Sunday, November 9, 2014

Communicating with Your Players: Foundation for Success

Coaches must be able to communicate effectively for their team to succeed. Whether it is a non-verbal gesture, a guttural moan, or a heartfelt monologue, effective communication is necessary to teach and to create a sense of teamwork. And if done well, it can provide the motivational push that drives a player to elevate his or her game and compete in games where they might be overmatched. Excellent communication also improves preparation during practice and can give a coach insight into the players’ attitudes and understanding of her goals for the team.

One form of communication that is too often overlooked, or avoided, is the one on one meeting between player and coach. I'm not referring to comments made by the coach in the heat of the moment, or the "teachable moments" that occur during practice and in games, but rather a “private sit down” before or after practice, or during the school day.  

I advise every coach to conduct these meetings, regardless of whether it is in college, in high school, or even at the youth level. These meetings should be thought of as conversations and not lectures where the coach gives his "spiel" and then simply asks the player if he understands and has any comment or question. The coach has as much to learn from his players as the player learns from his coach.

These conversations can be in some part instructional, offering advice on a player's game, focusing on the positive but also pointing out areas for improvement. But I envision these conversations in a much more expansive way, and in fact a good conversation will allow the player to give her observations on everything from how
practices are run, to playing time, to how fair the coaching staff has been in the treatment of players, even asking players what they think about how well the games are being managed.

This sort of conversation might be tough on some coaches' egos, but the sense of empowerment that it creates in the player's mind, and the new sense of "ownership" that the player feels, are important parts of the maturation process for student-athletes. My experience has been that the majority of players leave these meetings with a better understanding of their role on the team and a better understanding of the program's priorities and philosophy; they have also gained useful information on their performance and the coach's expectations.

Some coaches might be concerned that these private conversations could lead to distrust among the players, especially those players who think the meeting is nothing more than an opportunity for the coach to pry, or for teammates to unfairly "self-promote" or "rat" on other players. Regardless, the benefits of these private meetings far outweigh any concern that teammates are "badmouthing" other players. It is up to the coach to use any "delicate" information in such a way that it cannot be traced back to any particular player, and frankly coaches should never be asking questions that will be potentially divisive.

And finally, given all the recent attention to bullying and hazing, and the strict penalties now being enforced by schools and State Associations, it is crucial to use this time to find out if there have been incidents of inappropriate treatment of teammates. The anonymity that these meetings provide offers an opportunity to learn things that you would otherwise be unlikely to learn.

Regardless of the sport, drama is an undeniable feature of the relationship among players. In sports like lacrosse or soccer, drama among players could lead to passes not made, less teamwork on defense, and jealousies that will injure the sense of “team” that is vital for success. In sports like tennis, where individuals are expected to play with a sense of honor and honesty, where competition for positions in the lineup can be cutthroat, and where on some teams there are players who are “part timers,” gaining greater insight into player motivation is essential. And for those tennis coaches making use of video, these meetings would also provide an opportunity for instruction.

Effective communication is the essence of any strong relationship, regardless of whether we are talking about a marriage, a retail store, or a sports team. Every coach must take the time to meet with every member of her team. The benefits for both parties might be small, or they might be substantial, but the bottom line is that each player deserves the respect that a meeting would represent. The players, and their parents, will also respect you more for doing it. So meet with the players, and reap the benefits of a team full of empowered athletes playing their hearts out for their


No comments:

Post a Comment