| | Sharpening Your Coaching Voice: Word Selection

Author / Carl Case

On your journey to sharpen your coaching voice we started by examining nonverbal communication, and how it sends a specific message and influences physiology. The next chunk we are going to move on to is word selection.


When you hear this word you instantly associate it with magic.  However, the origin of abracadabra comes from the Aramaic language and means “with my word I create”, not some mystical supernatural force (Procabulary). Even 900 BC Arameans knew there was considerable power in the words they spoke everyday.  The words you choose to speak can either limit or Empower your ability to communicate with your athletes.

Word Selection: Soft Talk & Solid Talk

In the language course Procabulary, Mark England breaks down language into two simple components: Conflict Language and Architect Language.

The first is Conflict Language, which shapes a reality of a disempowered world of misunderstandings, ambiguous goals and erratic performance. A type of Conflict Language is called Soft Talk. Soft Talk is the use of softening words that create ambiguity, uncertainty and avoidance about a particular concept.

Examples of these words are: like, maybe, I guess, and probably. An example of this is: “You might want to think about externally rotating from your hip.” This only leads to confusion, misunderstanding, and indecision from the athlete and likely frustration from the coach. The athlete is thinking “Does he/she really want me to do that? Do I have a choice? Is he/she just guessing at what they want me to do? Do they know what they are talking about?”

Coaches use these words because they don’t want to upset anyone; they want to be liked. Steve Jobs argued that this is a form of selfishness.“You don’t care about how they feel! You’re being vain, you want them to like you.” This not only leads to misunderstandings and indecision from the athlete but also wastes countless amounts of time by having to go back and re-explain.

Instead use Solid Talk, a form of Architect Language, the second type of language which shapes a reality of an empowered world formed with focus, clarity, consistency and decisiveness. Solid Talk is the use of clear, direct, powerful language to effectively communicate thoughts.

Examples of these words are: want, next time, and do. A more effective line of communication would be: “I want you to externally rotating from your hip.” This creates a clear line of communication with the athlete of what the coach is expecting them to do and leaves nothing up for interpretation. Focus on what you want your athlete to do, and describe that image with solid language. Solid Talk can definitely drift into cruelty, so it all comes down to using the proper tone.

Word Selection: Negations & Affirmations  

Another form of Conflict Language is Negations. Negations are words that focus the mind on what wasn’t, what isn’t, and what can’t be. A well intentioned coaching cue of: “on this next athletic burpee don’t turn your toes out when you land” could be sabotaging the exact outcome you are trying to avoid! How many times have you seen words subconsciously and inadvertently get the athlete to focus on exactly what they are trying to avoid?! In this case not turning the toes out. When you read that cue, what was the image that came to mind? Toes turned out? Yeah, me too.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for negations in coaching; it’s just about knowing when to use them. The perfect place is giving the athlete feedback on what went wrong. “You turned your toes out.” Where you want to make sure they are not part of your vocabulary is when you are giving instructions on how do something or how to fix something. If a negation is used, make sure it’s followed with an Affirmation.

Instead, when coaching how to fix something use Affirmations, a form of Architect Language. Affirmations are words that focus the mind on what was, what is, and what can be. They are also easy to quantify. A more effective line of communication would be: “on this next athletic burpee land toes forward. ” This paints a clear picture in the athlete’s mind of the goal they are trying to achieve without subconsciously sabotaging it.


Re-watch your film from the body language warm up and listen to your word choices. Did you choose to use language that creates a disempowerment through misunderstandings, indecision, and confusion or did you can choose language that creates empowerment with clarity, consistency, and decisiveness? You are likely using forms of conflict language and don’t even know it!

Ignorance is not an excuse. Use what you film for your advancement. Another great way to create awareness is by examining your fellow coaches. Which conflict language are they guilty of? Be sure to provide them with feedback and report back your observations in the comments below.


Procabulary: Core Language Upgrade

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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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