Effective Listening Skills

You’ve said it and thought it before, just like all coaches have. “Why don’t they listen? I don’t feel like they ever pay attention.”

As coaches and leaders we’ve all inevitably faced times where we felt like our message wasn’t being received. Now, go back in time and visualize the 16-year old version of yourself. What would he or she think of the coach you are today?

Would they want to play for you?

Would they respect you?

Would they listen to you and feel like you listen to them?

As we age we tend to forget what is like to be a teenager. We forget the stresses and challenges athletes face. Instead of focusing on how we can get our athletes to become better listeners, lets focus on five things we can do to become better listeners for our athletes.

After all, leaders model what they want to see and we’re the leaders of our programs.

1. Be Patient

One of the greatest ways you can show a player you care about them is to simply listen to them. As you know, each athlete is different in how they deliver and receive messages. It’s easy for coaches to lose sight of how difficult it can be for a teenager to effectively communicate what they want to say. Great listeners are patient.

2. Listen with your eyes.

Our lives are busy and we can never predict when one of our athletes is going to need our attention. This is especially true for those of us who teach all day and then go to practice. There are times when you’ll be grading a project, responding to emails, or creating a lesson or practice plan, and an athlete will want to talk. It’s vital we stop what we’re doing and focus on the athlete.  We need to make direct eye contact, cease all activity, and intentionally listen with our eyes. If we don’t, we communicate to the athlete the message they are trying to deliver is not important.

3. Repeat what you’ve heard.

Great communicators and listeners practice the skill of repeating what they have heard. When this occurs the person delivering the message feels validated and understood. It’s important for the one repeating the message to do so in a non-judgemental tone. Whether it’s intentional or not, one’s tone can potentially lead to confusion or misinterpretation, just like words in a text message. Coaches, when we repeat what we’ve heard in a positive tone we communicate our listening. When we do this our athletes will feel understood.

4. Focus on staying present.

One key to effective listening is to avoid interruptions. Great listeners do not interrupt others or try to finish their thoughts for them. I catch myself from time to time wanting to share what I’ve learned which can help my athlete, but I realize interjecting a point can communicate what I have to say is more important. To become a better listener I must consciously make an effort to avoid interrupting, finishing thoughts, or changing the pace of the dialogue. When we interrupt we communicate we’re more important than the athlete. Lastly, we should avoid planning what we’re going to say in response, and exercise patience by waiting for them to finish.

5. Provide feedback.

Part of being a great listener is providing valuable feedback once we’ve received a message. As coaches we must show our athletes we care about them and understand them. It’s always a good practice to show affirmation through non-verbal cues. These cues can include smiles, nods, stance, and posture. We should also make an effort to say phrases like: “That’s great”, “I Understand”, “I’m sorry to hear”, and “I appreciate you sharing.”

Great programs have a high level of trust which leads to more wins on the court. Effective listening is the one skill which will quickly build the level of trust between players and coaches.