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November 24, 2000
This page contains the following articles and reviews.

Coaching Articles :
Teaching Players to Communicate
by Steve Jordan

Product reviews :
Basketball, Sports Psychology & Peak Performance
Dr. Alan Goldberg

The Mental Game Plan
National Sports Marketing Group

Applied Sports Psychology
Dr. Gary Beale

Lenny Wilkens Legacy Coaching Series

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Communication and Mental Toughness

Teaching Players to Communicate


As a coach, would you like to really make a significant difference in a player’s life? If you want to teach something that will not only mold a better basketball player but also mold a better human being, then teach communication skills. That’s right … put communication in your practice plan.

Do any of the following situations seem familiar?

You bring your team into the huddle to discuss a crucial learning point and, looking up from your clip board, you notice one player rolling his eyes, another who thinks upturned eyeballs are pretty darn funny, and a couple others who are staring into some other quadrant of the universe. You feel offended and make the kids run as an object lesson.

Practice seems to be going fine when, suddenly, two players begin a loud argument. You break it up. Later, as you try to understand the conflict, you frequently hear the word stupid and the other player’s name used closely together.

The phone rings and hour before game time.

“Uh, hi Coach, this is Adam. I, uh, … um, My mom says I can’t come to the game tonight.”

“That’s too bad. Why can’t you come to the game?”

“Well, she told me I had to clean my room and, like, we got into an argument.”

Communication is the exchange of thoughts, feelings and information. The examples above are result of poor communication transfer skills. The thoughts, ideas and information are valid in each case, but the delivery and reception process was ineffective leading to frustration for all parties.

Coaches can teach effective communication just like they teach basketball plays. It’s not fair to criticize players for not listening if they simply don’t know how. Why would you berate your players for not boxing out if you have never shown them how? Don’t assume they can communicate on an adult level because they cannot. They’re kids, not adults.

  1. Explain the concept and its importance. If your start a discussion with, “Today we are going to talk about communication”, you will lose their attention immediately. Don’t be boring. Instead, say, “Adam missed the game last night because he got into an argument with his mom about cleaning his room. Let me tell you how Adam could have handled the situation and been able to attend the game.” With a relevant example, the players will understand and feel motivated to learn something that will help them. It is an easy lead into how effective communication is beneficial throughout life.
  2. Break the skill down into simple elements. Don’t talk about communication in some abstract manner. Talk about specifics, like why it is important to look the speaker in the eye and why it is important to phrase your statements with precision.
  3. Demonstrate the skill. The coach must set the proper example. Speak clearly. Listen intently with eye contact. Respect opinions. Once the players realize that listening is a skill and they see you habitually demonstrate your mastery of that skill, they’ll listen, too.
  4. Have the players perform the skill. When players use poor communication skills, take a second to remind them of your expectations. Tell them how a current situation could have been handled more maturely, respectfully and profitably.
  5. Reinforce proper execution. Effective communication takes time to learn. Praise the players for speaking effectively whether they are helping on defense, shouting encouragement from the bench or bringing up questions in team meetings. There’s nothing wrong with complimenting a player for introducing an important subject and even for phrasing a question well.

The Communication Process

Delivery – Getting the message out.

  1. Tell players to think a moment before they speak. They may avoid an embarrassing retraction. More often, though, they may be able to speak with more precision.
  2. Speak clearly. Diction is critical. Mumbling is not communicating.
  3. Keep sentences short.
  4. Speak with respect. People who shout and interrupt will be treated with similar discourtesy.

Why is delivery so important? Requests for clarification are annoying to both the speaker and the listener. Frustrated listeners will think the speaker is “stupid”. Frustrated speakers asked answering the question, “What?” for the umpteenth time will consider the listener “stupid”. In competition, vague communication is inefficient and may mean defeat. There is no time for “What?” As the coach, avoid asking, “What?” There are more constructive ways to get the information.

Ways to Improve Player Delivery

Instead of interpreting your player’s ill-defined references, slang or incomplete sentences (and we enable poor communication by becoming adept at translation), take your players literally – absolutely literally. The results will be so ridiculous the players will see both the humor and the reason for clear speech.

Here’s an example. When I have a chance to drive players home after a practice, I ask them for directions to their house. Students are horrible at giving directions. They assume too much. I take every instruction literally (unless it creates an unsafe situation!). The player may say, “Take the next turn”, and I’ll turn up right, up the next driveway rather than the next street. The player corrects himself with a laugh and says, “No, I meant turn left on the next street, 34th avenue, where the blue house is!” Once a player mumbled, “See the immediate right?” I looked out the window and answered, “I don’t see a meteorite!”

