How to Improve Your Coaching by Listening

improve_coaching_by_listening_postThe Greek philosopher Diogenes once said, “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.”  While this is an excellent piece of advice, it is not always easy to follow.  The following article provides advice on how to be a better listener and ultimately a better coach.

Assessments of thousands of leaders in all kinds of settings indicate that many fall short on listening.   Listening is a critical skill in any leadership setting for two reasons.  First, listening allows the leader to collect intelligence which can help the organization or team succeed. Second, listening allows the leader to create trusting relationships with followers.

Intelligence and trust win in any team setting, including sports.  When we are really able to listen – to athletes, to coaches, to parents – we can gain intelligence, which can help us be more effective as strategists and as motivators.  At the same time, active listening is one of the most powerful things we can do to build trust with our athletes.  And we all know that when the contest is on the line, intelligence and trust win.

Are You Listening to Win?

So how can you tell if you are a good listener with your athletes?  Score yourself on each of these four statements about yourself. 1=Never, 2=Rarely, 3=Sometimes, 4=Usually, 5=Almost always

  1. I try to understand what my athletes think before making judgments.
  2. I authentically encourage my athletes to share their views about the team.
  3. I am good at imagining my athletes’ point of view.
  4. I am able to accept constructive criticism and make necessary changes in my coaching behavior.

If you scored all fours and fives, congratulations, you are a better listener than most of the leaders out there.  If you had some 1s, 2s, or 3s, join the club – you are like the rest of us!

Seven Steps to Winning Listening

The good news is, listening is a skill that can be learned.  Here are seven steps we can all practice to become better listeners with our athletes.

  • Be in the moment - If you don’t have the time or energy to listen in the moment, set a time when you can give your athlete undivided attention.
  • Set the tone - Show your athlete that you are open to hearing by using relaxed words and body language.
  • Pay attention – Make a mental decision to listen carefully.  Show your interest with eye contact and relaxed body language.
  • Withhold judgment – Try to be open to new ideas and constructive criticism.  If you feel yourself getting perplexed, take a breath and suspend judgment until after hearing them through.  Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold their criticism and avoid arguing or selling their point right away.
  • Reflect & clarify – Paraphrase what you heard the athlete say, and ask clarifying questions to make sure you really understand.
  • Share – As you gain a clear understanding of what the athlete is saying, begin to introduce your thoughts and feelings on the matter.  If possible, talk about a time when you or someone you know was in a similar situation.
  • Problem solve – Use your judgment to decide how best to go about solving the issue presented by the athlete.  The best approach will depend on the nature of the athlete and the overall situation.

In Summary

There is no doubt that in dynamic, high stress settings like athletic coaching, it is easy to ’stress out and tune out.’   But the reality is our athletes often need to be heard in order to be their best.  We cannot help them be their best if we do not understand what they need.  In coaching as in every other leadership setting, listening wins. The leaders who can do it well have a competitive advantage over those who cannot.

Editor’s Note: A special thank you to Elevating Athletes for this article.

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