The focus of one of my undergraduate lectures today was the importance of communication, with a specific slant towards defining the act and how the process of communication translates into a prominent coaching behaviour – instruction. An interesting debate was had following a game of charades and Chinese whispers. The games served as an appropriate introduction to miscommunication, the loss of the meaning within the message as a result of poor transmission and sparked a number of questions regarding our ability as coaches to formulate and send effective communication within the coaching environment. In fact, during my drive over to practice I began to consider my own ability to communicate a message, offer some instruction, and most importantly of all, listen!
During our last game I had been asked the following question: “coach, what can I’d do better?” Is there a more loaded question between coach and athlete? I tried to recall my response, it was brief, punchy and motivational, to a point. What it wasn’t however, was instructional. There was no specificity within my response, I didn’t identify a skill, task or area of responsibility that could be improved my means of… There was limited, if any, skill correction, tactical adjustment or role clarity within my response, I merely suggested that the player take up a slightly different position on the floor and look to utilise his strength and speed. I wanted to be clearer in my communication, in fact, I needed to be clearer within my coaching if I was to be effective. I was going to address this within our key messages prior to our practice tonight, and did through the development of a ‘picture’.
I sat the players down in a small corner of the gym and we spent twenty minutes constructing a pictorial representation of our philosophy, game model and goals for the season. I asked questions, presented clues and probed the initial thoughts of the players responses as a means of supporting them to arrive at the answers. It was interesting just how many players knew what we were trying to do in each moment of the game, and more importantly, why. We laughed, revisited and mused over what we did well, what we needed to improve on and how we wanted to realise this mid-season epiphany. The session went well, it was light in nature, but served to recall, revisit and reaffirm what we hoped to achieve. As we moved into our physical practice I felt confident that we had just completed a positive twenty-minutes of bonding and would benefit from the exercise at a later date within the remainder of our time together.
Practice was a high intensity affair, lots of challenges, moments of accountability and opportunities to build on our reflective session. The language being used by the players throughout the session was very much inline with the pictorial representation we had constructed. All of a sudden players were using words such as ‘gap’, 3×8, WRECK etc., all of which featured as cues, acronyms and prompts to recall our philosophy and game model. As the players moved through the various drills and game-based activities I removed myself, inch by inch, in a bid to allow them time and space to further explore our game model and to promote self discovery. I felt a little distant at times, removed from any developmental progression within our style of play and decision making. Slowly but surely I became impatient, the session no longer looked like I wanted it to, the sharpness, as in my definition of our game model, had been replaced with long slow cuts, poor passing, lack of vision and inefficient movement. I called the players in and challenged them to find their ‘Sunday best’, a phrase I had employed frequently throughout the season as a means of visualising their greatest effort, their most profound levels of concentration and their best output. Had I been too quick to judge? Was it that in exploring and discovering I had wished for a flawless version?
I exited practice happy with the effort of the players, a point I expressed prior to our departure. They had indeed worked hard, they were aware of much of what it was we were hoping for each and every time we stepped on to the court. Did it always look how I felt it should? Should it always look like I want it too? I believe the answer remains in the question and it is for me to untangle.