The importance of communication among sports teams is commonsensical. The better a team communicates their needs, the better they can problem-solve together. A team that effectively communicates can establish and work toward a common goal without being sidetracked by bickering or misunderstandings.
But effective communication is so much easier said than done. We all know how wrong things can go when people are involved in a simple miscommunication. Things can spiral out of control because one person was a poor communicator and/or the other was a poor listener.
The following tips are outlined to help sports teams, especially the players, learn how to communicate efficiently and effectively.
Our approach to better communication uses the 3 C’s of communication, understanding of non-verbal communication, knowledge of communication styles, and active listening skills.
The 3 C’s of Communication
These C’s are adapted from the business world, where avoiding miscommunication has become a key way to save both time and money. We’ve hand-picked the most vital elements for sports communication.
First, let’s think of communication as being goal-oriented. Whether the goal is establishing friendship, making a request, asking for help, or offering help, effective communicators always know their goal. Sometimes the goal is subconscious, but communication is always better when the speaker knows his or her goal.
Once the goal is established, the avenue of achieving the goal becomes clearer.
Being courteous and friendly can go a long way. Courtesies should open and close communication whenever a player is approaching a teammate or coach with a problem or request. This approach helps reaffirm the common bond among the team and lets the other person know they are respected and valued. A lack of courtesy can put the listening party on the defense, which effectively closes their ears (and minds) to any valid points the speaker has to make.
Clear communication helps avoid the confusion that can lead to so many mishaps and broken trust. Clarity also helps the listener know how to respond.
For instance, saying “You need to train harder” is vague and unhelpful. Saying “You can increase your starting power by doing more lunges and sprints than you’re currently doing.” This gives the person the goal (to increase starting power) and a way to achieve the goal (doing more lunges and sprints).
Sometimes clarity isn’t always this easy to achieve. The speaker may not know exactly what they need. In these cases, the speaker and the listener must come together to establish clarity.
Try to collect and organize your thoughts to help you get your point across. A long, rambling speech can leave listeners confused and uninterested. Get to the point as quickly as possible, and allow time for details, if necessary, after the listeners have a chance to respond.
These 3 C’s of Communication provide a general outline that help reframe the approach to off-field verbal communication. Of course, sports teams require great adaptability and flexibility between on-field and off-field communication. Some communication will necessarily be nonverbal instead of verbal.
Make sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to non-verbal cues meant for on-field communication. Any hand signs or other gestures that will be used must be memorized by all members of the team in order to avoid confusion. Be sure to practice these cues often to keep sharp.
Remember that nonverbal communication makes up 70% of human communication. Be aware of what your body and face are saying. Also be aware that body language and facial expression can be influenced by an incredible number of factors. A person may seem aggressive or angry, but he or she might really just feel hurt and upset. Try not to take everything at face value without attempting to understand how the other person may be truly feeling. When in doubt, ask! You’ll find most of the time the person did not intend to communicate the message you were receiving.
Remember to use body language to your advantage. Make eye contact. Nod occasionally to show you’re engaged. Avoid standing with your arms crossed, which can come across as defensive. One of the best ways to build bonds within a team is the simple act of smiling.
4 Communication Styles
Here are the 4 main communication styles as described by the Sport and Recreation of New Zealand. Only one of these will be fully productive, but most people use a mix of these depending on the situation, their personality, their personal feelings, the day they’ve had and other variable factors.
Aggressive (I’m OK –You’re not OK)
Aggressive communication occurs when a person expresses themselves without respect for the people around them. It devalues teammates and shows no appreciation for coaches, players and other valuable contributors. Aggressive communication is self-centered instead of team-centered, and tends to be a “My way or the high way” approach.
Passive (I’m not OK – You’re OK)
Passive communication occurs when a person fails to fully express themselves. This can happen when a player’s personality is shy, or when a player fears criticism or retribution for expressing their opinion. Passive communication is not fully honest communication, so it never contributes fully.
