Nick Winkelman

Improving Communication in Coaching: A Guide by Nick Winkelman


Our expert for today is Nick Winkelman, head of athletic performance and science for Irish rugby and author of the book “The Language of Coaching”. In this blog, we will delve into the importance of effective communication, both internal and external cues, coaching feedback loops, attention, and more. We will also discuss how to upgrade skills and ensure long-term retention. So let’s get started!

Understanding the Role of a Coach

Before we dive into the specifics of communication, let’s first understand what it means to be a coach. According to Nick Winkelman, a coach is someone who takes another person from where they are to where they want to be. The word “coach” itself has its origins in transportation, referring to a vehicle that carries someone from one place to another. In the context of coaching, it means guiding individuals through uncertain terrain to help them achieve their goals.

Importance of Effective Communication

Effective communication is a crucial aspect of coaching that is often overlooked. While many coaches mention the importance of communication, few define what it looks like and how to improve it. Nick Winkelman emphasizes the need to focus on the way we communicate, as it has a direct impact on learning and performance. He believes that how we coach receives less attention than what we coach, and his book “The Language of Coaching” aims to fill that gap.

Developing Communication Skills

Improving communication skills is an ongoing process that requires conscious effort and reflection. Nick Winkelman suggests starting with self-analysis and reflection at the end of each coaching session. Coaches can ask themselves questions like: What did I say? How did I say it? Did it make a positive impact? By evaluating their communication in critical moments, coaches can identify areas for improvement.

Additionally, coaches can record their coaching sessions and review them to gain a deeper understanding of their communication style. This can be done periodically to assess progress and identify areas of strength and areas that need improvement. The key is to prioritize and focus on one aspect at a time, gradually making changes and evaluating their effectiveness.

The Art of Storytelling and Captivating an Audience

As coaches, we can enhance our communication by developing our storytelling skills. Storytelling is an effective way to captivate an audience and make the coaching experience more engaging. Nick Winkelman suggests using a combination of words, tone of voice, and body language to tell a compelling story. By aligning these elements, coaches can create a more impactful and memorable coaching experience.

Furthermore, coaches can learn from effective presenters and speakers who excel in storytelling. One recommended resource is Julian Treasure’s TED Talk on tone and the vocal toolbox. By studying the techniques used by successful speakers, coaches can enhance their own storytelling abilities.

Upgrading Skills: The 3P Performance Model

When it comes to upgrading skills, coaches can use the 3P Performance Model developed by Nick Winkelman. This model categorizes skill improvement into three areas: position, power, and pattern.

The first aspect, position, refers to the athlete’s ability to get into the necessary positions required for their skill. This includes mobility and stability in key areas of the body. The second aspect, power, focuses on the athlete’s strength and power, which are essential for optimal performance. The final aspect, pattern, relates to the athlete’s ability to connect movements and perform the skill with proper technique and coordination.

By understanding which aspect of skill improvement needs attention, coaches can design training programs that address the specific needs of their athletes. It is important to differentiate between car problems (physical attributes) and driver problems (technical and coordination issues) to ensure a comprehensive approach to skill development.

Ensuring Long-Term Retention of Skills

One of the challenges coaches face is ensuring that skills are retained in the long term and not just in the short term. To achieve this, coaches must focus on helping athletes internalize the changes they make. Learning is defined as the athlete’s ability to express a change without the stimulus that caused it. In other words, athletes should be able to perform the skill consistently without relying on constant reminders or cues from the coach.

Coaches can assess long-term retention by observing whether athletes can apply the changes made in training sessions to real-world situations, such as competitions. If athletes revert back to old habits or struggle to apply the changes, it indicates that the learning has not been internalized. Coaches can then reflect on their teaching methods and adjust accordingly to facilitate long-term retention.


Effective communication is a vital aspect of coaching that can greatly impact athlete performance. By developing communication skills, coaches can create a more engaging and impactful coaching experience. Additionally, coaches can use the 3P Performance Model to identify areas for skill improvement and design targeted training programs. Ensuring long-term retention requires coaches to help athletes internalize changes and apply them consistently. By focusing on both the car (physical attributes) and the driver (technical and coordination skills), coaches can facilitate holistic skill development and support athletes in reaching their full potential.

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