By Carl Normandin
Good coaching is a result of meaningful communication with your athletes. Effective communication involves asking questions, encouraging expression and good listening. One of the best ways to show a genuine interest in your athletes is through good communication. This can be done in several different ways.
- Sharing your concerns
- Asking for their opinions
- Getting their suggestions
- Trying to get a feeling for what they are experiencing
- Being attentive to their responses
- Facing them and making eye contact
- Showing them you are interested
- Acknowledging them with non-verbal expressions
- Checking for understanding
Good listening starts the learning process between the athlete and the coach. Listening is a critical part of good communication. On average, most untrained listeners only “hear” between 15 and 20 percent of what is actually said in conversation. Everyone – coaches, athletes, parents and administrators – wants to be heard, but good listening is one of the hardest communication skills to master and – like learning a new sport – it takes practice.
When you listen to athletes, parents or officials, you are showing that you care about them their concerns. Sometimes in heated situations, it is just enough to hear them out when voicing a concern. Here are a few techniques to effective communication.
- Attentive listening: As the listener, you need to be quiet even if you want to prove a point or the speaker is completely off base. Posture, facial expression and gestures should all demonstrate attention and acceptance. For example, a new player has been isolated from the team. She has made tentative advances to include herself during warm-ups and down time, but has given up when the group responds negatively. An attentive listening response would be: “You look like you are feeling lonely when you come here because the rest of the group knows each other from last season.”
- Paraphrasing: This is a great listening technique. When you paraphrase, you are stating the gist of what you feel was said to find out if you are on the same wavelength. This check which allows the speaker (player, parent, official, etc.) to tell you whether you have interpreted them correctly. For example, a player comes to you and says, “Coach, I don’t like where I am on the field.” A paraphrasing response would be, “John, you seem a bit unsure of yourself out there in the halfback position. Would you feel better back at the striker position where you played last week?”
- Bridging: As a listener you sometimes may just indicate you are following what someone by interjecting acknowledgment (I see, Uh-huh, etc.).
- Restating: As the listener, you can repeat the last portion of the conversation without changing it. For example, a player comes to you with the following concern. “Coach, I am a little worried about competing today. I have never run the anchor leg before and don’t want to mess it up.” An acceptable restating response could be, “Martha, I know you are worried about running the anchor leg today, but the team has a great deal of confidence in your abilities. You have trained hard and earned this position.
- Asking for clarification: You ask the speaker to expand on what they have said. For example, a player says, “Coach, player No. 22 is a dirty player and should not be a member of this team.” In asking for clarification, ask, “What do you mean he is a dirty player? What specifically are you referring to that would make you come to that conclusion? Please help me understand you comments.”
Good communication is the foundation of all successful coaching. It is well known that outstanding and effective coaches all have good communication skills that can shift an athlete or a team from negative to positive attitudes; can express the intricate mechanics of movement in a manner that is clear and understandable; can encourage players with a clear understanding of their experiences as they struggle with the challenges of developing their skills and performances. Players appreciate the coach who treats them as individuals and communicate with them in a manner that cultivates their individuality.
About the Author: Carl Normandin, CAA, is director of interscholastic athletics and executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Section 10 office in Canton, New York. He previously was a teacher, coach and athletic director. Normandin is a member of the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee.