Effective communication is a key component of a winning team. Positive team dynamics and successful coaching both demand that coaches and athletes be able to communicate goals, expectations or problems clearly in a straightforward and respectful manner. As a coach, understanding how to foster effective communication improves team cohesion and promotes efficient training. As a player, using effective communication improves performance and strategy on and off the field.
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Active listening by both player and coach is essential if team goals are to be fully understood and met. Active listening can also serve to alleviate or ward off conflict. Too often, the listener in any conversation is busy planning what she is going to say when it is her turn to speak instead of actually paying attention to what the other individual is saying. To develop active listening, ask questions at appropriate times to encourage the other person to speak, and show a genuine interest in what she is saying. Be sure you understand the speaker's message by restating or paraphrasing key points of the conversation in your reply.
As much as 70 per cent of human communication is non-verbal, according to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Facial expression, body posture and gestures can all create an underlying message that may be very different then the literal meaning of the words spoken. Pay attention to the non-verbal cues the person or people you are speaking with display. When you are the speaker, be open and consistent in your body posture and facial expression.
Dealing with Conflict
Conflict is inherent to sport both on and off the field. Emotions can run high, especially following a defeat, and personalities can clash in a team that spend a great deal of time together. A team's coach especially has a responsibility to demonstrate positive conflict management in his dealings with players, referees and opposing coaches.
Showing a genuine interest in what the other person is saying even if you don't necessarily agree with his point of view can go a long way in defusing a potential conflict. There will be times when argument is unavoidable. In these instances, remember to confront the situation and not the person. Be direct and forthcoming instead of expecting the other person to pick up on hints or sarcastic comments.
There are many common verbal traps which coaches and athletes tend to fall into when communicating. These methods of communication are often well-intentioned but nevertheless counterproductive. Discounting the other person's concerns is one such trap, for example starting with a phrase such as "Don't worry, it isn't a big deal." Preaching--saying something along the lines of "You should have known better"--is also a common obstacle to effective communication. Threatening--statements such as "This is the last time I am going..." also tend to be counterproductive.
Tips for Effective Communication
One of the best ways to communicate effectively is to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. Sentences that begin with the word "you" are frequently perceived as accusatory in nature even if that was not the speaker's intent. Starting a sentence with "I" is less likely to spur a defensive response. For example "I am frustrated when you don't ..." instead of "You need to stop ..." Speaking slowly and stopping to ask questions to make sure that you and the other individual are both on the same page is highly effective.
As a coach, it is also important to remember that a player may not have the necessary knowledge to understand the message you are trying to convey. Tailor your communication to the learning style and knowledge level of the particular athlete you are conversing with. Most importantly, give all athletes equal attention and opportunity to voice their concerns.
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