How Open Communication Changes your Team’s Culture

You can find the original publication of this article on the Team Snap Blog

Managing the Complexity

The dynamics between players, coaches, and parents have become notoriously difficult to manage, and understandably so. The complexity that results from the intermingling of these relationships is due to the very nature of sports and competition. Generally speaking, the coaches agenda is centred around the team, a players agenda is centred around themselves, and a parents agenda is centred on their child’s wellbeing. This is not to say that a player can’t care about their team, or coaches always disregard the wellbeing of their players, but usually this is where priorities lie. To put it another way, the allegiances of all parties involved are usually directed (and rightfully so) towards their primary interests. These allegiances can cause coaches to be insensitive, players to show disrespect, and parents to overstep their bounds.

In youth sports, the majority of this friction could be laid to rest if all players received one specific thing from their coaches and parents. This one thing is a mindset as much as anything else, and if all future decisions can be measured against this principle, everyone will benefit. Players simply need: honest, truthful, supportive communication from their coach and parents. This may sound simple, but the impact can be dramatic. Here are three ways that this type of communication will have a positive effect on everyone involved.

 

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Realistic Expectations

Sports (especially when you have to deal with tryouts, playing-time, and other similar issues) can be a great learning and growth experience for many kids. However, I believe one of the biggest reasons athletes can have a negative experience with their coach or team is because their expectations are never met since expectations are never set. If an athlete walks into a team with a particular set of expectations, and the coach never communicates his/her expectations with that player, inevitably someone will be disappointed.

Players simply need: honest, truthful, supportive communication from their coach and parents

In my opinion, truthful communication about a coach’s expectations for both individual players and the team is one of the most important moves that diffuses toxic feelings between players, parents and coaches. A coach should lay out expectations at the beginning of the season with the parents, as well as during the course of the season with the players. Players roles can change and expectations can shift with the ebb and flow of the season and a coach should do their best to be on the same page with the players regarding these issues.

 

Truth is the Best Medicine

Truth is the best medicine when it comes to potentially toxic communication in youth sports. If a coach fails to communicate to a player how he sees them fitting into the team, then the player is left to patch together a picture of his role from the mysterious verbal and non-verbal cues he sees in practice and games. This guessing game can drive players crazy and undermine a coaches credibility.

Truth is the best medicine when it comes to potentially toxic communication in youth sports.

Although it is more difficult on the front-end to sit down with a player and tell them they might not be seeing a lot of playing time, ultimately this is the healthiest type of communication. This removes the ability of parents and players to blame the coach for any kind of deception or misconstrued information.

In the same way, if a coach delivers truthful feedback, it is the job of the parents to do their best to honestly assess how their child could improve. Parents can offer feedback without undermining the authority of the coach and should do their best to empower their children to improve through hard work and skill development. The truth can sting at times, but ultimately it is the best stimulus for growth and character building.

 

 

Positive Opportunities for Growth 

Every directive from a coach to a player should come with a caveat on ways and opportunities to improve (should the player choose to). Positive communication begins and ends with the idea that regardless of how much playing time a player gets, that their inherent worth is never tied to performance. Sports are so much bigger than minutes played, or baskets scored because they teach us about ourselves. Opportunities for personal growth abound in the world of youth sports; but coaches and parents alike need to prioritise providing these opportunities for their athletes regardless of skill level. When honest, truthful, and supportive communication becomes the norm, everybody wins.

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The Golden Rule of Coaching Communication

Communication is the lifeblood of every team; and teams are filled with individuals who must come together to achieve their common goals. Coaches must learn to communicate to their players effectively and just as players must learn to communicate in a respectful way with their coaches. It is the coach’s job to set the precedent for how communication will operate within the team context. Part of their job is to nurture relationships and foster quality communication. In short, the Golden Rule of Coaching Communication is this: All great communication happens first-hand, with honesty, and in the context of a relationship.

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Honesty

Honesty is the most important aspect of great coaching communication. If your players have trouble believing the validity of what you say, it will be that much harder for them to take ownership of your system. Honest communication is at the heart of creating healthy relationships and developing team chemistry. When coaches communicate poorly or dishonestly, they inhibit team growth, and create barriers between themselves and their player. However, when coaches communicate well they help they become a catalyst for team development.

When players believe that a coach is being straightforward with them, a relationship of trust will begin to grow. But if players feel deceived, doubts about the trustworthiness of their coach will start to creep in. Regardless of the topic of communication – even difficult topic like playing time, role on team, personal development, etc – must always be handled truthfully so that a spirit of hypocrisy does not take hold. A precedent must be set that difficult conversations are not something to be avoided, but embraced. Although awkward at first, in the long run the fruit of these honest conversations creates a healthy respect between all parties involved.

 

Relationship

One of the most neglected aspects of great communication is the power of relationship. Many coaches fail to leverage the incredible access they have into their players lives by making a concerted effort to develop a relationship with them.5524419083_89ec639f01_z The countless hours of practice, film study, and team activities are prime opportunities for a coach to take an interest in his/her players lives beyond basketball. As a coach learns the interests, problems, and circumstances of their players lives, their credibility grows and a relationship develops.

Anytime a player feels like a coach genuinely has their best interest in mind, communication about difficult topics becomes much easier. When a coach has made an concerted effort to show interest in a player, they have earned relational equity that makes the communication process much easier and smoother. It almost goes without saying that, all great communication takes place face-to-face. Digital technology is incredibly useful for certain types of communication, but first-hand communication has the amazing power of personal presence. Body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions give first-hand communication valuable context that other types of communication does not.

Recap

  • Honest communication builds chemistry and creates trust
  • Relationships are key to great communication
  • Coaches gain credibility by investing in their players off the court
  • Communication is the lifeblood of any team!

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