Talk the athlete's language if you wish to communicate effectively
Brian Mackenzie explains how to communicate effectively with athletes.
Communication is the art of successfully sharing meaningful information with people by means of an interchange of experience. Coaches wish to motivate the athletes they work with and to provide them with information that will allow them to train effectively and improve performance. Communication from the coach to athlete will initiate appropriate actions. This however, requires the athlete to not only receive the information from the coach but also to understand and accept it.
Coaches need to ask themselves:
At first, it may appear that face-to-face communication consists of taking it in turns to speak. While the coach is speaking the athlete is expected to listen and wait patiently until the coach finishes. On closer examination it can be seen that people resort to a variety of verbal and non-verbal behaviour in order to maintain a smooth flow of communication. Such behaviour includes head-nods, smiles, frowns, bodily contact, eye movements, laughter, body posture, language and many other actions. The facial expressions of athletes provides feedback to the coach. Glazed or down turned eyes indicate boredom or disinterest, as does fidgeting. Fully raised eyebrows signal disbelief and half raised indicate puzzlement. Posture of the group provides a means by which their attitude to the coach may be judged and act as pointer to their mood. Control of a group demands that a coach should be sensitive to the signals being transmitted by the athletes. Their faces usually give a good indication of how they feel, and a good working knowledge of the meaning of non-verbal signals will prove invaluable to the coach.
Difficulties in communicating with an athlete may be due a number of issues including the following:
These blocks to communication work both ways and coaches need to consider the process of communication carefully.
Before communicating with an athlete, coaches should consider:
Effective communication contains six elements:
When coaches provide information to the athlete, which will allow them to take actions to effect change, it is important that they provide the information in a positive manner. Look for something positive to say first and then provide the information that will allow the athlete to effect a change of behaviour or action.
Improved communication skills will enable both the athlete and coach to gain much more from their coaching relationship
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About the Author
Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years' experience as an endurance athlete.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: