Our ability to coach is limited by our ability to communicate. That involves coaches communicating messages to our athletes and receiving messages from their athletes. When we think about communicating, however, we usually only consider the words we are exchanging. What we say to our athletes and what they say back. However, the words that we exchange are only half the story.
Sometimes what we say isn’t what we mean. From childhood, we have all been taught to be careful with what we say, how we say it, and who we say it to. For this reason, most people have become very good at censoring their words. Which means that sometimes the words we exchange with each other isn’t telling the real story.
Whilst people have been taught to sensor their words, not as many have been taught to senor their other forms of communication. That is, their nonverbal communication. For this reason, most people don’t have the same control over their nonverbal communication. So, whilst their words may be censored, their nonverbal communication is often telling us what is really going on.
For example, someone may say that they are really excited to be doing something, but their body language (not making eye contact, yawning, slouching, etc) is telling you they are bored.
This goes both ways, as is just as important when you are communicating with your athletes. If your words aren’t matching your other nonverbal communication, ie your pitch, gestures, and posture, your athletes may not believe what you are saying. And will begin to lose trust in you.
The role of nonverbal communication
Being able to understand how nonverbal communication plays a role in your communication can help you become a superior communicator. It can help you get messages across more easily and more effectively. And it can help you receive and understand the real message being delivered to you by your athletes or others.
Nonverbal communication can play five different roles. They are as follows:
Repetition: It repeats and often strengthens the message you’re making verbally.
Contradiction: It can contradict the message you’re trying to convey, thus indicating to your listener that you may not be telling the truth.
Substitution: It can substitute for a verbal message. For example, your facial expression often conveys a far more vivid message than words ever can.
Complementing: It may add to or complement your verbal message. As a boss, if you pat an employee on the back in addition to giving praise, it can increase the impact of your message.
Accenting: It may accent or underline a verbal message. Pounding the table, for example, can underline the importance of your message.
Source: The Importance of Effective Communication, Edward G. Wertheim, Ph.D.
The types of nonverbal communication
There are many different types of nonverbal communication, including body language. These different communication methods are as follows:
Facial expressions: The human face is extremely expressive, able to convey countless emotions without saying a word. And unlike some forms of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are universal. The facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust are the same across cultures.
Kinesics (or body movements): These include deliberate hand gestures and head movements like a thumbs-up or affirmative head shake. This is one of the most easily controllable of the nonverbal forms of communication.
Proxemics (or closeness/personal space): This is the measure of physical distance between people when they communicate. The standard amount of personal space expected by someone varies depending on setting and is somewhat culture-specific.
Posture: The way that you sit or stand and how open your body is to others around you communicates a lot about your attitude and emotional state.
Eye contact: This is one of the primary ways that human beings gauge interest or disinterest. Wavering eyes tend to communicate unease or even dishonesty.
Touch: Many interactions begin with an exchange of physical touch like a hug or a handshake.
Paralanguage: This category covers vocal qualities like loudness or tone of voice. Paralinguistic signals are any aspect of the sound of a voice outside a direct verbal translation of words being spoken.
Facial expressions: Facial expressions are one of the main indicators of someone’s attitude. An emotional expression like a frown or smile can be hard to consciously control.
Physiology: This category includes changes in body physiology like an increase in sweat or blinking rapidly. These are nearly impossible to deliberately control.
Source: 8 Important Types of Nonverbal Communication, Masterclass, https://www.masterclass.com/articles/important-types-of-nonverbal-communication#what-is-nonverbal-communication
The power of nonverbal communication
Being able to master your control of your nonverbal communication will allow you to:
- Show more interest and be more aware of your athlete’s views, opinions, and lives away from sport.
- Ensure your messages are not misinterpreted, and the importance of them is not lost.
- Build stronger connections with your athletes by building more trust and improving your empathy for their needs.
- Understand what your athletes really want or desire, as well as identifying if they understand your messages.
- Pick up on no physical problems such as burnout, depression, and other issues your athletes may be experiencing.
Improving your nonverbal communication skills
You’ll be able to master the use of nonverbal communication skills by practicing, practicing, and practicing. It’s the only way to improve the control of your nonverbal communication and your reading of other people’s nonverbal communication.
You can improve your own nonverbal communication skills by paying close attention to them as you speak. You may consider recording yourself in action and reviewing it post interaction. When doing so, listen to your tone of voice and watch your body language and facial expressions. If you can see a lot of room for improvement, practice these at home in front of the mirror.
To improve your ability to read others, pay particular attention to their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language when listening to your athletes. Then review what you picked up and what you feel you might have missed after each interaction.
The more you focus on these nonverbal communication methods, the better you will become at using them. And as you improve you will find that your ability to communicate becomes one of your most powerful coaching skills.
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