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Mastering the Coach-Athlete Communication Process

Coaches are only going to be successful if they master how they communicate with their athletes—to be on the same page with respect to the fundamentals of the sport, the mental side of athletic competition, and the preparation that needs to take place off the playing field. And being an excellent communicator with athletes means understanding that it's a process involving not just speaking, but listening and having perspective.

In an article on medium.com, Brett Bartholomew, MS.Ed., CSCS*D, RSCC*D, a performance coach & consultant, best-selling author, and founder of the performance coaching and consulting company, The Bridge Human Performance®, provides five tips on improving coach-athlete communication. His article is from the perspective of a strength coach who works with athletes outside the playing field, but the advice he provides is valuable to coaches of all sports and at all levels.

1. Listen

Listening is such a key element to the coach-athlete communication process, which places huge emphasis on being flexible during the communication progress.  Bartholomew suggests that coaches treat this area of communication in within the data framework that use for so many other phases of coaching. "Ask strong, open-ended questions, listen to the answers and write them down or record them just like you would data in a performance profile," he writes.

2. Speak Their Language

"Great coaching is about figuring out an athlete’s purpose and matching it with an evidence-based process. To do this, build off of what your athletes tell you and relate everything you do back to their goals and specific drives," Bartholomew writes. "Ask yourself: what do they say they care about most? Why does that  an understanding of what matters most to them."

3. Relate the Communication to the Sport

"Every sport has its own unique cultural aspects that can affect player personality as well as their perception of what constitutes success," Bartholomew writes. This is where a better understanding of human nature becomes even more critical." He also believes that the upbringing of the athlete will also influence how they behave in a team or group setting,

4. Be Transparent and a Bit Vulnerable

Bartholomew emphasizes that building trust is a two-way street. "You cannot expect to be able to bombard your athletes with both questions and information and expect them to never ask you questions in return, or for you to have to volunteer some information about yourself as well. Not doing so leads to a parasocial relationship, which is the antithesis of what you want when aiming to become a more effective coach. A true professional always welcomes mutual inquiry."

5. Alter Your Perspective

An athlete may think that the coach “doesn’t get it.” That athlete may be trying to quickly get through the instruction in order to play the sport they love in a game-like setting. "You don’t have to agree with this point of view, but you need to be cognizant of it if you are going to have any hope of reaching your athletes on a truly meaningful and influential level," Bartholomew writes.

Click here to read the full article.

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