Posted On:
Tuesday, December 7, 2021
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: Precision of Language

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A close-up of the word “define” in a dictionary.

In rolls December, and once again, it’s time for Coach Tip Tuesday!

One of my all-time favorite books is The Giver by Lois Lowry.  I originally read it as a child, but I have since reread it as an adult.  The book centers around a dystopian future society and while some of what takes place in the story would be concerning if it were to actually happen in the real world, some of the elements of the book were interesting and insightful.  For me, one of these was the concept of “Precision of Language.”

In the book, “Precision of Language” means using exactly the correct words to convey a particular thought.  In the book's dystopian setting/culture, exaggeration or imprecision isn’t tolerated and no allowance for mistakes is given.  While this fictionalized enforcement of this concept is extreme, the core foundation of the idea is what I found appealing.

I often read and hear athletes using words they don’t actually mean.  One very common example of this in practice is: “I can’t do [insert thing here] because [insert reason here].”

I’ve personally felt the temptation to say something along those lines. When I first started working with my coach, Adam Ruszkowski of ARo Sports Coaching, he told me that I was going to do a lot of my bike training on the indoor bike trainer, even during the “nice weather” months when riding outdoors was very possible. When I resisted this idea, he said to me, “You can do these workouts on a trainer.”

A lot of thoughts went through my head when we had this conversation. I thought about telling him about how indoor training wasn’t possible because I don’t like having my living room taken over by my trainer. I also thought about telling him that it was too hot inside for me to do that. And then I also thought about saying how I can’t do that because switching my bike off the trainer every time I need to use it for a Bike Fit is a pain. But while some (or all) of those things might have “sounded nice,” none of those things was actually the truth. They were excuses (that I was going to try to pass off as “reasons”).

Why was I considering saying these things?  Well, the biggest reason is that I (consciously or not) was trying to come up with a “reason” for not doing what I was being advised to do.  I was (again, consciously or not) seeking to find a “reason” that Coach Adam would find “acceptable” and that he wouldn’t push back on.  But as I thought through this, I realized how silly I was being.

Why would I try to come up with some excuse (disguised as a “reason”) that I think that Coach Adam would accept?  Why wouldn’t I be truthful about what I was feeling and what I wanted?  Even if something is a hard truth to say, it’s better than a falsehood disguised as a truth.  And truth - trust - is the foundation of every great relationship, including a coach-athlete relationship, and more importantly, the relationship you have with yourself.

Instead, I choose to use Precision of Language and say exactly what I thought and felt.  I told him very honestly, “I know I can do that...I know I can do my workouts on the indoor trainer.  But I don’t want to, so I’m not going to do that.  I’m going to do the workouts you plan for me outside, not inside.”

When I said this, Coach Adam then understood fully where I stood on this issue.  This allowed him to actually coach me better, because there wasn’t some falsehood in the middle muddying what he thought I meant and what I expected him to interpret from what I said.

This week, my tip to you all is to employ Precision of Language.  Say what you mean, in all conversations.  And especially the internal conversations you have with yourself.

If you don’t want to do something, say that. If you won’t do something, say that. Don’t come up with a bunch of “reasons” why you “can’t.” Communicating precisely what you are feeling is a much more empowering position. To say that there are reasons why you “can’t” do something can often create a victim mindset. You’re not a victim; you’re the product of your choices and are in much more control of your life than you probably give yourself credit for.

Conversely, if you want to do something, say that.  Speak up.  Advocate for yourself.  Again, this is a much more empowering position that will ultimately help you get to where you want to go faster and with less resistance.

Words matter. A lot. I think they matter a lot more than we give them credit for these days. Be precise in what you say as you interact with both yourself and the people in your life, and see if it doesn’t help you deepen your connections to and understanding of others, and ultimately, deepen your connection to and understanding of yourself.

About

Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at laura@fullcircleendurance.com.

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