| | Sharpening Your Coaching Voice: Nonverbal Communication

Author / Carl Case

Much time is invested by strength and conditioning coaches in sharpening their understanding of how to coach movements, program, and the science behind it all; rightfully so since knowledge is power. However, how much time is invested in sharpening your coach’s voice and ability to communicate? Use the wrong tone, select the wrong words, or ignore your nonverbal communication and the implementation of that knowledge with your athletes is greatly diminished.

Just as you apply the chunking method to teach your athletes a new complex movement,  we will apply this same tool in the journey to developing a unique coach’s voice. Over the course of the Sharpening Your Coaching Voice series, I am going to chunk out three components to sharpening your coaches voice.

This article will specifically dive into the world of nonverbal communication, signaling to your athletes, and how this crucial form of communication sublimely influences thoughts, feelings, and physiology.

Nonverbal Communication: External Perceptions

An opinion is created in the three seconds, and the first three seconds speak volumes.” – Sam Joesph – Vocal Leadership

When how coaches communicate with athletes, more than just the words spoken need to be considered. When you first walk into room and before you even say a word, your nonverbal communication  is omitting a certain signal athletes are consciously and subconsciously reading. This causes them to make sweeping judgements and conclusions. Used correctly it can set the tone and enhance the words you speak. However, ignoring it can sabotage even the most well intentioned coaching.

Nonverbal communication can be broken down into a number of subcategories that all affect how athletes and other coaches perceive you.


Posture can either give off a sense of power and confidence or incapability and uncertainty. We expand ourselves when we are feeling powerful in the form of stretching out, taking up space, and opening up. When we are feeling powerless or uncertain we will do the exact opposite and close up and make ourselves appear small.

Hand Gestures

Another well known form of nonverbal communication is hand gestures. This is one of the most fundamental components of nonverbal communication that can add great impact to the words we speak, how we engage, and help your audience understand your points. Imagine you are listening to a presenter and their hands are glued to their side the entire time. You’d probably be thinking: “shoot me now. This person is boring.”

In the Science of People, research found the most popular TED Talkers used an average of 465 hand gestures, which was double the amount of the least popular talks. Just as hand gestures can add power, they can also distract. Now, this doesn’t mean anytime you talk just go flailing your hands all over the place. You need to make sure that your gestures are always genuine and never forced. Your audience will consciously and subconsciously pick up on the inauthenticity.

Eye Contact

A form of nonverbal communication that may not be apparent at first is eye contact and gaze. When we are missing or overt eye contact it can come off as being rude or lacking sincerity while also tending to be less expressive. This can also lead to people to interpret the lack of eye contact as being fearful or having anxiety about the situation you are in. However, when we look one another in the eye the audience gets a perception of confidence, integrity and authenticity which makes the words we say more genuine.

start with the low hanging fruit

Focus on these three low hanging fruit first and develop competency.  Once you have mastered them then you can move on to the over 24 types of nonverbal behaviors that John Condon lists (gestures, facial expressions, posture, costume and hairstyle, walking posture, proxemics, touching behavior, eye gaze and contact, architectural design and home decoration, signs and symbols, body odor, paralanguage, color, makeup, conception about time and silence).

It is about taking note of nonverbal communication that does not reflect who you are and interferes with the persona you want to present. Make changes that positively reflect who you are and contribute to the persona you want to present.

Nonverbal Communication: Internal Perceptions

Our nonverbal communication not only influences people’s perception of us, but it shapes our own thoughts, feelings and physiology. In Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk she breaks down this very principle. Physiologically there are two key hormones that we can affect simply by focusing on our posture: testosterone – the dominance hormone and cortisol – the stress hormone. Now this dichotomy is key. I want you to think of some of the best leaders you have had whether in athletics, business, or other realms. Likely not only were they assertive and confident, but they were calm under fire. You don’t just want someone who is high strung and loses their mind every time something stressful pops up.

Amy brokedown posture into two different cataogies. The first is powerful which is about expanding, making yourself big, stretching out, taking up space; it’s all about opening up. The second is  powerless which is exactly the opposite. People close up, wrap themselves up and make themselves small. In her study she had people spend either two minutes in either a powerful pose or a powerless pose. Compared to their baseline high power poses experienced about a 20-percent ⬆︎ in testosterone and about a 25-percent ⬇︎ in cortisol. Low power poses experienced about a 10-percent ⬇︎ in testosterone, and about a 15-percent ⬆︎ in cortisol. All this from just two minutes of posing! I can speak from experience that this works.

One of the hardest things to do is to just be yourself when out in public. If we can simply start be focusing on our nonverbal communication we start to set ourselves up to be able to display our true selves.

competent communication 

The competency model for movement is equally as applicable here. You need to work yourself from Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence when sharpening your coaching voice. You don’t know what you don’t know. The first place to create awareness and practice your nonverbal communication is in your warm ups.  This is not only the most optimal coaching time for your athletes and when they will listen to you the most, but it’s the most optimal time to find your coaching voice limiting factors starting with your nonverbal communication. Set your phone up to record yourself then go back and catch things you will miss from being in the moment. Check your nonverbal communication and treat this as your game film. Let us know what you see.

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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 Power Athlete as a way to fuel his rugby performance. He has been following the Power Athlete methodology 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 Power Athlete inspired 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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