Teaching: Preserving Your Gym Voice

Dick Moss, Editor

Do you find yourself getting hoarse after practice, class, or coaching?  Does your voice become high-pitched during tense competitive situations?

Well, you're not alone. In fact, PE teachers and coaches are at risk for voice-related problems because of the circumstances in which you work. Here's some voice-related information uncovered in research performed by Cecile Reynaud, the women's volleyball coach at Florida State University

Teachers & Coaches Speak Loudly
Yup: teachers and coaches are loud talkers. Working in a gym situation forces you to speak over ventilation fans, bouncing balls, echoing acoustics, shouting students, and even crowd noise (if you're fortunate enough to attract a crowd for your games).

In fact, studies in voice research have shown that elementary school PE teachers spend over 50% of their teaching time speaking in a loud voice—compared to 44% for college singing students and 27% for their in-class elementary school teaching colleagues.

Tension and the High-Pitched Voice
Another problem frequently occurs during competitions. Coaches may find the pitch of their voice rising during tense competitive situations. This is a result of muscle tension. When the neck muscles become tense, the vocal cords stretch and tighten, producing a higher-pitched voice.

Even if the coach doesn't notice this change of pitch, it is often perceived by the athletes as a sign of tension and nervousness. Of course, when the coach is nervous, athletes also become nervous.

According to researchers, coaches and physical educators are at high risk for vocal problems, including nodules, polyps and contact ulcers. This is a significant occupational risk because your voice is your major teaching tool. Here are three measures you can take to protect your vocal cords:

  1. Cup your hands around your mouth when shouting instructions. This mini-megaphone actually does help project your voice, reducing the volume with which you have to shout.
  2. Rather than shouting across the length of the gym, call your team in when giving instructions.
  3. Try to use a lower voice when projecting over a distance. It spares the voice and is important in tense game situations, where a high-pitched voice is perceived as a nervous voice.

1. Cecile Reynaud (Women's Volleyball Coach, Florida State U.), “Voice analysis of a college coach: Preventing permanent damage to your vocal cords.” Coaching Volleyball, Special issue.
2. L.K. Fisher, Voice Lessons - Vocal Training for Improving your Speaking Voice, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

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