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What Is Communication?

Communication is the act of expressing (or

transmitting) ideas, information, knowledge,

thoughts, and feelings, as well as understanding

what is expressed by others. The communication

process involves both sending and receiving

messages and can take many forms. Verbal

communication is the spoken word, while

nonverbal communication involves actions,

facial expressions, body position, and gestures.

Communication can occur in one-on-one or

group settings, and in written formats (e.g.,

printed materials) or in visual formats (e.g.,

pictures, videos, and observational learning).

And it involves not only the content of a

message but also its emotional impact, or the

effect the message has on the person receiving


Sending and Receiving Messages

The very word coach suggests that individuals in

this profession send many messages. Coaches need to be able to clearly communicate expectations, goals, standards, and feelings to their athletes. They instruct, encourage, discipline, organize, and provide feedback. And although we tend to think of effective communicators as being able to send clear messages that are interpreted as intended, communication is a two-way street that also involves receiving messages. For a coach, this means listening attentively. Athletes need to be able to communicate their goals, frustrations, and feelings to their coach.

Nonverbal and Verbal Channels

As a coach, you can say a lot without uttering a word: A frown, a look of disbelief, a disgusted shake of your head, or a smile can communicate quite a bit. In fact, depending on which study you read, they suggest that between 65% and 93% of the meaning of a message is conveyed through tone of voice and nonverbal behaviors. Thus, in addition to becoming aware of the words you use, it is essential that you become aware of your tone and nonverbal behaviors so that you understand the messages you are sending to athletes.

Lou Holtz tells a revealing story about his

coaching experience at Notre Dame that

highlights the importance of developing

self-awareness in becoming an effective

communicator. His recruiting coordinator

developed a video to send to potential

recruits. Holtz thought it did a great job of

selling the program but wished it included

some clips of him having positive interactions

with his players. The recruiting coordinator

said he had looked and looked but could

not find any. This comment took Holtz

completely by surprise because he prided

himself on being a positive coach and sending

positive messages. This experience helped Holtz become more aware of his interactions with his players and discover a pathway for becoming a more effective communicator. Like Holtz, many coaches are often unaware of the messages they send nonverbally.

By the same token, athletes also communicate nonverbally, and coaches can learn to be more effective listeners by becoming astute observers of athlete’s nonverbal communications. Understanding the nonverbal messages athletes send is a passport to greater understanding of the athletes you are coaching.

Content and Emotional Impact

When communicating, coaches tend to focus on the content or the substance of the messages they send: "Run hard"; "Follow through strongly on your shot"; "Fake before you pass"; "Practice with intensity." In doing so, they believe that the information is objective and that athletes will always receive the message as intended. That belief is far from the truth. When receiving messages, athletes may not share the same perception or hear the same message the coach thought she was sending. For example, by saying, "Tomorrow we are going to make sure to get this defense down," a coach may mean, "We’re going to focus on the technical aspects of the defense to perfect our execution," but an athlete may interpret it as, "Tomorrow’s going to be a physically tough practice." Communication problems arise if a coach assumes athletes are interpreting a message exactly as the coach intended. Thus effective communicators focus not only on message content but also on how a message might be interpreted by-and might affect-the receiver.

Beyond message content, then, communication also involves the emotional impact of the message on the athlete. How do your athletes perceive and react to the content of your messages? Failure to recognize the effect the message has on the athlete is all too common. For instance, a coach could intend "Run hard!" as a positive note of encouragement, whereas the athlete could interpret it negatively: "He never thinks I run hard enough." Effective communicators give equal weight to message content and emotional impact on the receiver. The challenge in effective communication is to be clear both about what you say and about how you say it by becoming more aware of the impact your messages have on your team.

Sending Effective Messages

Effective communicators are able to send messages that

clearly convey the intended content and are received

in the desired way. The most important judgment you

need to make is whether a message needs to be sent.

Some coaches talk too much, rambling on

about things that bore others or distract

athletes during practice.

Most sport psychologists agree, if the coach

can't explain it in 12 seconds (9 years old

and below) or 15 seconds (10-15 years old),

the information won't be retained by the

athletes. Some coaches talk too little, assuming

that others know what they think or want. This

generally leads to frustration as the athletes, and

usually other coaches, aren't performing to the standard

the coach wants. Rest assured that we all have communication

strengths and weaknesses!

