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Key Behaviour in Enhancing Team Communication in Sports: Active Listening

It was not uncommon that we get requests, pleas or inquiry from coaches or team managers on how to be effective in communicating with the team. Often, the enquiries are: "How should I speak to the team members?" "Should I be strict or lesser when I approach them?" "How can I get my message across more effectively?" While all these are legit and helpful ways to improve communication, one of the lesser questions asked is.... "How can I be more understanding of the players' needs?"

A boxing coach speaking to the boxer during a competition.
Getting your message across also involves understanding the other party's perspective. This can be done through active listening.

The key behaviour to answer the question, is via active listening. The keyword is "active". By definition, active listening involves "not only hearing the words that someone is saying, but also understanding the message behind the words". This requires a focused and attentive mindset, as well as a willingness to engage with the speaker and respond appropriately. Active listening is particularly important in team sports, where effective communication can be the difference between a win and a loss. In contrast, when we passive listen, we are only hearing the sounds and voice coming from the other side. In our mind, we are either paying little to no concentration, or our mind is already in the midst of making judgement, assumptions and preparing for an answer. You can visualise this scene when your partner is talking to you, whilst you are staring at the phone when the conversation is going on.

Guy staring at phone and ignoring his partner in a conversation
A form of passive listening where little or no attention is paid in a conversation.

How do we increase our active listening participation in a conversation? Here are 4 tips you can practice.

1. Pay Attention

Putting in focus towards the conversation is key. You can start with setting a time and period for the conversation and remind to yourself to be attentive in the conversation. Additionally, during the conversation, you maintain your eye-contact, avoid any distractions and monitoring each other's response.

2. Ask Questions

Asking the right format of questions can help in many ways. Not only you are able to encourage an open conversation, it also help to structure your active listening. Generally, open-ended questions like, "What is your opinion on this?" or "How is this challenge affecting you?" are providing more space for the other party to talk about. Close-ended questions, meanwhile, help you to navigate towards a certain direction in the answers. So a mixture of both gives you a foundation in having a fruitful conversation.

3. Paraphrasing The art of paraphrasing helps in ensuring that you have understood the message correctly. Athletes or coaches can paraphrase what the speaker has said in their own words. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and promotes a shared understanding of the message.

4. Showing Empathy

Active listening involves not only understanding the words that someone is saying, but also the emotions behind the words. We can show empathy by acknowledging the speaker's emotions and responding in a supportive and compassionate manner. It's different from sympathy as that is only showing pity but without any understanding of how the other person is feeling or what is experiencing.

As a conclusion...

In team sports, effective communication requires not only active listening, but also a willingness to share ideas, collaborate, and respect the perspectives of others. By practicing active listening, athletes can enhance their communication skills and build stronger, more cohesive teams. Active listening is a powerful tool for enhancing team communication in sports. By paying attention, asking questions, paraphrasing, and showing empathy, athletes can build stronger relationships with their teammates, resolve conflicts, and achieve a common goal together. As a sports psychologist, we often encourage athletes, coaches and managers to practice active listening both on and off the field, and to make it a key component of their communication strategy. At Mind Gap, we are committed to helping athletes and teams achieve their full potential through the power of psychology. If you are interested in improving team cohesion and enhancing communication in your sport, we encourage you to reach out to us for customised training plans.

Whether you are an individual athlete looking to improve your communication skills or a coach seeking to build a stronger team, we can provide you with the tools and strategies you need to succeed. Through individual coaching, team workshops, and other programs, we can help you develop the psychological skills and knowledge you need to achieve your goals.

So if you are ready to take your team's performance to the next level, we invite you to contact us today to learn more about how we can help. Let's work together to build a stronger, more cohesive team that can achieve success both on and off the field.


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