What makes an effective Coach? Communication Skills

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the key factors I’ve seen that are universal to great coaches that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing in action. I have decided to focus in particular on Communication Skills, as this is an area that I often see limiting less experiences coaches both in sessions and in their career progression.

A little knowledge is dangerous

It’s very common for developing coaches to engage in verbal diarrhoea, feeling the need to offload every last detail of their knowledge onto their athlete/victim. Usually the coach hasn’t picked up on the cue that this isn’t necessary and often they’ve already lost the athlete’s attention and are boring them into submission.

I recently read Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power and whilst I didn’t take value from many of the principles, there was one that resonated with me…

Image result for law 4 always say less than necessary

I often think a “Less is more” approach would be a suitable strategy for many developing coaches when they are giving feedback to athletes. Unfortunately, many new coaches think that more information is the answer to helping an athlete understand feedback better, however often the inverse is true. Focussing on keeping your coaching messages short and concise requires you to be efficient with your words, choosing them wisely in order to affect change.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo Da Vinci

An additional downfall of inexperienced coaches is to fall for the illusion that complexity is related to effectiveness. In addition to using an excessive number of words, they also often use an excessive complexity in their descriptions, explanations and demonstrations. Usually your athletes isn’t that interested in how mitochondrial density is going to improve their aerobic capacity or whether a plyometric exercise was classified as having a slow or fast stretch shortening cycle. Having a PhD in exercise science isn’t a prerequisite for athletic performance…

An effective coach is able to assimilate their breadth and depth of knowledge, select one or two key relevant components and then reduce them to simplistic layman’s terms that their athlete will understand and apply.

A perfect complement to keeping descriptions, explanation and demonstrations concise is to also keep them simple. The above quote attributed to Albert Einstein seems very applicable for this issue. This is why the use of analogy and metaphor are such effective coaching tools. They communicate an idea or point in a concise and simple manner that an athlete can understand.

For example:

  • “The floor is lava” when emphasising quick ground contacts
  • “Land like a ninja” when coaching a soft landing

An exercise in developing more effective communication:

  1. Select a technique/Skill that you coach regularly.
  2. Identify the technical coaching points
  3. Write these down
  4. Reduce these to the vital key elements/attractors/non-negotiables, without which the skill cannot be executed competently
  5. Remove any unnecessary language or overcomplicated terminology
  6. Translate it into layman’s terms or use analogy/metaphor where

If you’ve done this exercise right, you should be left with a “goldilocks” volume of information – not too little, not too much, pitched at a simplistic level. Now take these and use them to coach a beginner through the technique/skill.

Did it work? Why or Why not?

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