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Being a Quality Communicator

Communicating with players is critical for every coach. Few coaches know this as well as Walter Pettus, Head Softball Coach at Patrick Henry High School in Ashland, Va. He’s remained effective at it throughout his entire career, even after a 2006 surgery that removed his voice box.

Now, Pettus can only speak very softly, and he almost always employs alternative methods to communicate with his athletes. But it hasn’t stopped him from getting his messages through to players. Here are some of his keys to being a quality communicator.

Explain yourself: Just because you’ve told your players what you want done doesn’t mean they’ll understand it. So you need to be willing to clarify things to eliminate any confusion.

“One of the worst things a coach can do is, when a player asks him or her a question, the coach says ‘just do it,’” Pettus writes. “That makes no sense at all and it doesn’t help the player. I explain things to my players, and at the end, I always ask them, “Is there anything you don’t understand about what I just explained to you?”

Put on your listening hat: It’s tempting to think that communication is a one-way street, with you dictating instructions to your athletes. Pettus believes that couldn’t be further from the truth. “I have learned that listening is a real good form of communication,” he writes. “Sometimes, if you will listen to your players, they will tell you something that you have overlooked.”

Celebrate differences: A mistake many coaches make is assuming that one style of communication is going to be effective for the whole team. Pettus understands that while some players respond well to coaches who are tougher on them, others may need a softer touch. “As a coach you need to understand that each player is different and it is your job to find a way to communicate with them,” he writes.

More than Words: Communication isn’t just about the words you say. If you want to convey a message to your athletes, there are other methods you can employ. Pettus, who frequently uses a yellow notepad to communicate with players and coaches, sometimes slaps the pad on the ground if he doesn’t like the way his team is playing. He says he has learned that non-verbal communication can get a message across just as well as speaking can.

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