Up Your Game This Season: 7 Leadership Skills To Master As A Coach [Part 3 - Communication]

written by Erica Quam

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
— George Bernard Shaw

You may think you know everything you need to know about communication. 

Most people do. 

Especially coaches.

Communication is a leadership skill.

Everyone has room to improve as a communicator because it's not a 'one size fits all' skill.  You've got to adapt.

Once you have one person figured out, along comes someone else. 

Each person has a unique code to crack.

I believe people come into your life - specifically - so you can learn how to continually learn and grow as a communicator. 

Let's define our terms:

Communication is a process of information exchange with a goal of creating shared meaning or understanding between two or more people. (Priest & Gass)



It may feel good to vent about your athletes.  "Suzy makes me so mad!"  

That's real. 

Every coach needs some space to vent.

After you blow off some steam, it's important - especially as the leader of your team - to model the language of responsibility.

Your athletes are going to trigger you in a multitude of ways. 

They don't make you feel anything. 

Fortunately, they don't have that kind of power over you. 

No one does.

You may feel mad at someone. 

They don't make you mad.

Take ownership of your own thoughts, sensations, feelings, and wants.  Recognize how someone's behavior impacts you internally...and be able to separate that from what's going on inside them.

They aren't responsible for your own internal process...you are.


Your athletes want to be seen and heard.  

Are you listening to them? 

Improve this part of your communication through active listening.  

If you're someone who takes longer to formulate a response (especially if it's a heated conversation) active listening not only buys you more time, it solidifies to the person you're talking with that you're listening.

- PARROTING: Repeat back exactly what was said to make sure you're on the same page

Example - "Ok, so we'll meet at the dining hall for lunch, then you'll take the recruit to your Biology class, and then you'll both meet me in my office before practice. Is that right?"

Parroting is also great for repeating back directions to make sure those are clear.

- PARAPHRASE: Check and clarify what the other person intended, before responding

Example - "Ok, so what I heard you say was that you went to the party with the recruit and you never took your eyes off of her. Yet somehow, you didn't both come home together.  Is that right?"

- PARAPHRASE PLUS: Paraphrase plus your own thoughts or hunches

Example - "I hear that you went to the party with the recruit and stayed with her most of the time. My sense is you got into a conversation and she disappeared...and ended up going home with someone else. Could that be the case?"


You speak volumes without saying a word.   

Your athletes pick up on your non-verbal cues and interpret what you're thinking, feeling, and wanting.  

A smile, a frown, a disgusted shake of the head communicate more than words.

Lou Holtz - former Notre Dame football coach - had his recruiting coordinator develop a video to send to potential recruits. Holtz thought it was great...except he wanted it to include more clips of him having positive interactions with his players. Apparently, the recruiting coordinator looked and could not find any. (Janssen & Dale 2002).  This was a big learning moment for Lou - because he saw himself as a positive coach who sent positive messages.  

Pay attention to your nonverbal behaviors to better understand the messages you send your athletes by your body language.

You can confuse your athletes when what you're saying and how you're acting aren't aligned.

Which of these communication skills do you want to focus on this season to become a better communicator?  Share it in the comments below for clarity and accountability.