Listening, Part 2 (August 19, 2015)

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Updated: August 19, 2015

Listening was the topic of my column last week, as it is this week.  With the fall sports seasons getting underway, even if the coach has been involved with an athlete for a number of seasons, the level of listening in season must be different if this season is going to be a success.

I’m a nut for finding ways to be more effective. Whether it’s as a worker, a parent, or an overall person, I love to digest the ideas of others on how they’re successful. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to be successful as no blueprint is the same for any two people. But it’s something I enjoy.

Shannon L. Alder wrote something I read in the context of successful relationships, but it pertains to this thought equally.  “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life-long quest of the wise.”

As a coach, there must be much “reading between the lines.” No insult intended, but today’s youth athlete is far different than any athlete before. Some of it is the inherent desire to remain on the court.  Some of it is the overall lack of communication ability, regardless of the cause.

An athlete’s communication is often muddled.  They won’t say they’re hurting for fear of not being able to compete.  Or they won’t say because athletes are supposed to be “tough.”  And if they do hurt, many don’t have the knowledge to know the difference between the types of pain.  Just ask any athletic trainer about that!

If an athlete does speak about their abilities, one doesn’t know if they’re as able (or unable, depending on their personality) as they say.  The only way to truly determine their ability is to see it in person, and even at that it’s a single instance the judgement is often made from.

Coaching takes intuition.  Coaching takes reading between the lines.  How hard do you push an athlete?  How much do you ask them to take on their shoulders?  How much knowledge do they really need to succeed in this situation?  It’s like parenting, except there’s referees getting paid nominally to be judged more harshly than the coach/parent by onlookers.

There’s a formula for success.  For every sport, for every type of team, for every situation, there’s a formula for success.  And if a coach reads that manual, they might succeed.  But the percentage of success is far less than if the coach truly has an understanding for how that success works.

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, again, each season is a box of rain.  Wind to create movement, water to create growth.  As a coach, you can’t see the movement in each athlete.  Wind is invisible but you certainly can’t feel it.

And the water, while visible, is creating growth beneath the surface.  By the time something has popped through the soil, there’s already an intricate structure of growth, invisible on the surface, which is determining the strength of that which is visible.

A coach can’t simply go into a situation and say, “We are doing this.” Because when “this” doesn’t work, for whatever reason, there is no other plan.  Every team is different, physically, mentally and emotionally.  And it is simply the coach’s job to figure out the best path to success.

That success is seen only by those who truly listen.  By listen it isn’t “letting the inmates run the asylum” so there is no say.  Each team needs a leader, of whatever type suits their needs most.  Success comes to those who listen to every piece that makes the team tick, physically, mentally and emotionally.