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Communication crisis in Coaching?

Is there a communication crisis in coaching?

communication in coachingWhen I ask fellow coaches what are the important skills necessary to coach, “communication” is always one of the answers. The ironic thing is that no one can then agree on what commmunication involves.

A conversation I had this week with Ollie O’Mara (who is a trainee Doctoral Psychologist) made me realise that I had been thinking about the tools of communication, rather than the underlying message.

The tools of coaching communication.

communication toolsAn incomplete list, but communication does include the following:

  • Writing: texting, books, journals, letters (look them up younger readers), blogs, tweets, instructions on wipe boards, documents of agreements (team charters and so on), contracts.
  • Listening: Active, compassionate emptiness, reflective, empathetic, sympathetic, challenging, questioning, learning.
  • Reading: Skimming, critiquing, entertainment, learning,directions.
  • Drawing: Plans, diagrams, instructions, demonstrations, backgrounds, data visualisation (more on that soon).
  • Physical:Demonstrating technique, body language, compassion, restraint, guidance.
  • Technology:photos, videos, podcasts (maybe this is just a method of transfer of the above elements but they can be used in their own right).

How much of the above is taught on your coaching qualifications? How much is taught on University courses? More to the point, how much is practiced and assessed critically?

All theory and no trousers.

coaching communicationHave you heard of Transactional Analysis? Nope, me neither. Ollie told me about this on Sunday. It is “a theory of  personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and change

It looks at a person’s ego state and relates their behaviour and interaction with others according to this state. It divides into Adult, Child and Parent behaviour patterns. With the Parent being either Critical or Nurturing and the Child being Compliant, Free or Rebellious.

Communication breaks down or is ineffective if the two parties involved are in less than ideal ego states. The “critical parent” scolds the “rebellious child” (coach says at half time to the team that they were rubbish) and so what happens? The child rebels further (the team withdraws into itself and perhaps trys less hard or even deliberately commits fouls).

The theory is that we should try and manage the situation as Coaches by using behaviour and statements to help move the player or team into a more receptive mode.

This is great in theory, but without context or life experience, how can students put this into practice? Parents will automatically recognise the scenarios above and my children switch from free to rebellious to compliant within minutes!

All trousers and no theory?

My regular reader will know that I have been working hard on the writing elements of communication, and also the verbal cues that I use when coaching.

However, having all the phrases and cues right without recognising the emotional and sociological aspects of communication will prove ineffective in practice. 

listening skillsYoung coaches who are bombarded with theorems and research need to work on the practical aspects of delivery of messages. This is unlikely to be developed sat in a lecture hall, nor by feedback from their immediate peer group (more here). Having access to more technology can hamper your listening skills (see the picture).

Experienced coaches who have got the technical aspects of their trade pretty much covered need to work on understanding the context and background that may impact on their message. As a coach do you want to leave communication to the Sports Psychologists? They can help with the theory, but we need to be the communicators.


It was interesting for me to share ideas with practitioners from different backgrounds this week. It showed that I had been approaching communication from one direction only. Transactional Analysis is one theory, there are many others, but it did make me think. 

Coach development needs to do more than just say “communication” and move onto more Olympic lift variations. We need to practice, observe and hone our technical communication skills continuously. Critical friendships and changing the environment are useful ways of getting started. 

What does communication mean to you? Comments below please.


  1. […] When asked about the qualities coaches should possess the highest two responses were that coaches should be approachable and have good communication skills. […]

  2. […] Think of your communication strengths and weaknesses, and then imagine coaching to someone in your weak style (more here) […]

  3. […] At the moment I mostly read psychology – habit building, managing irrational behavior, communication, assertiveness and some philosophy (big fan of stoics).  When it comes to training related […]

  4. […] you communicate well with people outside of your own peer […]

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