply it to sentences that are statements and not a question you restrict your ability to communicate effectively. It can also come off as being doubtful of your own words.

Next, downward inflection. When there is a change in pitch going from a higher to a lower note the coach is using downward inflection. This will be used mostly at the end of sentences when giving statements or commands. An example for downward inflection is: “The ability to seamlessly and effortlessly combine primal movement through space to accomplish known or novel task.” When used it will give certainty, power, confidence and finality to your sentences. The downward inflection on novel task accomplishes all of this. When asking a question it can also help signal that you are asking for more information or feedback instead of a simple yes or no.

Volume Level  

The next low hanging fruit is the  perceived loudness or softness of your voice by your audience. Consistently speak too softly and there is no life to what you are saying. Conversely, consistently shout or speak loudly and your audience feels like they are getting attacked. Treasure refers to this as soundcasting and describes it as the act of “imposing your sound on people around you carelessly and inconsiderately.”

Shifting to speaking softly can be a great way to signal that what you are about to say is important or serious. Think about a time you were going to tell someone an important secret. You didn’t shout it; you brought them in close and told them with a low voice.

We generally raise our volume when we want to communicate or enlist enthusiasm or place emphasis on a certain point. Our volume also affects how our athletes will move or execute a task. If I am having them start dead bugs, I can simple say “go” in a calmer voice. However, what if I use that same volume when I am calling “go” for power cleans? Their action will reflect my volume, and the power cleans will be slow. If I instead use “GO!” a sense of urgency is created and that emotion will translate into faster power cleans.

It’s all about striking the balance between these upper and lower registers, and using them at the appropriate time. Otherwise, it's like the boy who cried wolf, and all they hear is white noise.

Finding Your It Factor

On your constant journey towards mastery as a coach, remember there is more to it than just understanding the science, writing a program, or providing direction for to an athlete. There are a multitude of areas that we must constantly be sharpening. Your coaching voice is one of the low hanging fruits to tackle to equip you to empower your athletes. By mastering our nonverbal communications we change how others perceive us as well as how we internally perceive ourselves. Master our word selection and our language  creates empowerment with clarity, consistency, and decisiveness. Master our inflection and volume and we can deliver intent while captivating our athletes. And where these three overlap, it’s called the “It Factor.”

Mastering these three components is only going to further amplify the knowledge you already have in your head, and further enhance your ability to enhance your ability to empower your athletes’ performance.

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Carl Case

Carl Case has been an athlete his whole life, playing both football and rugby in high school. After high school, he directed his focus to rugby where he went on to become a collegiate Midwest All Star. Carl continues to play rugby on a mens team near South Bend, and was part of a National Runner Up team. He found CrossFit and then Crossfit Football as a way to fuel his rugby performance. He has been following the CrossFit Football program since it’s launch in 2009 and attended his first CrossFit Football seminar in August of 2009.

After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and CrossFit Football classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.
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