Communication: A Hidden Pillar of Confidence

Coach-player-parent communication is an often overlooked element in player confidence. When athletes clearly receive the intended message from a parent or coach, confidence is enhanced because everyone is in synch. Clear communication removes the need for assumptions concerning message content as well as the messenger’s intent and motivation that can undermine confidence.

As coaches and parents, we often communicate with our athlete the way we were talked to or the way we prefer to be talked to as athletes. But not all communication styles are created equal. Our player may not hear the message we mean to convey for various reasons. They may not really be listening or focused when we are speaking. They may hear part of the message, assume they know all we want to convey and depart with only part of what we meant for them to understand. They may be young players who don’t understand the entire sport lingo that we are using. They may perceive our tone of voice or our body language to be incongruous with our words and so, will not believe or accept the message. Finally, some messages may just not be what our athlete needs or wants to hear in a particular situation.

Whew, you may say, that’s a lot to consider. How will I know which problem my athlete has? And, if I’m a coach, how can I possibly worry about the individual communication styles of each one of my athletes. I got bigger fish to fry. I need to get x’s and o’s in front of them. I can’t mamby pamby to each player. No worries. One effective thing that you can start doing today that will solve or soothe many of these problems is a little something called “active listening.” Active listening is a focused way of fostering communication that will clear up many little misunderstandings before they become big problems. Active listening involves giving someone your full attention. It means seeking first to understand and then to be understood.

Listening is a crucial first step in communicating effectively. There are several tactics you can use to understand and make sure you are understood. A great benefit to learning active listening skills is that you can teach them to your athletes so that the lines of communication will become clearer.   One method of increasing understanding is reflection. Reflection is making a short statement or complete restatement of the athlete’s question or comment. This gives them a chance to clarify their point so that you can address the correct issue. Another thing you could do is paraphrase in your own words what they have said. This has the same effect as reflecting. It’s basically an accuracy check to be sure you and the athlete are on the same page. In addition, summarizing the main points of the exchange every once in awhile helps keep the conversation on track and reminds both parties of the important information. One last tactic I will share here is probing. Ask your athlete open ended questions centered on the issue or concern you are trying to address. Then give them a chance to respond without interrupting or speaking for them. You may need to get comfortable with silence as the athlete grasps for ways to express their thoughts or feelings.

So now, you know how to listen effectively. How do you ensure you are communicating clearly as well? Your message to the athlete needs to reach listening ears, so the best way to increase message receipt is to teach your athletes to actively listen to you. You don’t have to hold a seminar on the topic to teach it to them. Just pepper your conversation with requests for them to repeat back to you what they have understood you to say. Asking, “Do you understand?”and “Are you with me?” is a good first step, but athletes may just think they understand. Be sure to ask for the reflection, paraphrase or summary step from them. Employing active listening on both sides of a communication is sure to increase understanding. Start using it today for more effective interaction between coach-player-parent!



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