The importance of communication between athletes and coaches

The ability to keep things simple is difficult, but it is key to being successful as a sportsperson, and strength-and-conditioning coaches as well as the support staff need to be able to explain the what, why, where, when and how of exercise regimens.

Casual conversation makes the environment more conducive for athletes to open up and groups to work together better.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us a great lesson: the art of communication and keeping things simple and effective.

As strength-and-conditioning professionals, we spend loads of time with athletes, and what makes these relationships successful is good communication. But we tend to use technical terminology that is not easily understood and forget the basics of simple communication. An athlete may be initially impressed by a bombastic vocabulary, but such language becomes a deterrent to good communication.

The ability to keep things simple is difficult, but it is key to being successful as a sportsperson, and strength-and-conditioning coaches as well as the support staff need to be able to explain the what, why, where, when and how of exercise regimens.

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Cultural influences

There is a saying: “No question is trivial.”

Many sportspersons do not question their coaches on their training. But asking questions leads to better communication and enhances the knowledge of both the sportspersons and the coaches in understanding the former’s bodies and minds better. Such communication need not always be technical, and knowledge of other matters can make an athlete smarter and more adaptable.

Traditionally, coaches and athletes have predefined roles that they are supposed to follow to the T. Coaches have varying styles and approaches whether they are working with individuals or teams. For many, the result-based, format-specific approach they have used for many years may still work for them. But things have changed in the last few years, and more so during the Covid pandemic. It was once a sin to question a coach’s methods or to question him or her on the subject. Not so any more.

In the case of self-motivated and self-sufficient athletes, they will go the extra mile for better performance, which will include better communication with their coaches.

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Cultivating communication

A feedback and debriefing mechanism can be a potent tool for communication in professional sports. Instead of just sticking to the technical aspects, discussing lighter matters could improve the athletes’ absorption of information. Proper communication bridges the gap between athletes and coaches, which helps in tailoring the sessions and programmes for the former while helping them develop a comprehensive understanding of their domain.

Spending time over a cup of coffee or a drink can open up channels of better communication. Such casual conversation makes the environment more conducive for athletes to open up and groups to work together better.

Captain Ajinkya Rahane (left), head coach Ravi Shastri and the support staff communicated with the Indian team after it was dismissed for its all-time lowest Test score in Adelaide. The team rose from the ashes to lift the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Down Under for the second time in a row.   -  Getty Images

 

Many coaches, in hindsight, feel that training their wards differently — with proper communication — could have given better results. Some feel that being hard taskmasters is the only way to get the desired results, but this is not always the case. In fact, this method has proven to be counterproductive for a variety of reasons.

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Feedback mechanism

The best example of effective communication and a feedback mechanism came to us during the Covid lockdown, when we were engaged in imparting training to our athletes online. Despite following the proper methods, we felt that something was missing. So, we shifted our approach from being technical and prim and proper to easy, lighthearted conversations, which was a real game-changer as far as their attendance and giving their best was concerned.

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The process of personal monitoring and corrective measures was affected during the lockdown, so we started talking with our athletes on a larger scale about their motivations, intentions regarding training, goals, et cetera — aspects that are both directly and indirectly connected to their performance. To our surprise, many began to open up about not just their training, but also life and philosophy. Our athletes embraced this system with full vigour and enthusiasm. We had bridged the gap between indoor (lockdown) training and outdoor training.

Strength-and-conditioning coaches need to make tough decisions, and effective communication mitigates a negative mindset and ideas cropping up in athletes, which makes a huge difference at the end of the day. One of the finest examples in recent times is how Ajinkya Rahane, standing in as captain after Virat Kohli returned home from Australia, head coach Ravi Shastri and the support staff communicated with the boys after India was dismissed for its all-time lowest Test score in Adelaide. The team rose from the ashes to lift the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Down Under for the second time in a row.