This is the final post in a series of posts on Professionalism in Coaching. Throughout the series, I have covered a variety of topics dealing with how coaches must handle themselves in a professional manner. If you have not seen the other posts, go back to the Blog Page to read them.
Today, I will wrap up the series by talking about what may be the most important factor in our success as coaches, and also what often contributes to our biggest problems and ultimately failures—communication.
As an English teacher, professional writer, & professional speaker, I love the subject of communication. There is so much to learn, so much to know, and so much to apply to so much of our lives when it comes to communication.
I will never know everything there is to know about communication. I also recognize that I will always need to be working on my communication skills.
Now consider that statement for a moment.
Are you an English teacher?
Are you a professional writer?
Are you a professional speaker?
Chances are that most of you reading this will have answered “No” to those three questions.
If I—someone who works on and uses communication skills for a living—believe that I will always need to be working on my communication skills, there’s a good chance that if you want to be able to communicate clearly to the various stakeholders in your professional life, you might need to devote a little bit of time to it, too.
Communication for Coaches
Most of you reading this are sport coaches—the largest audience for whom I write these posts, shoot my videos, and record my podcast.
Of course, most of you also do something else for your “real” job. You make a living doing something other than coaching. But coaching is something you do that gives you life!
It’s why you are reading this post. You love coaching, and so you consume anything and everything you can about it. You are constantly trying to improve and become the best you can be at it.
Kudos to you for having that attitude about coaching!! We need more coaches in the world like you.
Now here’s the problem.
One of the most overlooked, misunderstood, and problematic areas for coaches is communication.
Communication is also one of the most important elements of our job as coaches.
Yet most coaches know very little about it.
They don’t study communication like they study their sport.
They don’t study communication like they study coaching in general.
They don’t study communication like they study leadership.
They don’t study communication like they study success.
They just don’t give communication much thought when it comes to preparing to be the best coach they can be.
A Big Mistake
This is a huge mistake on the part of coaches.
Consider some of the problems you have had at any time in your coaching career. Think back for a moment to times when you had an issue you had to address with a player, parent, fellow coach, administrator, or anyone else.
What happened? What was the source of that problem?
Chances are that if you trace the situation back to the beginning, you will find some type of miscommunication or a lack of communication as either the catalyst for the problem or at least a contributor to the problem or how big the problem became.
Time and time again, when we look back at the problems and failures we have had, we will find some element of communication playing a major part in the problem.
And while my focus here is on coaches and the miscommunication we have that lead to problems, let’s face it. We could say the same thing about pretty much every aspect of our lives.
We are people. People deal with other people in some way all the time. If we don’t communicate clearly with one another, there are going to be problems.
Yet most people never consider studying communication to figure out how to, at the very least, not screw it up, and at the very best, become the best they can be at it.
They consider communication as just another thing in their life that’s just there. They don’t see it as THE thing that creates our success or our failure.
And so time and time again, they create situations in their lives that they have to then deal with, walk back, get out of, or resolve in some other way, all because they failed to communicate clearly in such a way that they were understood by the people that they needed to understand them.
Keys to Good Communication
There is enough to talk about with regards to communication that I could write a whole book about it.
But today, I want to focus on just a few key elements to help you become better at communication and, hopefully, avoid some of the problems that often occur for coaches.
You can do a search on the internet on the topic of communication and find far more resources than you would ever be able to research in your lifetime. In fact, I typed “Keys to Good Communication” in a Google search, and it said there were 968,000,000 results in 0.72 seconds!
However, the first one I opened was as good as any to offer insight on the topic. Ironically, it was from a book called, Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.
It listed “10 Keys to Being a Good Communicator,” and this list is as good as any you will find:
- Know your message.
- Make sure you are understood.
- Deliver your message in the proper context.
- Use appropriate emotions and tones.
- Adopt a healthy communication style.
- Be receptive.
- Provide helpful feedback.
- Be a good nonverbal communicator.
- Be consistent.
- Be positive.
Every one of those points deserves more explanation (more than this post has room for), and the article from which I got this list did a nice job of doing so. I recommend you look it up for a good, detailed explanation of each.
As I said, there are 967,999,999 more resources for you to choose from on Google. You should check out at least a few of them. You will learn some very important ideas on being the best communicator you can be, no matter if you are a coach or not.
But the other resource I want to mention today is what I consider to be one of the Bibles of coaching. It is called, Successful Coaching by Rainer Martens.
