How do we help our athletes learn and develop the skills of healthy communication? While this has always been a challenge, in this day and age where most communication is electronic (like this post), it is even more challenging and more critical.
During my first practice I always lay a few ground rules:
- Live with integrity and you will earn the respect of others.
- Regardless of what else is happening, we always have control over our attitude and our effort...so we all commit to giving our BEST effort and having a positive respectful attitude.
- When you speak to someone, especially me because I am deaf in one ear, look at them and speak clearly.
Incredibly simple "rules", but the key is the consistency in applying them. If I bring my best effort and attitude each day to practice, then I am also living with integrity because that is something I committed to doing. Thus, we start the cycle of healthy communication.
If you leave it to your athletes to make the team rules, almost invariably they will come up with something about being encouraging and positive toward their teammates. The desire for healthy communication is already there! As a coach, it is my job to create the environment and opportunities for them to practice this. Here are two practical ways I like to do that...
At the end of each practice I ask my athletes, "What did you see?" This reinforces that the team is bigger than any individual, and by forcing them to keep their eyes up it increases their awareness of what is happening around them (great skills for our actual competing as well). They usually start with simple things like, "[So and So] played really great defense today." Instead of letting it stay there, I make them look at their teammate, use their name, and tell them what they saw them do. The simple shift from an announcement to a personal compliment carries a ton of weight! After this level of communication becomes normal, the level of compliments increases as a result. By the end of the season we get things like, "[So and So], I know you have been working on your confidence all season, and today I saw you compete without fear for the first time...and you did awesome as a result!" (Now, imagine not just teams, but homes full of that level of awareness and healthy communication...that's one of my goals as a coach!)
Another method is "the spotlight." As much as people often pretend to want the spotlight, when it comes we don't know how to handle it...partially because it is usually negative. In this case, I will have one athlete stand in front of the rest of the team. They must keep their eyes up and look at whichever teammate is talking to them. Then their teammates take turns complimenting that one athlete about any positive things they can think of (hairstyle, shoes, smile, skills, role on the team, personality, etc.) Each compliment they receive, they must look at their teammate and tell them, "Thank you." Not many things will help you build team cohesion and healthy communication habits more than this type of activity. It is a huge confidence boost for the individual and doesn't take long before it becomes a highlight of your practices.
Do you have other ideas or ways you like to help your athletes learn and develop the skills of healthy communication? If so, I'd love to hear them! Leave a comment...