Communication is so important in coaching because players have been proven to perform better when their expectations are aligned with reality. The best coaches communicate clearly and efficiently so that players are rarely surprised by coaching decisions. Do not assume players know what you’re thinking; share it.
Dr. Justin Anderson has a wealth of experience working as a sports psychologist with collegiate, Olympic and professional athletes. He is also a former quarterback at University of Minnesota-Duluth.
He founded Premier Sports Psychology in Minneapolis, Minn. He is a licensed psychologist who specializes in high performance psychology and leadership. Over the last 20 years, he’s had the opportunity to work with the best of the best in sport and in business. He’s helped countless professional, Olympic, and collegiate athletes gain an advantage in their mindset and mental preparation.
He recommends the following tips for coaches who are looking to communicate goals to players, parents and the local community.
“One of the things we’ve seen over the years is that managing expectations is one of the best things we can do,” Anderson said. “Psychology has taught us how distressed an individual can get when their expectations aren’t aligned with reality.”
Put it in writing.
“The best coaches communicate goals in a number of different ways. Set it up through the written word in a playbook or manual for the season. These are the standards of the program. Put them down on paper.”
Repeat it verbally.
“Do this a number of different times. Provide examples of what you’re looking for through your experiences. Speak to it in a preseason meeting, pep rallies, interactions with the media … any chance you get.”
Address potential conflicts.
“One thing to include is an explanation of how you’ll make decisions about playing time. What is the process if a parent is unhappy about playing time? How should they communicate to you?”
Make yourself available.
“What type of feedback are you willing or not willing to take? Most coaches get parents calling all the time to say their kid is not getting enough playing time. When are you available to take those calls? It’s better to face those issues head-on as long as it’s on your terms.”
Preempt any uprisings.
“At the beginning of the season, parents are much more agreeable. Once you get into the season with a few losses, parents get distressed. When you’re trying to impose your standards midseason, you get a lot more pushback.”
“You’ve got to hold everyone to your standard. Don’t make the standard so high that you don’t have flexibility to make the best decision for your team.”
Explain your decisions.
“If your standard punishment for missing a practice is for the player to sit out the first half, you have to hold everyone to that standard – best players included. If you share that decision with your players and explain why it’s the best decision for the program, then it works.”
Setting Expectations for Chimps
Dr. Anderson shared the findings of a psychological test on chimpanzees that shows how animals become distressed when expectations are not set properly.
In the experiment, chimpanzees were marched in front of a glass window that had food on the other side of the glass. First, the chimps were shown one of their favorite foods – bananas. They were then ushered into a room with the bananas, and their stress levels remained low.
In the next experiment, they were shown lettuce – one of their least favorite foods. When they marched into the room with lettuce, their stress levels remained low.
In the third experiment, they were shown bananas, but when they were marched into the room, the bananas were replaced by lettuce. The chimps’ stress levels were high, and they ended up trashing the room.
Finally, they were shown lettuce before being marched into a room with bananas. Despite the fact that they prefer bananas to lettuce, their stress levels again increased, and they reacted in anger.