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Hatt: Communication maketh coach! Tips to lift your coaching game

“[…] Effective communication is the cornerstone of success, not just for sports coaches, but in every aspect of life. Most challenges and obstacles arise from miscommunication, making it a vital skill to master. 

“[…] To coach is to awaken, develop, and enhance skills and performance, yet there are other vital responsibilities… Coaches who can truly connect with their athletes will make further progress than if they simply bark instructions…”

Canada-based Trinidad and Tobago track coach Tony Hatt offers more tips from the Coaching Corner:

Photo: A coach works with young sprinters.

(Coaching is not about barking out instructions)

Athletic coaches are voices on the field and strategists in preparation of their athletes, but their influence runs far deeper.

KFC Munch Pack

Coaches play a variety of roles for athletes, from parental figures to mentors. Instead of playing external roles for the improvement of an athlete and team, the genuinely great coaches are there for the development of their athletes as people.

The success of accomplished coaches is earned through demanding work and ceaseless education for those who are willing to commit themselves. There are skills that coaches can develop to grow from a competent coach into a successful one.

Photo: SMS coach Stephen “Bison” Williams (left) passes on instructions to defender Yohance Atherton during the NLCL U-19 Community Cup final on 20 June 2022 at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

(Good coaches need clear communication)

Effective communication is the cornerstone of success, not just for sports coaches, but in every aspect of life. Most challenges and obstacles arise from miscommunication, making it a vital skill to master. Miscommunication can also lead to athletic injury and mediocre performance.

To coach is to awaken, develop, and enhance skills and performance, yet there are other vital responsibilities. These include building relationships through genuine communication. Coaches who can truly connect with their athletes will make further progress than if they simply bark instructions. The ability to connect with athletes is one of those skills that cannot be taught, but can be strengthened through different forms of communication.

Communication is not only about conveying a message—it includes listening intently. Listening may be the most important part of the communication process.

Photo: A NBFTT training session in Pleasantville.
(via NBFTT)

People naturally speak more than they listen, so a successful coach must master the skill of focused listening. When coaches listen to their athletes, they accumulate information that benefit training and progress. Attentive listening can also help to build trust and a stronger relationship.

(Good coaches are organised)

As a skill, organisation is critical if a coach wants to achieve success. Planning and organisation keep athletes engaged. Without a plan, athletes may lose motivation or sight of the goal, and progress will be challenging.

Systems and routines not only nurture progress but allow coaches to track it in detail. Attaining reachable daily goals, individual goals and external goals helps players maintain focus. When visible progress, through data, can be verified, coaches are exercising a method of motivation and inspiration.

Maintaining organisation glues the team together and can reduce anxiety about competition. Treating competition day as if it were another day helps athletes to handle stressful situations better. This skill is also valuable in dealing with life situations.

Photo: Coach Bertille St Clair (second from right) has a word with (from right) Shaka Hislop, Stern John, Michael Maurice, David Nakhid, Leslie Fitzpatrick and Clayton Ince during his stint with the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior team.
(Copyright AFP 2015)

(Good coaches observe and analyse)

Coaches must see beyond the physical and perceive beyond the basics. They must observe details and analyse how to enhance their athletes beyond what they find possible.

Understanding all aspects of performance, both mental and physical, is not easy and can be taxing. Successful coaches stay vigilant, aware, and comprehend their athletes spoken and unspoken needs.

A coach’s observation and analysis must be inward as well. As an important part of the overall evaluation process, coaches need to stay aware of themselves and maintain humility. Coaches who are self-aware and humble set model behaviour for their players to follow.

Through a coach’s analysis of themselves and their players, innovative new methods can be discovered to improve and enhance performance.

Photo: Then Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart (centre) gives instructions to substitutes (from right) Andre Boucaud, Willis Plaza and Jomal Williams during their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Honduras in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on 15 November 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Orlando Sierra)

(Good coaches motivate)

Coaches are not only responsible for training; they are also responsible for providing motivation. A major aspect of successful coaching is the ability to encourage and motivate athletes effectively, even when the challenges seem almost insurmountable.

Motivation is the drive to work harder and exceed previous goals in a never-ending effort to better oneself. Good coaches must motivate their athletes when they falter and inspire them to find their own inner motivation. It can be challenging and tiring to repeatedly motivate athletes on a consistent basis, that is why it is important for coaches to stoke their own motivational fires too.

Fortunately, there are coaches who have dedicated their lives to the craft of perfecting the art of motivation.

Photo: TTFA technical director Anton Corneal.
(Copyright Nicholas Bhajan/ CA-Images/ Wired868)

(Good coaches innovate)

Finally, but no less important, is the ability to produce original and fresh ideas. The biggest leap taken toward success by coaches involves finding unique methods to invigorate and energise their athletes. Through continuous education and commitment, coaches eventually create their own distinctive strategies for success.

Innovation is what drives progress. Learning and practicing successful methods inspire new and interesting ways to push athletic limits higher. Not all innovative ideas work, but failures can be just as helpful. Coaches who can learn from failures are taking advantage of every situation, and once again setting a positive example for their athletes.

Importantly, coaches should learn about first aid care and the prevention of injury. When coaches teach sport skills, athletes must develop precise technical movements to produce peak performance. Such movements, along with the demands placed on athletes’ muscles when accelerating, decelerating, or changing direction, increase the risk of injury.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye (right) crosses the finish line ahead of Jamaican sprinter Tatiana Williams to take the 100m Commonwealth Games title at the Gold Coast on 9 April 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/ CA-Images/ Wired868)

These performance demands create internal forces on athletes’ bodies and when combined with external forces (for instance, body contact), injury risk can significantly increase. Coaches need to be aware of these potential risks when developing training regimens for participants competing at any level of sport and should gain qualifications on basic injury rehabilitation and CPR.

Coaches need to consult with key members of the medical team and have a great deal of interaction with certified athletic trainers at all levels of competition

Coaches should be enthusiastic about teaching skills. They must be life-long learners of sport to train their athletes for peak performance. It is important that coaches acquire and implement the most current knowledge of rules, strategies, and teaching methods.

Photo: West Indies bowling coach Roddy Estwick (left) has a word with pacer Romario Shepherd in training.
(via CWI Media)

It is imperative that coaches teach and reinforce responsible personal, social, and ethical behaviour of all athletes involved in their programme.

Qualified coaches are critical to the long-term growth and success of sport. The education and development of coaches will play a pivotal role in ensuring sustainable athlete success from grassroots to high performance.

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