Another example An excellent way to promote clear delivery is to ask the players to explain drills and skills. After a few times the kids will lose their self-consciousness. You will also notice that once they understand their techniques more fully, they will explain them with pride.

Yet another example Try blindfolds. For instance, do the shell drill, but blindfold 2 or 3 defensive players. The other defenders must not only uphold their own responsibilities, but also talk their teammates through the defensive position changes.

Ways to Improve Player Receptivity (Listening)

Communication is definitely a two-way street. The listener has two important jobs. One, she must pay attention and collect the information. Two, she needs to acknowledge receipt. Acknowledgement not only confirms the message was received, it is also a sign of respect. People who do acknowledge the speaker are considered very rude.

How does a listener appropriately respond? Usually eye contact and a nod are sufficient. As a coach, you must insist on at least this level of confirmation. If the information is complex or the feeling is intense, a good listener responds by concisely restating the message or by asking for further clarification.

Here’s an example. Line your players up on the baseline. Point to the other end of the court and say, “When I blow the whistle, I want each of you to run full speed to the other end of the court and back, and touch the baseline three times!” Blow the whistle quickly. The poor listeners will run three laps and complain that some players (the good listeners) only did one lap. The good listeners followed the directions – down and back, and they tapped the baseline three times.

Another example The players form three lines under the basket. The line in the middle has a basketball. Facing them are three defensive players lined up at the free throw line extended. Give each defensive player a number, 1, 2 or 3. When you call out a number, that player must run to the baseline he/she is facing (15’) then turn and sprint back to help his teammates who are under a three on two fast break. To force them to listen then react, call out different numbers, too. Say 7 or 9 or a nonsense world like butterscotch. Believe it or not, some kids will spring into action upon hearing a word like butterscotch and then hear it from their teammates.

Yet another example Insist upon proper acknowledgements when you address the team. Tell players you want their eyes front and nods. If you notice someone not paying attention, stop talking and look at him/her very intently. Soon all eyes on the team will be on him/her, too. When the player realizes what happened, he or she will be back on track. This is a way to command attention without making an issue of it. Your expression can be as stern as you want. An alternative is to ask the offending player what you just said. Sometimes the player will repeat exactly what you just said which means he/she was listening, but listening rudely. The players need to understand the role of body language.

The role of body language

Body language must certainly predate spoken language. For instance facial expressions and body posture can be either threatening or compassionate. They can also provide an entirely different message than the one being spoken. Which message is believed? People trust the body language every time. It shows what we feel. Even toddler-aged kids know how to say yes and really mean no. That’s why is it is important for players to use proper visual cues – eye contact, nods, hustling to the huddle. One way to sell it is to tell them that everyone in the stands sees their body language. Fans, parents and the player’s prospective coach will all judge the player’s attitude on body language.

Points of Emphasis for Players

How to Communicate with Coaches

Players, be respectful. Look your coach in the eye when he or she is talking. Don’t interrupt. Nod if you understand. Ask a question if you need more information. Offer ideas if you think they will help the team. If the coach wants to go in a different direction than you do, support the coach. Its not the player’s job to run the team. If you think it is, your team will suffer.

If you are having personal problems that may affect your play or your ability to participate, tell your coach as soon as possible. Coaches cannot help you if you keep them in the dark.

How to Communicate with Teammates

In sports, it is often necessary to be blunt and direct. Remember that you and your teammates have a common goal – to make the team succeed. It’s OK to speak up with an unpopular opinion if you think it is in the team’s best interest. Kids are reluctant to speak assertively to peers and are overly concerned about appearing bossy or exposing themselves to ridicule. That may be OK socially, but if you want to be competitive, you need to take risks, and that means speaking up and telling other people what to do when the situation requires leadership.

Be considerate of teammates’ feelings. Presumably, everyone is trying to help. If you put your teammates down, the team will fail. Use encouragement to get what you want. Say things that will help your teammates do their best.

Watch your partner’s back. Talk during the game. Warn your team of what the opponent is doing. Even when you are on the bench, you can help your team win by looking out for the players on the floor.

How to Communicate with Parents

Kids don’t know how to talk to adults. When they get old enough, they want to be more independent, and that is when the clashes with adults begin. Remember that the adults are in charge of everything that you need to be successful in basketball. You won’t be playing anywhere if you can’t conform to the adult way of doing things. That’s how you learn to be an adult.

