This week we are looking at communication skills.
Communication is the imparting or exchanging of information and it is the foundation of any coaches skill set. Communication works two ways when coaching. In simple terms, the coach has to listen to the athlete and converse information back to them, likewise, the athlete has to converse with the coach and listen to what they have to say. However, there is more than meets the eye with this simple process.
There are different ways in which information can be exchanged. We can say the information, we can write it down and read it, we can draw it, we can use analogies (or comparisons) or we can physically demonstrate it. A person will understand information better if it is given in their most appropriate learning style, whether they are an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner. One of the more difficult skills a coach has to develop is identifying a persons learning style and adapting to it (there are questionnaires you can use to identify learning styles). As the athlete, if you understand your learning style, it could be handy to let the coach know.
It is so important to mention here that if you don’t understand what the athlete/coach is saying to ask them to explain it further. They shouldn’t mind as it helps both of you out in the long run.
When asking questions, both the coach and the athlete can ask either open or closed questions. Closed questions usually just require a “yes” or “no” answer and can fail to explore the detail of the subject. This can often end up to more questions needing to be asked (or key points being missed) however can be useful for the coach when they have intrinsic or novice athletes, whereas an athlete may use closed questions to check or confirm something.
An example of a closed question may be
“is the range windy today?”
“do you know what XXX is?”
Open questions are questions that require thought and some length to their answer. They are brilliant for exploring a subject and obtaining much more detail than a closed question can offer. They can be useful for all athletes but especially with elite athletes or those who are wanting to expand their own knowledge.
An example of an open question may be
“what is the wind doing on the range today?”
“can you tell me what XXX is?”
Questions can be asked at any point during the coaching process, however, it is usually very useful for the coach to ask some open questions as a conclusion to the session to ensure the athlete had understood the teaching points from the session.
Communication doesn’t need to be just speaking and listening, sometimes gestures or body language can be a form of communication. A simple thumbs up can let an athlete know they are doing something right, or a coach know that something is working. An athlete who is disappointed may walk away with their head down and shoulders hunched over and this body language can let a coach know that they may not want to talk at that moment. Observation skills (something we will later cover in detail) are an important subset of communication skills. But again this goes both ways, if a coach is hunched over and looking miserable in their body language it is not really motivating for the athlete as all they can see is someone who looks like they don’t want to be there.
For the times where the athlete really doesn’t want to talk, the coach should be able to understand the body language and give them the opportunity to communicate when they are ready. This is often easier and occurs less when the working relationship between the coach and athlete is well founded.
As talking is generally the most utilised form of communication during a coaching session it is important to ensure that everyone is treated as human beings of equal standing. A coach should ensure the communication is a two-way conversation and not one where you are talking at one another! Likewise, as a coach, it is important to speak to athletes on their level. If they are in the prone position, avoid coming across as intimidating by towering over them, get on the floor next to them, this not only means you are on their level but you can actually observe more in their communication and the athlete should be able to hear you and understand you more clearly!
Good communication in distance or online coaching is even more important than in the face to face environment as the written word cannot convey the tone of a conversation, that being said as long as the communication has adequate detail in the content (including appropriate descriptions and explanations) it can often be easier for the coach and the athlete as they both have the opportunity to reflect on the content.
Communication in coaching is a huge topic, we hope that this overview has given some insight into communication, the communication skills a coach should have as well as what an athlete should look for when choosing and working with a coach.
Check back next week for our continuation of the Anatomy of a Coach