Being a young athlete is like riding a roller coaster, with ups and downs almost every day. When times get tough, it’s easy for both coaches and parents to give a piece of advice that they think will solve the problem or make a child feel better about his or her performance.
But how often do we stop and take the time to listen to what the child is feeling and thinking? Sound advice is important. But being a leader isn’t always about “fixing” things. If a coach or parent is not tuned in to a player’s feelings and thoughts, or doesn’t take the time to listen to what’s bothering them, their performance on the field may continue to decline. Worse, they may become disenchanted and want to quit sports altogether.
It’s just as important to lend an ear as it is to give advice. Here are five ways coaches and parents can be more effective listeners.
1. Learn to pay attention
Adults need to feel someone cares, and will listen to our feelings. So do children, says Elaine Gibson, author of the Challenge of Difficult Children website. Patiently listening to a child can often help them find a solution to their own problems just by allowing them to talk it out. The concerned parent wants to rush in and say something to make the hurt go away. A coach is always ready to give a list of reasons why a player is struggling or not getting enough playing time. But what the child really needs is to solve his own problems, rather than having someone else do it for them. The sooner they learn this skill, the better off they will be as adults.
2. Make proper eye contact
Doesn’t it bother you to have a conversation with someone who avoids looking at you? Great coaches (and parents, too), know that when an athlete has something on his or her mind, they need to look them directly in the eye and take them seriously, according to MaxOne, a company that helps coaches run their programs. Nothing is as important as the conversation you’re having right then. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to your body language, which can also be a sign of whether you’re listening intently.
3. Eliminate distractions
Can you lead without listening? Perhaps. But can you be a great leader without being a good listener? Absolutely not, according to Amy Snow, teacher, fitness consultant and former athlete. You don’t have to answer every text or email that pops up, especially if you’re engaged in an important conversation with your athlete. Put your phone away, close your laptop and give your full attention to the situation.
4. Leave your ego at the door
MaxOne says it’s easy for coaches to believe their instructions aren’t being followed properly if a player is struggling, or that maybe the player is being stubborn and not buying in to their system. This “my way or the highway” mentality can not only create miscommunication between you and your players, but can hurt the team culture.
5. Keep your emotions in check
It’s natural to feel responsible about something that’s happened with your child. But according to Aha! Parenting, a web community dedicated to creating a peaceful home environment, you shouldn’t take it personally. Maintain control over your emotions, take a deep breath, and put your personal feelings aside. Remember, this isn’t about you; you can deal with your feelings later. Right now, your task is to work through your child’s problem and hopefully come up with a solution.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr
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