Communication is essential in all walks of life. There are multiple ways to communicate. Verbal, written and body language are just three forms of communication. Whatever way you communicate as a leader it has to be effective. In the last 13 years I’ve had baptism by fire when it comes to communicating. After working with hundreds of athletes and parents, I’ve learned 8 vital lessons:
(8) Over-communicate – While you can communicate too much to where it becomes a nuisance, in general, the vast majority of people under-communicate and take things for granted…the cardinal sin of communication.
(7) Be thorough, but concise – Numerous studies show that high school students have a 10-minute attention span. I would argue this is a gross exaggeration and that it is much closer to 30 seconds. If you don’t believe me simply watch the eyes of a high school boy when you are talking to them in a learning environment for 30 seconds. Of course, there are tons of variables that marginalize any “attention span stat” but you get the idea. As a coach you must always look for ways to simplify the message without compromising the content. As with most communicative areas think about what you need to tell somebody to thoroughly cover the subject, then immediately reduce it by 25% and then start stripping away anything else that is not essential or redundant.
(6) Practice it – Pete Carroll has his position coaches script and practice their first address to their specific units. I script, practice and prepare many of the things that I know I will say in front of my team. Clarity is huge and you can’t be crystal clear unless you have thought carefully about what you want to say and HOW you want to say it.
(5) Listen first, then speak – To most effectively communicate and hit the target of your communication you must know your learner. I have had countless conversations with young people and one thing I’ve found is that you can truly say the same thing to 15 different athletes and you can get vastly different responses. I mean VASTLY different responses. We have to know our learners or as Pete Carroll says, LEARN YOUR LEARNER—constantly.
(4) Have a consistent message with similar terminology – PJ Fleck, football coach at University of Minnesota, says that his players need to know 217 vocab words. This is a brilliant idea. It’s because he understands that people can interpret things differently, so he wants to be very clear when communicating, especially on-the-fly, so as to avoid miscommunication, getting people upset, etc and to maximize efficiency. Checkout this short clip by Coach Fleck. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q3jiUrg7vY
(3) Be the message – Roger Ailes (not supporting the guy, take it easy…), former big-shot television executive said that a communicator must “be the message.” That means that you need to believe what you are saying, absorb your own message, become your message and then you will be able to much more effectively communicate that.
(2) Invest in people – Noted writer, Jon Gordon, focused on this topic in his book, “You Win in the Locker Room First.” A message is received much better after people believe in you and they understand that you care about them. I was listening to Brock Huard’s podcast, Above and Beyond, with guest Jim Zorn and Zorn was talking about how he was the quarterbacks coach for the Seahawks when they had Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Dilfer and Brock Huard. What stood out to me was how Zorn invested in those men and communicated with them based on love, honesty and empathy.
(1) Meet people where they are – This is my biggest take away from this year in coaching. I was a much better communicator. I think that I did a decent job in the past at most of the items 2-10 on this list but this year I really learned what it means to meet people where they are. That means that sometimes we have to make adjustments. Fair isn’t the same. We have to alter our message, not violate our message or our content or beliefs, but alter and adjust it to suit the ears of the one who will be hearing it. This is the toughest and the most exhausting but the most rewarding. I encourage you to explore this concept deeply and richly and see where it leads.