Communication is an essential piece of sport. Unfortunately, it seems that most teams only start to focus on communication when there is a breakdown in it. The lines of communication need to be open from the start. It’s imperative for athletes to feel comfortable talking to their coaches, as well as coaches feeling like what they are saying is being properly interpreted.
As I’ve said before, getting to know your athletes as people is a great first step into opening the lines of communication. Call them by name, and inquire about things other than sport. Encourage and support their lives off the playing field. This conveys that you care about them as people, not just athletes. They will be more apt to be honest with you if they know you care about them as a whole person.
Hold team meetings. The best of the best spend a lot of time talking off the field. I got the opportunity to speak with Clinton Myers the head coach of the ASU softball team. He said they spend an abundance of their time in a classroom talking; improving their mental game and team relationships. A great way to make these team meetings beneficial is to let athletes write down their thoughts and feedback. This is a good way to come up with topics and begin discussions. It allows athletes to be honest and engage. Your discussions will be meaningful and they’ll touch on exactly what the athletes need.
Create a communication system. As a coach it is beneficial to be able to see things from another perspective. An effective way to do this is to have two team captains that relay information from the team to the coach. If you’re courageous enough, try asking your players what they would do if they were the coach for a week.
Learn to listen. I took a counseling psychology class and this is the one skill that was the hardest for me to grasp. It has been extremely beneficial to me in the coaching world; in order for athletes to hear you, you have to hear them. Create an open door policy to let athletes know they can always come to you for anything. When they do come to you, listen attentively. While they are talking, focus solely on what they are saying. Try not to think of your next response as they are speaking with you. (Harder said then done). Respond with statements that validate and confirm what they are conveying. “I can see you are frustrated because you aren’t getting as much playing time as you would like”. Statements like these let the athletes know you are listening carefully, and it also clarifies if their message is coming across clearly.
Don’t let the lines of communication fall through the cracks as the season starts. Set them up immediately and make it known to your athletes that you are there for them. This is a great way to prevent conflict, and also a way to create a system to deal with conflict should it arise.
Quote of the day:
“Assumptions are the termites of any relationship.” – Henry Winkler