Effect of Your Messages

Frank L. Smoll, PhD, and Ronald E. Smith, PhD spent hundreds of hours observing coaches and evaluating their impact on athletes. In all, they observed more than 70 coaches, coded more than 80,000 behaviors, and surveyed nearly 1,000 athletes. They found that athletes responded more positively to coaches who provided positive feedback after a good performance effort, corrective instruction and encouragement after a performance mistake, and technical instruction and a moderate amount of general encouragement unrelated to performance quality. In contrast, they found that athletes responded unfavorably to coaches who failed to notice or reinforce good performance efforts, criticized mistakes, or provided instruction after a mistake in a critical fashion.

Top 10 Essential Skills for Effective Communication

Being able to communicate effectively is an essential skill. Whenever personal relationships are involved, effective communication is the key to success.


1. Listening


One of the most important aspects of effective communication is being a good listener.


People don't like communicating with others who are only interested in telling you what they want to tell you, and don’t listen to what you have to say.  Effective communication requires active listening, so practice active listening until it becomes second nature to you.


So what is active listening?  Active listening involves hearing and understanding what a person is saying to you.  Unless you understand clearly what a person is telling you, you can’t respond appropriately.  Gain clarification by asking questions or rephrase what you’re being told, so that you’re sure you fully understand the message that’s being conveyed to you.  For example, you could say “So, what you’re saying is…”


2. Non-Verbal Communication


The words we choose make up far less than half of the message being conveyed, which makes non-verbal communication extremely more important. It's also considered to be more honest than verbal communication. Body language is an important communication tool. Your body language should help convey your words.  Other factors you should consider are things like the tone of your voice, your hand gestures, and ensuring eye contact.


A person is going to be encouraged to speak openly with you if you are relaxed and have a friendly tone. Adopt an open stance position, with relaxed legs and open arms.  It is important that you make eye contact with the person you are communicating with, but be careful that you do not stare at them, as this is just uncomfortable.  It is just as important that you recognise the non-verbal signals being displayed by the other person.  These signals will give you an insight into how that person is feeling (there's that honesty again).


3. Be Clear and Concise


Convey your message using as few words as possible.  Whether in person, via telephone, or email, convey your message clearly, concise and direct. If you are excessive with your words, the listener will either lose focus or just be unsure as to what it is that you want.  Before speaking give some thought as to the message you want to convey. This will prevent you rambling and causing confusion.

4. Be Personable


When communicating face to face with someone, use a friendly tone with a simple smile, and ask a personal question. These things encourage the other person to engage in honest, open communication. When using written communication (e.g. email), you can achieve this by adding a simple personal message, for example, “How was your weekend?”.


5. Be Confident


Confidence underpins all effective communication. Other people will believe you will do as you say if you sound confident. Making eye contact, using a firm but friendly tone (never aggressive), are all ways you can exude confidence. Remember to always be listening to the other person and looking out for those nonverbal clues.


6. Empathy


Empathy is the skill of being able to understand and share the feelings of another person.


Even if you don’t agree with the person you’re communicating with, it’s very important that you understand and respect their view. Simply saying to that person “I understand what you’re saying”, will let them know that you have been listening to them, and that you respect their point of view.


7. Always Have An Open Mind


Being an effective communicator requires that every conversation is approached with a flexible, open mind. This isn’t always easy to achieve, but is very important to communicating effectively. Always engage in active listening, and be sure to demonstrate empathy by acknowledging you understand what the other person’s point of view is. Adopting this approach will always ensure honest, productive communication.


8. Convey Respect


Other people will be more likely to engage in communication with you if you respect them and their ideas. Simply addressing another person using their name, will make them feel appreciated. If communicating via telephone, always keep focused on the conversation and avoid being distracted in any way. When communicating through email, take time to construct and edit your message, taking care to address the recipient by name.


9. Give and Receive Feedback


Giving and receiving appropriate feedback is an essential communication skill, particularly for those of us whose roles include managing other people. Providing constructive feedback, as well as giving someone praise, can greatly increase motivation and build morale.


It is just as important that you accept and encourage feedback from others. Always listen to feedback and act positively on it. If you’re unsure about any aspect of the feedback, simply ask a question to gain clarification from the other person.


10. Consider The Best Medium for The Job!


Finally, knowing what the best form of communication is to use is of the utmost importance. Being mindful of using the best form of communication will result in your response being a positive one. Consider things such as, who it is you’re trying to communicate with, how important the topic is, and how busy that person might be. 


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