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Transferable Traits: Communication

by My Finish Line


Communication is critical in sporting contexts. Whether you are a team sport athlete looking to take part in the symphony which is twenty to thirty-odd people sharing a pitch or court and looking to orchestrate control of a ball; or an individual athlete looking for coaching feedback; the ability to communicate is crucial.

But communication is much more than just getting the point across.

-It is knowing what to say when

-It is knowing who you are speaking with and how they will interpret what is said

-It is about the tone and colour of the language used

-It is about picking the right time to communicate

-It is about framing suggestions/feedback/constructive criticism/praise in the right way.

This is the same whether you are a coach, CEO, athlete or assistant.

Consider this scenario of poor verbal communication.

You have just finished an event and you have competed poorly. Most of us know one that sometimes, it just happens. But then, your team mate or your coach lambasts you immediately after the event. It is then taken a stage further- the words used were also hurtful and disrespectful. The context was ignored also because you may have had a bad few days with trouble at home/ at work, and you are in no mood to take such a telling off.

Because a lack of communicative ability was shown, emotion takes over and the message is completely negated by the messenger because it is delivered poorly, in poor time, and ignoring the context. Layer upon layer of this scenario shows that having the ability to contextualise situations, people, events and time, is a huge part of communication – and sport is full of these examples in a non-verbal sense too – even some of the most high profile.

For when it comes to non-verbal communication, consider Muhammad Ali and his rope-a-dope tactic against George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. Ali was conveying to his opponent (deceptively) that he was exhausted, ripe to be picked off and ready to quit. Foreman responded to this non-verbal communication as the bait it was intended and decided to strike while the iron was hot and batter Ali to the canvass – thereby exhausting himself in the process and losing the bout. Usain Bolt also used to confuse, and I’m sure scare, a lot of his opponents by clowning around and being phenomenally relaxed prior to some of the most tension-heightened races in athletics history; thereby sending the signals loud and clear that not only was he confident in his ability but didn’t even need to concentrate that much.

Communication – verbal and non-verbal, is improved by practice, and experience. Sport gives people the chance to experience both, and taking the lessons of which into spheres way outside the race, field, or court. It is also why so many great coaches and managers were previously teachers or public service workers: for they know the ability to get a point across is as important as the point itself.