Among the hundreds of coaches I have worked with over the years, one of the most popular coaching points that I hear people make in training sessions and in games is that players need to communicate more with each other.
I hear this all. the. time. Coaches are constantly reminding players to “talk” and “communicate with each other,” making it their key point and learning outcome in halftime talks, postgame talks, and training sessions.
Although it is true that a team communicating effectively with each other is important and valuable, making the concept of communication a key coaching point is an ineffective way to improve players. In fact, insisting that players improve their communication is usually a cop-out for coaches who simply cannot identify problems, and further, can’t figure out how to fix these problems among their players and teams.
Often, when I ask a coach to reflect on what it is that their players need to communicate, then ask him/her how their players should be communicating, when they should be communicating, and what it is that their players need to do in a given situation (during which “communicate” was the coaching point), the coach struggles to come up with the answers.
If the coach can’t even identify the problem and solution, how can we expect the players to identify them, let alone effectively communicate with each other?
The answer to improving communication lies not in teaching “communication,” but teaching the actual concepts of the game that need to improve and that need to be communicated. If we consider the players we have, or the players we’ve coached before who are effective communicators, we can dissect what it is about their character and personalities that enables them to be effective communicators.
Typically, the key traits of an effective communicator are:
Knowing what to do and what the team should be doing on the field
Having the confidence to share that information with their teammates
If we want to improve communication on our team, we need to improve these two characteristics within our players. To do this, we need to first focus on teaching the concepts and principles of the game. Secondly, we need to instill confidence in our players by creating a positive environment in which they feel that their coach and their teammates believe and trust in them.
Next time we get the urge solve a problem on the field by telling players to communicate, instead of placing the blame on our players, we should take some time to reflect and figure out what the actual issue is and how we need to teach our players to solve it in training. We can do this by allowing our players to simply play the game and putting our focus on teaching the concepts with which our players are struggling.