Controlling Coachspeak

By Staff

Athletic Management, 15.2, February/March 2003,

Whether they win or lose, coaches tend to say the same thing. That’s the conclusion of a study by John Llewellyn, Associate Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University. “After a while, if you listen to enough coaches, you begin to think you’ve heard it all before,” he says. “And the odds are, you have.”

By analyzing newspaper accounts of the NCAA men’s basketball championships from 1976-2000, Llewellyn discovered a widespread pattern of blandness. Winners express satisfaction with their success, losers find something they can be proud of, and virtually everyone bends over backwards to appear very, very modest.

“Coachspeak is a large part of the interview process, whether you agree with it or not,” says Langston Rogers, Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations at the University of Mississippi. “There’s a basic belief that you never say anything negative. Your job is to protect the university, protect your student-athletes, and protect your coaches. And I think it’s the proper thing to do.”

Ron Polk, Head Baseball Coach at Mississippi State University, disagrees. “Personally, I try to stay away from cliché and be honest with the press,” he says. “I never say anything negative about a player’s performance, and I always try to be classy and professional. But if they ask me a question, I’m going to tell them exactly how I feel.”

Twice honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association as the National Coach of the Year, Polk thinks that being honest with the media has only helped his career. “In the long run, it’s going to make the press feel more comfortable talking to you,” says Polk, “because they know you’re not going to give them trite answers just for the sake of giving them trite answers.”