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UK Coaching Research Team
Rapport Building and Communicating

Communication and Coaching

Understanding your own communication style, and the preferences of your athletes, can make a real difference to your coaching effectiveness

Communication is more than just what is said. It is a mixture of verbal and non-verbal messages that can change depending on individual preferences or the circumstances.

In this article we investigate the development of communication, communication styles and timing, examining both verbal and visual communication, and the similarities and differences between coaches, players and types of sport.

The communication divide

Previous research has found that the ability to communicate effectively is one of the distinguishing factors of an expert coach. It has been described as a skill that separates the novice coach from the great one. While novice coaches will focus on finding ways to help players understand instruction from the coach’s perspective, the expert will try to communicate more effectively based on their understanding of the player’s perspective. Therefore, finding what appeals to your athletes or players is central to developing as a coach.

Good communication doesn’t just increase coaching skills but also impacts directly on the player. If someone is to learn, then they need to understand what they are being told. Research has shown that how coaches communicate directly influences how players perform and behave.

Everything a person does or says can be considered communication. For that reason, it is important to look at both verbal and non-verbal (visual) communication. In addition to this, different people are likely to look for, and respond to, different forms of communication. This all increases the repertoire of skills a coach must have to communicate well, and explains why good communication is linked to expertise.

It is for this reason that some researchers have speculated that communication skills are the most important skills for a coach to possess.

Regardless of the athlete, the key to communication is to understand yourself and talk to your athletes about their preferences. Not surprisingly, the key to coach-athlete communication is good communication!

Some questions to ask yourself

  • Do you know your own communication style and preferences? When you communicate, are you using verbal or visual styles, or a combination of both? Why not ask another coach to observe you? If you want to help your players to understand how you communicate, you need to know yourself first.
  • Does your communication style change when the pressure is on? If so, are your players aware, and do they know to look for different messages at different times?
  • Have you discussed with your athletes what the fastest form of communication is during a game? You may be giving verbal signals while they are looking for visual clues.
  • Who are you going to communicate with? Have you identified one person on the pitch you are going to communicate with? This may be especially useful if different team members have different preferences for verbal or visual styles. Identify the player you want to communicate with and agree the style in advance.
  • With individual sports, you may also want to work on contingencies for what to do if the situation changes and you can’t communicate there and then.

Related Content

  • How to Communicate with Children

  • Talent In Five: The Talent Equation

  • Effective Communication: Coaching Deaf People In Sport


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UK Coaching Research Team