October 4, 2015

Key Elements to Coaches Communicating Effectively

Written by:
Edd Conway

Communication is crucial to all aspects of coaching and it is my belief that it needs to be carefully considered and continually reviewed by a coach. It is one area of my coaching that I constantly focus upon, not just in terms of coaching cues and how I can create the best learning environment for my players, but also how I can engage them as both people and players so as to ensure that they feel valued and have a clear understanding of my thought process.

Respected coach Allistair McCaw tweeted earlier this year:

“Clear and well understood communication is key in the successful working relationship of athlete and coach” - @allistairmccaw, 10/03/2015.

Below I have listed some points that I strive to address on a regular basis.

What am I saying / What are they hearing?

Every coach has had sessions where whatever they planned just doesn’t seem to be working – the players aren’t quite reacting in the way you had hoped they might. Of course there could be a number of reasons for this, however it is always worth considering that players aren’t necessarily hearing the message that you think you are saying. It is crucial to know your players in a training environment – how do they normally react? How do they learn best? Is there anything I could say, do or demonstrate differently to get them to the point that I want them to reach?

Remember – there are many roads to the same destination. Sometimes they will be the ones you mapped out in advance; sometimes you’ll have to work out the best route on the fly.

Know the person behind the player

The player is made up of a variety of experiences, decisions and relationships both on and off the pitch. Knowing them as a person creates a far stronger bond and also puts you in a better position to have a positive impact as a coach. Not everyone is the same, and not everyone necessarily needs to be treated the same way – strive to create a team of individuals working in unison rather than multiple versions of the same individual. If you get to know them, understand their experiences and have an idea of how they see the sport and the world in general, then you are better placed to know how to treat them if they have a bad game, or show up late, or their performance stagnates, or they lose interest etc etc. Take the time and you’ll see/feel the benefits.

Treat players with honesty and respect

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou

Force yourself to not just make the tough decisions but to follow this up by having the tough conversations. This is particularly true for team selection. Personally, I don’t believe that players should be left confused by your actions as a coach – they may not agree, they may not be happy, but they should have a clear understanding of what has led you to that decision. Furthermore, you should be there to support them to help them reach the level of performance that you want to see.

The quote above, from Maya Angelou, is one that I use for motivation to ensure that I treat my players with enough respect to have the uncomfortable conversations that can help them in the long run.

Encourage players to speak up and give feedback

This is not a dictatorship. Encourage players to question you and to provide both positive, or negative, feedback. Leave your ego at the door and focus on improving their performance. If they question you, they are at least thinking about the game in some more detail. Communication is a two-way process and we should all be striving to create ‘thinking players’. You can’t do it for them on the pitch – they need to be able to make decisions for themselves at the correct times and under pressure. An environment that encourages and values their input increases their engagement, understanding and sense of responsibility for performance.

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