This book has been used in coaching classes at all levels ever since it first came out in 1981. The American Sport Education Program (ASEP) has used it as its textbook for its coaching certification classes for decades.
If I could only recommend one book for coaches to read, well, I would really struggle to do that. There are far too many good books that coaches NEED to read!
However, if I had to pick just one, it would be Successful Coaching. This book is the most comprehensive book on coaching I have ever seen. I think it should be required reading for every new coach in the world (and every old coach, too, come to think of it!).
It covers just about any topic you would ever need to know to learn how to be a coach. It has the most thorough explanation of the important elements of coaching that I have ever seen in one book.
It also does a great job of helping coaches learn the importance, value, strategies, and techniques necessary to be good communicators. The book is filled with excellent information on this all-important element of coaching. The index shows 30 different places in the book where it covers different elements of communication, many of those over multiple pages.
The chapter on “Communicating with Your Athletes” is filled with great information and outstanding examples and scenarios to help us learn how to communicate properly with our kids.
While space does not permit me to go into much detail here, I will highlight a few key points:
Three Dimensions of Coaching
Communication includes not only sending messages but also receiving them.
Communication consists of verbal and nonverbal messages.
Communication has two parts: content and emotion.
Just reading those three lines should get you thinking about how you handle those elements. It should also inspire you to find out more about them and how you can get better at dealing with all three of them.
The Six Steps in Communicating
- You have thoughts (ideas, feelings, intentions) that you wish to convey.
- You translate these thoughts into a message appropriate for transmission.
- You transmit your message through some channel (verbal or nonverbal).
- The athlete receives your message (if he or she is paying attention).
- The athlete interprets the message’s meaning. The interpretation depends upon the athlete’s comprehension of the message’s content and your intentions.
- The athlete responds internally to his or her interpretation of the message.
Consider that all of this happens in seconds, sometimes split-seconds, and it is happening hundreds and even thousands of times during your interaction with your team members.
Then consider all the moments throughout those interactions where the communication can break down. It’s a wonder we ever have a message get communicated and received clearly and exactly as we want it to happen!
Some of the headings in that one chapter in Successful Coaching are great indicators as to the importance and power of communication in our coaching and why it is so important for us to learn all we can about it:
Why Communication is Sometimes Ineffective
Evaluating Your Communication Skills
Coaching Style & Communication
Developing Your Communication Skills
Developing Credibility When You Communicate
Communicating with a Positive Approach
Sending Messages High in Information
Providing Feedback High in Information
Communicating with Consistency
Learning How to Listen
Improving Your Nonverbal Communication
You as a Model
Without even reading the section itself, you can pick any one of these topics and consider where you might be with regards to it and what you might need to do to be better at it. Of course, you should also read about it and learn to do all you can to become the best you can be at it, too.
How Much Better We Could All Be
Imagine if all coaches would start to work on the types of things I have discussed here today.
Imagine if all people would start to do the same thing, regardless of whether or not they coach.
The world would be a much better place, wouldn’t it?
While we can’t control the rest of the world or even the rest of the coaching world, we can control ourselves when it comes to learning how to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.
One huge area where we can do that is our communication skills.
I encourage you to take a long look at your own communication skills and figure out where you are strong and where you need some work.
Once you do that, do the next thing that needs to be done: work on those things you need to work on!
None of us will ever be perfect in our communication skills. That’s why they are called skills.
Like any skill, they are things we are constantly working on, constantly needing to improve upon. The only way to do that is to decide you want to improve upon them, figure out what areas need more work, learn some different ways to work on those areas, and then start working on them.
Like any skill, the more you practice at it—the right way—the better you will get at it.
There may be no more important topic I will ever write about than communication skills because there may be no area in coaching that is more important to our success than good communication.
This concludes this series on Professionalism in Coaching. I have tried to highlight a variety of topics that all contribute to us being viewed as professionals or as lacking professionalism based on how we handle them.
I could have chosen many more topics to cover, and I may do so at some point in the future. That’s because in everything you do as a coach you are going to be judged as being professional or not being professional.
Sometimes people will make those judgments of you as a coach even when you are not coaching.
You are always in the spotlight.
It is critical that you take the responsibility with putting that word “Coach” in front of your name seriously.
Make sure you strive to handle yourself as the professional that this oftentimes demanding, frustrating, and exhausting, yet always rewarding, fulfilling, and worthwhile profession demands of you.