Passive Aggressive (I’m not OK – You’re not OK)
Communication that is passive aggressive or “indirectly aggressive” is a lose-lose for the whole team. It occurs when a person makes unnecessarily negative or harsh criticism. Passive aggressive communication can often be non-verbal: eye-rolling, inappropriate laughing, sighing, ignoring someone, etc. Nothing is ever resolved through this kind of communication. In fact, if often breeds resentment and disharmony, which can be fatal flaws for any team.
Assertive (I’m OK – You’re OK)
Assertive communication is the gold standard of effective communication. It requires a person to be fully and completely honest while phrasing the content in a respectful and appropriate way. Both the communicator and the listener are at ease and feel comfortable engaging in a back-and-forth dialogue because they both feel valued and respected.
It is imperative that the team knows and understands these communication styles. Sometimes a player does not even realize he or she is falling into one of the 3 ineffective and sometimes damaging forms of communication. They may need a gentle reminder to help them refocus on how they choose their words.
Remember that everyone has their own personal style of communication. They may tend to be assertive, shy, joking, serious, aloof, etc. It’s also worth remembering that communication style is often closely linked with personality type. In other words, it can be very difficult to change, and improvement can only be gradual.
Expecting perfect communication all the time is unrealistic, so it’s important for players to recognize these ineffective tactics for what they are: ineffective but usually well-intended attempts to help the team meet a goal.
Active Listening Skills
If you talk to an empty room with nobody in it, are you really communicating? Of course not!
Communication is a two-way street. It requires both speak and listening. If the message is not picked up, then no connection has been made. Thus, listening skills are just as important as speaking skills.
Here are some simple tips for active, effective listening from the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium.
Too many people listen to respond instead of listening to understand. If you spend time thinking about how you’ll respond to one point, you may be completely tuned out and miss the speaker’s other points. Listen patiently, reflect, and then respond.
Again, remember that not everything is as it seems. People have different communication styles. Try to look through flubbed delivery for the hidden gem of the message inside.
Also try to be open-minded if the other person has a different point of view. Finding a compromise will require good listening and respectful give-and-take communication.
Don’t jump to conclusions
There are a couple of ways you might jump to a conclusion. One example would be feeling you know what the speaker is going to say, leading you to lose attention. Another is dismissing a person’s words outright because you already know you disagree. Whatever it may be, jumping to conclusions is a sure way to break down the lines of communication. If it becomes a habit, the damage may be difficult or impossible to undo.
We call this process “active listening” for a reason. Most people tend to be engaged in passive listening. Their mind is somewhere else, focusing on another topic, rather than in the present moment with attention fully directed toward the speaker. Active listening is getting even harder with the constant distraction of technology. The listener should focus on actively hearing out the speaker in the same way he or she’d want to be heard.
Final Tips: Effective Communication Takes Practice
Learning to communicate involves more than simply memorizing a set of skills. These skills have to be put to practice to properly develop. It can take a lifetime to truly develop an effective but flexible communication technique.
The most important ingredient during this process is open-mindedness.Try not to leap to the worst possible conclusion when someone proves to be a poor communicator. Instead, try to find a reason they may have been “off” that day, or try to understand why they might feel the way they do. Look through the haze of poor communication to find the real point being made.
Practice “emotional awareness.” This means learning to evaluate how you feel and why. Are you mad because your teammate dropped the ball at practice, or are you actually mad because your boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with you earlier? Understanding your own feelings will help you learn the self-control needed to properly express yourself. It can also allow you to apologize later, if necessary.
In fact, apologizing is one of the most important aspects of communication. Nearly any mishap or misunderstanding can be resolved with an honest, heartfelt apology. If an apology is needed but not offered, the team cannot work as effectively together.
On the other hand, know how to express yourself if you are the one feeling wronged. Letting things go without resolving them can build up resentment and severely negate the team’s communication efforts. Proper communication, included active listening, can help you bury the hatchet.
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