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Posted in: General

UNLUCKY -the use of this word when giving instant "feedback"

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  • Wendyrussell

    I am doing some research into the use of the word UNLUCKY by coaches and players. I would like to get coaches views on this word......

    1- do you yourself use this word?

    2- what situations have you used (if you do) or have heard this word being used?

    3- what does this word means?

    4- does this meaning change in relation to a sporting context? If so why?

    5- Do you agree/disagree with this use of his word? If so why?

    Thank you for your help :-) 

  • Benjamin

    I don't use the word unlucky because in a performance context or in relation to results, it doesn't mean anything.  An athlete's performance is affected by many variables, non of which can be defined as luck.  If you tell athletes that they were 'unlucky' how do you then go on to coach them to avoid bad luck?


  • HockeyCoachSJE


    Although I must admit to finding myself using the word when I drag myself around the hockey pitch, I try very hard not to use it during coaching.

    I think 'unlucky' gives you the coach and the athlete nowhere to go. If something is unlucky how do you coach 'luck'??

    It's the same with 'excellent' if you are excellent at say 13 what else is there to do?

    Both need context, and can you deliver an understanding of the context 'in the moment'?

    More questions than answers I'm afraid but an interesting subject to debate

  • saranicolehilton

    Personally, I don't use the word 'Unlucky' and I also ask all of my coaches to not use the word. My reason for this is to completely eradicate the opportunity for my players to blame pure luck. It also stops the coaches from blaming luck and therefore pushing them to identify the problem or cause.


    If something goes wrong for any player it is vital that the coach first of all identifies the reason for this and then offers the players some kind of constructive feedback - be it immediately after the action or after the game it self.


    Having said that, I believe the level and ability of the players plays a major role. For example if it is during a fun session for 5 year olds then I might use the word unlucky as to not knock the confidence of the child.


    To conclude, I do not use the word 'Unlucky' within any elite environment as it takes away from the responsibility of the player and the coach. However, this is specifically for an elite environment.

  • Snoo

    I've replied without looking at others' responses first. .so here we go. 

    1-I may use it to comment on a situation that wasn't within anyone's control. Not really a word I use much. 

    2-equipment malfunction, the sufferer of accident/injury,  a freak sequence of events that produce a negative result, something that's off just half an inch and results in a negative effect in  game play but making it that it wasn't that player's fault/within their control anyway

    3-that you were a victim of some freak event that you had no control over

    4-no I don't think it changes

    5-it's more for comforting people than for any sort of useful feedback about performance. 

  • mantrobus

    Hi Wendy,


    I hope we get the opportunity to see the outcomes of your research on this topic.


    I do not use the word 'unlucky' or at least try not to. I also encourage coaches that I work with not to use it.

    My reasoning is linked to the players psychological development. If I reguarly use the word unlucky throughout practice and game time then the players will begin to use this as an excuse or feel there is nothing that I can do to improve because its just luck.

  • LDP232

    1) I don't personally use it. I usually go with "Good effort"

    2) I do hear it from other members of our coaching team during practice games. 

    3. For me it means that despite the effort they haven't quite managed what was asked. It is almost removing any blame on the player involved.

    4) don't have an answer for that. 

    5) I neither agree or disagree with it. It all depends on the personalities involved, both the coach using the word and the player it was aimed at. 

  • kbees

    I don't use the word myself whilst coaching, I have used it in other contexts of sports and my own performances and know I probably shouldn't however as saying it to myself or a friend, it helps to ease a loss or a poor performance.

    Whilst coaching though I don't use the word, nor would I like the owrd used in that context as I beleive our role as coaches is to provide a postive and motivational role and unlucky doesn't fall into either of the two categories.

    I feel the use of unlucky provides an out of our hands kind of feel, and I strongly believe that as long as effort and determination is shown whilst participating or performing then that is what the team and participant should focus on and be proud of. After all everyone does their best, sometimes someone elses best is better than our own, that's not unlucky, you can still be proud of your performance. Then look to see what can be doen to improve if necessary.

  • andrewb62

    1- do you yourself use this word?

    Yes, but sparingly, depending on comtext

    2 - what situations have you used (if you do) or have heard this word being used?

    Luck (good and bad) does play a part in sport.  A fluky stroke goes to the boundary, a bad bounce defeats the most robust technique - it would be unhelpful to the player not to acknowledge the role of luck, and to attribute misfortune to some malign, external force.

