Why do footballers (and coaches) cover their mouth when speaking to each other?

You can see this for instance when players discuss a free kick, or talk to the referee, or when talking to a colleague on the pitch. I understand the fear of being spied on by someone and communicating information to the opponent. But really? Has this ever been a thing? I mean, no one can pass such quickly passed information to anyone. For example, when two players discuss a free-kick, no one will be able to inform the goalkeeper of anything.

3 Answers
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The general belief around this is that they do not want to give away important tactical information to their rivals on the pitch, or watching on TV. Another common belief is that actually they are hiding their mouths so that their words cannot be interpreted via lip reading from footage. But it’s not only in football: this happens in many team sports.

During the 2014 FIFA World Cup some media outlets used lip reading experts to reveal insight, thoughts and strategy. From this bbc.com article:

Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad have taken to covering their mouths on the pitch to stop intrusive Brazilian television stations from gaining an unwelcome insight into their thoughts and strategy.

One programme, TV Globo’s Fantastico, revealed some of Scolari’s advice to his players during the World Cup opener between Brazil and Croatia…

[Brazilian coach Scolari told a press conference regarding lip reading:] “We are not free to work on the pitch anymore.”

Taking a line from this quora answer:

To avoid cameras, so that the media does not conjure a syllable out of thin air.

From that same BBC article, Brazil’s reserve goalkeeper Jefferson stated:

Sometimes there are tough, ugly words and this is normal. But some TV shows make a big fuss about it.

One another reason for this might be to amplify the voice – from an article in thesun.co.uk:

Renowned PR consultant Phil Hall, who has worked with some of the biggest clubs and names in the Premier League, says no-one is being advised to cover up to protect vital team plans.

Hall said: “A player once told me one of the main reasons they do it is, sometimes you are doing it when you are close to somebody, it amplifies your voice so they can hear you.

Hall again states:

“In NFL there is a whole pattern of tactics and play calls that can be read by a lip reader, but in football the game is just not that structured where it could potentially make a difference.”

The articles I am referencing mention that players are not actually briefed to talk like this.


References:

  1. World Cup 2014: Brazil players cover mouths to block lip-reading
  2. Real reason players cover their mouths on the pitch…
  3. Why do footballers cover their mouths when they are talking?
  4. Why do football (soccer) players cover their mouths by hand while speaking both to the same and opposing team’s players?
  5. Why do players cover their mouths?

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