Joe Theismann, former Washington Redskins and Super Bowl champion quarterback, said in an interview with a reporter, “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.” Clearly, Theismann was much better at tossing a football than tossing out comments in front of a microphone.
Coaches and athletes try to avoid the dreaded “foot-in-mouth” disease during those post-game interviews. Athletes put in time practicing on the field or the court, and it also takes practice to be proficient at the art of communication. Perfecting this art provides an opportunity to blend athletics and academics. Coaches, athletes, and speech and theatre teachers working on communication across the curriculum can build an important bridge between athletics and the arts.
Today, with advent of blogs, websites, podcasts and social media, being put on the spot by media has become much more common for high school athletes and coaches. Communication training for professional athletes and coaches has become big business. Unfortunately, those involved with high school sports don’t have resources to spend on media training. What high schools do have is ready access to speech and theatre teachers to help them train like the pros.
Student-athlete. Each part of that phrase is important in the development of young people. High school coaches and teachers strive to prepare student-athletes for experiences they may encounter outside of our classrooms and off the fields. We should be building a bridge for athletes to take advantage of speech and theatre training. Consulting with or taking a class from the speech/ theatre teacher can help coaches and athletes avoid making mistakes during a media interview.
Communication training can also help when people speak at pep rallies or other school assemblies. Speech teachers can tailor class assignments to allow students to practice interviewing skills, along with school assembly presentations. Students could be capitalizing on their enthusiasm for a sport by giving class presentations related to their training, game experiences or team camaraderie. Theatre programs can be invaluable in giving student-athletes the confidence to put themselves in front of an audience other than those in the stands.
For instance, Paul was the star quarterback on the football team, destined for a strong college program. Although he was dynamite in front of Friday night crowds, he felt uneasy when it came to public speaking. Whether it was the homecoming pep rally or an interview with the local newspaper, Paul lacked confidence.
In his senior year he decided to face his fear. He tried out for the school play and earned a major role. After closing night of the play, Paul admitted that even though it was hard, even though it had taken him out of his comfort zone, being in the school play was a positive and rewarding experience that gave him the confidence to face a new type of audience.
It didn’t hurt attendance at the play, either. Many of Paul’s fellow players, who had never attended a school play, showed up to support his performance. More people than just Paul gained from this cross-curricular experience.
Coaches, too, can take advantage of pointers from and/or practice with speech and theatre teachers. In-service training hours could be used to assist coaches in becoming more confident communicators. Speaking in front of an audience or microphone is no easy task. Adults, just like students, should take advantage of the available expertise right in their own building.
The performing arts programs can do a great deal to help members of sports programs become confident communicators. On the other hand, speech and theatre programs benefit by expanding programs to include the participation of athletes.
Coaches and speech/theatre teachers should make a concerted effort to bring communication training across the curriculum and into the athletic arena. To get started on this cross-curricular journey, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for coaches and athletes to help improve communication with an interviewer or audience.
Student-athletes and coaches can work across the curriculum to benefit both the athletic program and the speech/theatre programs, and avoid interview responses such as championship golfer Greg Norman when he said, “I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father.”
Ruth Kay, a teacher and coach at Detroit Country Day School, Beverly Hills, Michigan. She has been teaching and coaching speech and debate for more than 30 years. She has been a delegate, committee member and Wording Committee chair for the NFHS Debate Topic Selection Meeting. Kay is also a 2002 NFHS Citation Award recipient.