    3 - what does the word mean?

    "something detrimental to the desired outcome, over which neither you nor anyone else has any control, has just occurred"

    4 - does this meaning change in relation to a sporting context?

    not really

    5 - do you agree/disagree with the use of,this word?

    see 2. above

  • Myke

    I try not to use the word "unlucky" when coaching. In tennis there are isolated incidences of bad luck in matches, such as when an opponent's ball deflects off the net chord just as you are about to make a volley on an important point. However, I think that the best view of luck came fromthe famous quote by Gary Player when someone accused him of being lucky to hole his putts. He said that the more he practised, the luckier he got.

  • TonyM

    1) Yes I use it, but sparingly and in specific circumstances

    2) Personally I only tend to use it in a coaching context if the process was good but the outcome wasn't due to something beyond their control, note this generally isn't coming up against better opposition.  I have heard it from parents to accompany any negative outcome and have sometimes spoken quietly to a player that something wasn't unlucky if the outcome was a direct result of something they did/didn't do (cricket does have large fields and coaches are often on the field of play as umpires)

    3) See above

    4) Not really, its not a get out of jail free card

    5) I try to discourage players and less experienced coaches using it as it can become a default comment when something goes wrong.  I wouldn't like to see it completely banned as it does have meaning in a specific context.  So long as players and coach are aware of the parameters it can still be used, in the same way that it can be challenged if used outside of that context

  • andrewb62

    Hi Wendy - thanks for starting this discussion - you have certainly set me thinking about the words I use when I am coaching.

    I have just come across an interest piece of research, from Karl Erickson and Jean Côté, not on what the coach says but on how she says it.

    A season-long examination of the intervention tone of coach–athlete interactions and athlete development in youth sport; Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Vol 22, Jan 2016, pp 264–272


    I don't have access to the full article, but I did find what I assume is an an earlier version, in Erickson's PhD thesis.

    Summarising (and undoubtedly missing much of the subtlety of the findings), Erickson and Côté reported that initially higher performing athletes were more likely to experience "supportive" interactions with their coaches, and their performance improved over the course of the study.  "Improving" athletes, on the other hand, received more "instructional" interactions, and performance actually seemed to get worse, over the course of the season.

    Interesting stuff - helping a top performer to feel comfortable and accepted within the training group improves performance.

    Telling a beginner that they need to do things the coach's way can actually see achievement fall!

    As I say - summarising (wildly, and quite possibly inaccurately) - but it ain't (only) what you say, but the way that you say it!

  • rusty

    It was one of my phrases on a recent blog on coaching communication. Some great debate on here that I will be using to improve the blog... thanks.

  • Wendyrussell

    Hi Russell,

    I am glad the research and question feedback will help you :-)

    i was wondering if you would be able to see me a link to your blog for that I can reference your blog when I publish my findings?

  • rusty

    I've cut and pasted it below Wendy...

    [MASS NOUN] The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium:

    television is an effective means of communication

    at the moment I am in communication with London’


    ... or the answer you get most of the time you ask a group of players ‘what could we do better here?’


    I’m really interested in improving coach communication, and especially the impact on learning in the longer-term rather than using it to achieve short-term actions or outcomes.


    I am fully aware from first hand experience, that it is all to easy to be inaccurate with or unaware of the language we are using and, as a result, end up with a long-term response we simply did not want (next piece of communication… ‘Why did he do that? I told him to do this! Was he not listening?’). I’ve picked out a few examples I’ve tried to modify in my own coaching…




    Thisis a bit of a go-to for coaches when we see someone performing something well.

    Desired Outcome: We are often using to reinforce the acquisition of a skill or behaviour or perhaps to raise confidence.

    Possible outcome:In a learning context and used in isolation, ‘good’ can reinforce a fixed mindset by creating the belief that the current performance is acceptable and failing to raise expectations of what is possible.

    Solution? I wonder if we can be more specific about what we are giving feedback on and turn that into ‘feed-forward’ by bolting on a possible improvement. What was good? How could they improve? “Wow, what a chase back! I wonder what you could do next time to prevent even having to chase back?’






    Thisis the most commonly occurring phrase I hear after an error…it rarely is (‘unlucky’) and there is usually a pretty good reason for the error.

    Desired outcome: I guess it is that we want to ensure someone does not feel too bad about something?

    Likely outcome: Is there any impact on learning? Why did it go wrong? What is the solution? Will all future errors be simply down to ‘luck’?

