It is interesting to me that a quiet, introverted person will often be accused of lacking in social skills. However, by listening to others talk without the need to speak, we are actually practising the most important social skill of all.
We carry an image of what a coach should do, and this is often because of the images we see on television. Football coaches stand on the edge of the technical area barking instructions to players who, if the coaching staff have done their jobs properly, should already know what to do on game day. No wonder we see these behaviours replicated by amateur coaches on every public pitch at the weekend.
I have been that coach that talks, talks, talks. I understand why coaches feel like they must commentate on everything going on around them. It comes from a place on insecurity, and by proving to athletes, other coaches and parents that we have a grasp of what’s going on, we validate ourselves.
The best leaders talk with people, not at people. The best coaches don’t just develop athletes who can follow instructions, they develop athletes who are self-sufficient, confident and can make decisions. How can athletes do that when we are constantly telling them what to do?
Shawn Blachard says we are now socialised to fill blank spaces with noise and activity, especially in the social media age, where talk and hype has replaced action. I believe we would be better off having a few uncomfortable silences with our athletes, allowing them some mental and emotional space to come up with their own solutions.
In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle describes four key traits shared by Master Coaches in sport, music and the arts. They were all:
Listened more than they talked.
Gave short instructions rather than pep talks.
Sensitive to the person in front of them.
For coaches, I believe that listening is the new super power. It is very easy to take the conversation away from our athletes and to fill the air with noise, and by doing so we dis-empower them. If we could listen to understand our athletes, rather than waiting our chance to get our words in, could we help them to perform better?
My question to you is: do you talk AT your athletes or TO your athletes?
P.S. If you are interested in some of the books I read to help write this blog post you should sign up to our free, monthly Book Club! 3 book recommendations each month focusing on sport, coaching and personal development.
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