Teams are built and strengthened through the continual interaction of coaches and players. This involves the dynamic force of communication. That is, communication that goes beyond the obvious technical and tactical instruction and usual motivational exhortation.
The flow of effective communication between the coach and players must be two-way. Empowering your players to talk openly with you is vital. Often lost in the midst of a season is the significance of the players’ emotional well-being and the passion that naturally energizes student-athletes as a result of knowing that you care deeply about them beyond what they do for you on the playing field.
As a coach, I’m certain that you hope to have a meaningful influence on the lives of your student-athletes. Most coaches I know strive to make significant contributions by infusing their players with “life lessons.” So, don’t think the soft stuff like conversation is unnecessary. How you talk to your players goes a long way in building them up and creating a culture of trust.
On the other hand, young people are often crippled by an inexpressible yearning for a voice. They want how they feel and what they say to matter. Repressing and restraining this drive is not healthy. Communication is the bridge over which an athlete expresses his or her emotional state, shares meaningful thoughts, and builds healthy relationships. Conversation provides a window into the inner-life of your student-athletes. Caring is reflected in the authenticity you display encouraging the student-athlete to develop a voice.
Look, it’s really quite simple. Learning to communicate one’s ideas, perspectives, and feelings is healthy. And you occupy a central role in guiding young people along a path to developing communication skills and conversational capabilities. Communication has a tremendous impact on the climate of your team. When communication is non-existent or dysfunctional between you and your players, commitment will diminish.
When communication breaks down between coach and player (player to player too!) criticism and blame will increase; setting off a chain reaction. Once criticism and blame increase, respect decreases. When respect decreases players begin to pull-away and isolation increases. When players isolate themselves from others and the mission of the team their focus turns inward. When focus turns inward defensiveness dominates all future attempts to discuss problems and actions. When defensiveness becomes the conversational modus operandi rifts widen. When rifts widen initiative decreases. When initiative decreases aspirations diminish. And when aspiration diminishes all hope is gone—“why bother” becomes the default mindset. At this point players and teams spiral out of control.
Like a wildfire raging across the dry July landscape, you’ve lost your team. Just like that, the team you were building is destroyed. We’ve all seen this happen. It’s like the meltdown in the ninth inning. The leadoff hitter gets on base and the chain reaction begins. Failure to positively connect through communication will set in motion negative consequences and outcomes.
Pep talks and motivational speeches are terrific, but genuine day-to-day conversation will ultimately make or break your interpersonal interactions.