    Solution? Could we set a challenge of working out why it happened and finding a solution?

    “You’ve got 10 seconds to work out the reason for the linebreak and the rest of the game to ensure that it doesn’t happen again”


    “RUN!!!” “PASS!!!”

    (or any other simple bodily command)

    Often heard from well-meaning parents/coaches on the sideline or in many instances actually on the pitch.

    Desired outcome: I guess the hope is that the child will do what they are told and maybe score/set up a try. In the short-term (if they are listening and have not already blanked out the constant adult commands as white noise) this may well work (cue high fives on the touchline, stories of deep learning and calls to Stuart Lancaster).

    Likely outcome: In the long-term it will create dependency (cue children looking to the sideline for their next instruction), an inability for the player to make decisions themselves (which may prove to be important as they are the ones playing the game!) and a lack of creativity (I certainly don’t want my son seeing the game through the eyes of someone like me who played in high-cut boots in the 1900’s)

    Solution? Maybe use the sideline as an opportunity to watch your children learning important life skills like teamwork, discipline and respect. When they come over for a drink, you could highlight the good things they are doing and tell them how proud of their effort you are and how much you believe in them



    “The Red Zone”

    You can replace ‘red’ with any colour in the rainbow.

    Desired outcome: This jargon is used by coaches to instruct their players what they will/can do in certain areas of the pitch. Maybe to simplify the game for the player or to get them to stick to a ‘game-plan’.

    Likely outcome: Reduces learning by removing or limiting decision-making for those actually making the decisions. If a team drops 3 players in defence for a kick (and often their best 3 attackers!), why would we kick to them? I think we call it ‘exit strategy’ from the ‘purple zone’. Some might call it a missed opportunity or a removal of decision-making based upon scanning.

    Solution? Rename the whole pitch the green zone and suggest that players scan, act and adapt based upon what they see in front of them.



    “You did really well Freddie, but…”

    Desired outcome: Seen by a well-meaning coach/parent as a way of giving praise and then tagging on some feedback on what could be done better.

    Likely outcome: The player ignores the important stuff that came before the ‘but’. The positive reinforcement is lost.

    Solution: Replace the word ‘but’ with ‘and’.


    “Don’t think of the pink elephant”

    Is anyone thinking of anything other than a pink elephant?

    Desired outcome: In a rugby context, you might hear a coach suggesting to a player ‘don’t pass like that’ or ‘don’t drop your head before the tackle’. We are highlighting a problem with a skill with the hope that it will not be repeated.

    Likely outcome: Any learning is likely to be significantly deeper and longer if we either suggest what to do ‘chase your hands towards the target when you pass’ or ask a great question ‘what could you do to prevent the attacker handing you off?’ ‘

    Solution: Question to raise awareness or use positive phrases that allow players to learn.

  • shootcoach

    Never use the word as in clay target shooting it's the same for everyone. Same targets and same conditions. It's always well done what ever the outcome, then we can look at the mistakes made.

  • BillB


    i have worked with many European coaches and they find the use or rather over use of this word by British coaches and players funny.

    1- I did use this word before having the conversation with other elite coaches and while I still use it occasionally I am certainly more aware of it and tent to follow it up with more appropriate feedback.

    2- many times it has been following an error that was committed while the intention was to do it better. This needs clearer feedback on how we build on the decision taken.

    3- it is often used as comfort and deflection of the error to help the player. But often it may be things out of their control.

    4- it changes in sport if the error could be controlled then the feedback has nothing to do with bad luck.

    5- l don't agree with the use of the word in coaching as more constructive honest feedback is required.

  • JonWoodward74

    Great debate everyone - I must have missed this first time round but have enjoyed reading the comments.

    I wrote a blog around this a few weeks ago related to being caught speeding that you may find of interest


    Wholeheartedly agree with the use (or non use ) of the words luck and unlucky (as well as other phrases and words).

    Keep posting and replying as it is great to see the discussions!!


  • EllyNetball

    1. In match-play, I try to praise effort rather than highlight an error; in the training hall, I like to talk through how we can make it better.  It's all about controlling the controllables.

    2.  I hear it all the time from other coaches, players on the bench, and spectators and my typical response is to ask whether netball involves acquired skills ... of course it does, so there's very little luck (or 'un-luck') involved.

