If you have ever been or are currently an athlete, odds are is that you have ran into a coach that loves to hear themselves talk. Coaches, by trade, have to be able to communicate effectively in order to have success. However, far too many coaches are under the belief that having their athletes listen and strictly adhere to their instructions is the only way for an athlete to be successful. The old slogan ‘my way or the highway’ is not just ridiculous because of the negative aura surrounding it, but more so because it shows that a coach with that mindset is unwilling to listen to what the athlete is going through.
I have found that the best coaches can not only speak effectively, but are outstanding listeners. They listen effectively by the way they look at the person they are speaking with, they don’t let their ego get in the way of the conversation, and perhaps most importantly, they are open to the idea that how an athlete feels [both emotionally & physically] matters. Let’s get into some more details on why a coach being a good listener is so important:
Great Listeners also have Great Eye Contact
When was the last time that you have a great conversation with someone and they did not look at you or you were not looking at them? Odds are is when you think of those moments where there was no eye contact from both parties, the conversation was not as good as what it could have been. Great coaches know that when an athlete needs to speak with them, they need to look at them dead in the eye and take in everything that they say seriously. No conversation is as important as the one that they are having right then. And it is not just that the coach is looking at them that matters, but how their body is positioned during the conversation.
Effective coaches don’t stand two-inches from a players face and listen. This creates an environment that is not just ineffective, but intimidating to those who are trying to speak. When an athlete talks to you, you want to create an environment that is open to free communication in which the athlete feels that they can say what is on their mind and the coach is showing that they are fully invested and taking in their concerns. Think about when you talk to a loved one. If they are in your face or not looking at you, you feel anxious, more than likely hesitant to speak openly, and may even become angry. Your goal as a coach should be to create the same type of open, free, and communicative space with your players as you would with someone you care about at home. By looking them dead in the eye and showing them you have their attention, is where great conversations can begin.
Great Listeners don’t let their Ego get in the way
When a ‘my way or the highway’ coach listens to an athlete, more than likely when they hear a complaint they think, ‘this kid is not doing it my way, the hell with him, I’m gonna blow up on this kid.’ And we have all seen coaches do this. Nothing is wrong with re-enforcing your coaching philosophy and explaining to a young person why you are doing things the way that you are doing it. However, when a coach is so wrapped up in his or her own ego, when they have no intention of listening to the athletes issues, the reaction of the coach will more than likely be overly upset, aggressive, and will have the potential of losing a potential teaching moment.
Remember that in times where people are frustrated and want to have questions to their answers, great communicators understand that cooler heads always prevail. Ego is thrown out the window when you have an athlete that does not understand something. In these instances, it is more important that the coach becomes a teacher and explains things in a way that they themselves would want to have it be taught. That is the point where you will not just be able to communicate effectively, but have a deeper connection with the person than you will have had if you just 'blew up.'
Great Listeners understand that how an Athlete Feels Matters
From high school to college to the professional ranks, athletes are not just athletes, they are people. They have issues that go on in their daily life that potentially could affect their performance for the better or worse. ‘My way or the highway’ coaches don’t seem to understand that. Coaches all wish in many ways that athletes could be robots, can just automatically dial-in, and are ready to compete or practice no matter what is going on in their lives. That is far from what an athlete is. Great communicators understand the importance of asking the question ‘how do you (or) how did that feel?’ In this answer is where you can first understand the best way of coaching an athlete on that day, and also, create an environment in which an athlete can talk to you about the outside factors, misunderstandings, or other issues that may be negatively or positively affecting how they perform.
“That felt weird because of this’ or ‘I’m pissed off today because of something you [coach] said yesterday in practice’ are all things that you want to hear from athletes. One of the keys to a great coach/athlete relationship is honesty. Honesty with how the athlete is performing and honesty from how the athlete feels about their performance. This does not mean that the coach needs to be the mother, father, or counselor – it does mean however that in order to have an effective performance, both coach and athlete need to understand where one is coming from and how they can best get the job done in that moment.
So the next time you chat with a player, don’t be afraid to stand upright and look them in the eye. Don’t be afraid to let down your ego for a bit and listen to your athlete’s point of view. And pay attention to how they are feeling. If you can do these three things, odds are is not only will you see positive performance increase, but the investment from that athlete because you took the time to listen to them will be worth its weight in gold.