The best advice I know: Learn to say, “OK”. Use this when your mom gets mad at you. Use it when your coach tells you what you are doing wrong on defense. To argue is pointless. In our example with Adam, if he had listened to his mom when she told to clean his room and said, “OK”, he would have been able to go to the game. Instead he argued. Kids always lose the arguments with adults by paying some penalty after the discussion. Don’t fight battles you can’t win. If you just say, “OK”, the adult has no further reason to continue. You have acknowledged that the message is received. There is no reason for punishment. If you need to make an important point, do it later when things are calmer and there is less risk. Say, “OK” and choose a wiser moment to disagree.

How Coaches Can Encourage Active Communication

First, coaches, don’t take offense if players appear to be ignoring you. Spell out your listening expectations early in the season. Insist on hustle to the huddle or they will amble away half of your time out and look bad in the process. Demand eye contact and nods. Leave the door open for questions. The coach speaking and heads nodding does not equate to effective listening. Good listeners ask for clarification if they do not understand.

Coaches may not foster listening. If the coach doesn’t listen, why should the players? If you’re too busy or too opinionated you’ll never find out what your team is thinking. When players are unusually quiet, gently ask them how things are going. If players initiate a conversation, listen to them. You want them to talk to you.

Mental Toughness

I would like to preface these reviews by saying that each are great and valuable to the coach and athlete. It is really hard to "endorse" a single one. They are great in their own ways. Each has a differing method of providing the support necessary to achieve mental toughness in sports. Each method, no matter which you prefer, works. Completing a daily journal, listening to tapes or CD's, reading. The key to all is the "education" of the sports mind. Keep this mind as you read these reviews on these great products.

Sports Mind

Basketball, Sports Psychology & Peak Performance

Basketball, Sports Psychology & Peak Performance
by Dr. Alan Goldberg
sport psychology consultant for the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion
University of Connecticut Huskies

Dr. Alan Goldberg has put together some excellent material regarding performance in the area of Sports Psychology. His four tape set entitled, Sports Mind, is comprehensive and well strategized. Each cassette tape offers the athlete support and focus on the different aspects of performance. His soothing voice puts your mind at ease as you learn the proper techniques of focus, preparing, and competing. The accompanying 110 page workbook provides written reliable resource material to continue your way to a peak performance. This tape set is enjoyable and valauble. Many athletes can benefit from what dr. Goldberg has to offer.

The most enjoyable tape for me is the least expensive ($12.95). Help your child/athlete feel and perform like a winner is a tape everyone should listen to. Dr. Goldberg discusses the state of today's youth sports and the role that coaches and parents have with these athletes. He is right on in his analogies and anecdotes. This tape should be required listening while enroute to your child's , or athletic, competitions. It is a great reminder of what sports are all about.

Sports Slump Busting Dr. Goldberg has also written a book, Sports Slump busting. WOW! Insightful, instructional, and more positive reinforcement for today's athletes. This 266 page book presents a 10-step program that has benefitted "hundreds of coaches and slumping athletes and teams in a wide variety of sports, at every level of competition." Each step is a chapter that focuses on the necessary areas for success towards mental toughness. In chapter 5, Dr. Goldberg's "Cycle of Success" and "Cycle of Failure" are excellent examples of his knowledge of the athletic mind.

On a Final note.
Upon emailing back and forth with Dr. Goldberg, he did inform me that he is the midst of transferring all of his cassettes to CD. If you have a cassette, don't wait for the CD. Get 'em.

Applied Sports Psychology

Applied Sports Psychology Applied Sport Psychology
by Dr. Gary Beale - Dr. "Relax"

We did a review on Dr. Beale's system last year. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to review his unique system of utilizing subliminal messaging. Find out more about his system.

the Mental Game Plan

the Mental Game Plan the Mental Game Plan
National Sports Marketing Group - Kenneth Parady

The National Sports Marketing group has come up with even a different approach than the two above. You, the athlete or coach, get to take a test, actually it is a questionaire. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers to this test. It is a test on your mental feelings about sport and performance. A small fee is involved to take this test and the results are the "meat" of the program. My email discussions with Ken Parady provided some insight into the workings of the program. The results of the test are the program. The results are bound in a booklet. Each area allows additional pages for notes of improving and correlating suggestions to actually improve.

Ken Parady was generous enough to allow several student athletes to participate in these questionaires. A female basketball player, a college field goal kicker, a pole vaulter, and myself agreed to participate. To date, I have utilized and found quite good success in this "journal" technique of improving your coaching abilities. My field goal kicker has enjoyed excellent results. He stopped by the other day and commented on well his performances have improved. His comments of being more focused during clutch situations has him throroughly enjoying his successes. Basketball season has just started so I will post more on our basketball player and the track and field season is not far off. You can bet I will be after these students to strive to be the best they can be and improve their mental game.

Coaching Reviews Books Tips Videos Resources/Links Message Board Contact US

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