    I have used the concept of luck related to an obvious mistake by the umpire which results in a loss of possession ... this sort of incident is out of control of the players.

    3. To have  'luck' = to have good things happen by chance, ergo, to be 'unlucky' = to have no luck.

    4. In sports we don't attribute a good performance or the scoring of a goal to luck; so why do some then insist a poor decision, a momentary loss of - or lack of - skill is 'unlucky'?

    5. I'm not in favour of using 'unlucky' in performance-level sport, unless there truly has been an element of luck involved - and this isn't very often.  I agree with other coaches who say it's a lazy (or at least easy) feedback word ... whether it's used to avoid a more difficult conversation at a later point or to make an athlete feel better.

  • davyno1

    Good blog Jon on speeding!

    It was an interesting post-match analysis by one of footballs great coaches  this evening that reminded me of this thread.  He contrasted the fortunes of Chelsea in the Champions league, and the Premier League as purely down to luck in certain situations.  A debate then ensued between former England coach Glen Hoddle and Lucca Vialli (former Watford and Chelsea coach) where the use of the word lucky was so flagrant, that you would have thought the show was sponsored by a product called "unlucky".

    Its hard to argue that Mourinho, Hoddle and Vialli aren't great coaches.  They certainly use the word with their players, seemingly regularly.  The consensus here is that we should not use the word as coaches.  However it proves difficult as a coach developer to encourage its underuse when it is used loquaciously at the highest level, and beamed into our young coaches homes.

  • JonWoodward74

    Thanks for the compliment David (how are things in sunny Belfast?!)

    It is a great point you make - high profile coaches (and people as a whole) bemoan luck and when it used to often, it becomes embedded with the psyche.

    Is luck dropping your toast and it falling butter side up? Is being unlucky beating 4 players, and curling a shot towards goal, only for it to hit the post and rebound away?

    Is it chance? Defined as the occurence of events in the absence of any obvious intention or cause; fortuituous

    We don't coach by chance...I ask the 'why' or 'so what' with the coaches I work with, around why they are doing something and what is the intended outcome? If there isn't an answer, maybe it is luck or chance of development and progress

    But I can't buy into that...you can coach by not coaching, but there is some design or plan there

    The debate continues.....

  • rogerscrutton

    Like others, unlucky is not a word I would use in orienteering.  I suppose the only time I would use it is when the athlete has had an unlucky accident in the forest that has affected their performance - tripped over a hidden root, twisted ankle on a loose rock, etc.  Otherwise, success or failure is down to the skills and fitness of the athlete.

  • DavidJohn
    Just some quick one liners....
    1- do you yourself use this word?
         No - well I don’t remember ever using it.
    2- what situations have you used (if you do) or have heard this word being used?
         I have heard other coaches use it when a swimmer has got disqualified for doing something wrong
    3- what does this word means?
        It’s the antonym of luck. You can’t train for luck. It means they need to train better to increase the chances of them getting better.
    4- does this meaning change in relation to a sporting context? If so why?
        In a sporting context - no. If the electrics go and your best swim does not get recorded properly then that was unfortunate as you have no control over that. I still wouldn't dwell on it. Practice/train properly, focus on the how, not the what.
    5- Do you agree/disagree with this use of his word? If so why?
         I disagree with it - I never think to use it. I am not a believer in luck - the lucky pants, the lucky hat. I focus on them training/practicing to achieve their best and that their best is not how much luck they have.
  • cwatson224

    For me as a coach, this post has raised an important point about how much we as coaches listen to what we are saying to athletes, or how much we think things through before we say them.  It’s almost like coaches need a pause button so they can check their feedback before they give it.

    I don’t think unlucky is a word I would chose to use as a coach, unless something was completely out of the athletes control, like as someone has said, a piece of equipment breaks for example, or an official misses something and gives the advantage to the other team.

    I think if an athlete is learning a skill and they make a mistake, giving feedback of unlucky doesn’t help them identify what went wrong and how to improve for next time. There will be a reason for a forced or unforced error. As coaches I think we need to go beyond the initial response of unlucky or better luck next time, to help them learn and progress.

    If we can teach our athletes to question, by giving more detailed feedback or posing questions, they will become reflective athletes and provide their own feedback.

  • Ralph
    On 17/09/15 11:49 AM, Andrew Beaven said:

    I don't have access to the full article, but I did find what I assume is an an earlier version, in Erickson's PhD thesis.

    i have the full version, if anyone wants it

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