It will never matter how knowledgeable about the sport you are if your communication skills are garbage.
This is something every coach needs to understand. What truly brings a player and coach together is the way in which they communicate, both verbally and non-verbally.
I have seen so many coaches, even ones who have excellent insights to offer, fall victim to the consequences of a misaligned team. This article focuses on how those who train baseball players, in particular, can go about providing the motivation and mental performance skills your team needs in order to dominate this season.
Rule 1: Shut Up
It’s arguably the best two-word advice I can offer some self-proclaimed experts in the worlds of sports development or strength and conditioning. These are the coaches more interested in prioritizing content over context and fun facts over real-world applications.
A good coach won’t feel the need to demonstrate their knowledge every chance they get. Rather, they’ll ask more questions, listen to their athletes more closely, and attempt to understand what advice they could benefit from most.
In other words, you can’t talk and listen at the same time. You need to have the self-awareness of when to shut up and listen. A lot of coaches will yell in frustration that they’ve told a player something “a thousand times,” but how much time have they spent listening to them?
The reality is that more information is not always a good thing for athletes. Less is often more. If you can help simplify the equation for them rather than complicate things with non-stop jargon, they’ll have a clearer path to their goals.
In an athlete-centered service industry such as skills training, and strength and conditioning, the coach-client relationship needs to rely so much more on application than information. Long-term athletic success is built upon compliance, not an overload of information. Have a look at the many titles of blogs currently available that use 10,000 words to explain the friggin’ Bicep Curl; will this really help your pitcher? Or are experts completely complicating the heck out of things for the people who just need some simple technical cuing?
Over-complicating what is simple is not a sign of an elite coach. Experts will talk and direct, while real coaches will listen and guide. If you want my advice on the art of coaching, it begins with “Shut Up.”
Rule 2: Body Language
If you’re a baseball skills coach or a member of the strength and conditioning staff, never underestimate the power of the messages you’re sending to your current and potential athletes via your non-verbal communication.
The varying elements of non-verbal communication are absolutely essential toward building a real coaching relationship with your team, having a professional practice, and emitting the character qualities you have that you want to shine when the spotlight of the game is on you.
Very subtle nuances about the way we carry ourselves and the way in which we choose to communicate speaks much louder than what words we are actually saying.
How you move, your posture, your eye contact, your speed of speaking, your tone of voice, how you dress, how you look, how you smell, if you’re a hand talker, if you’re a close talker, your use of space during communication, the quality of your recordings, the quality of your handouts, your social media presence, your ability to actually listen and not just wait to speak—among many other non-verbal communication factors all play immeasurable roles in the difference between how you see yourself, and how others see you.
I guess if I was to summarize this second rule: If you want others to see you as you see yourself, start encompassing the qualities that make up who you want to become.
Don’t be surprised when nobody renews their contract with you if you text during their session, scroll social media during practice, make up their workouts/drills on the spot while they are there, come to work dressed like a lazy moron, or answer e-mails with no greeting or closing and say things like “r u comin’ to teh session at 9 today? i mite run a little late cuz im comin from the oherside of the block.”
Rule 3: Be Effective Rather Than Informative
You may be the smartest programmer and skills coach in the world, but to create change in your team or change in your athlete, they need to be picking up what you’re putting down in a way that truly resonates with them.
- Krebs cycle metabolic pathways? How about just energy?
- Meeting the leucine threshold? How about just “Go eat 4 ounces of chicken”
- Oxidative phosphorylation? How about just fat burning?
- Body composition alteration? How about just muscular and lean?
You know, I am super grateful for all of the people who have enjoyed my podcasts. But the feedback I most often receive has nothing to do with the complicated science, and has everything to do with these two factors:
- They say I explain things in a way they could understand.
- They say I provided actionable items that they felt comfortable and confident using.
Information is not an impressive coaching characteristic if you can’t communicate it clearly. Clarity brings actions. Complexity brings confusion. This is what separates “programmers” from real coaches.
Clear communication always beats trying to sound smart, and sounding smart doesn’t mean you’re being an effective coach.
A real coach understands that what he or she is capable of, or what he or she knows, means absolutely nothing if they can’t communicate in a way that is going to benefit the athlete or team they are working with.
Communication is everything, and we have to start respecting the fact that no matter how many textbooks you read, you will never be a real coach until you learn the ability to have your team want to work hard for you, rather than have to work hard.
The difference between want and have is the difference between first and last place. It all begins with communication.