JOHN MCHENRY: Communication so crucial to finding winning formula

Communication. It is part of our everyday lives but how much effort do we actually put into making sure we present our thoughts and our beliefs accurately? Just ask how much it matters to anyone listening to a doctor diagnosing a patient or someone trying to take in an all-important business pitch.

Accurate communication of information is essential in all walks of life. It is what enables us to evaluate what to do next and what not to do. Never is communication more important than at the very top of a decision-making ladder, where right or wrong decisions can have a profound impact on society at large.

How you communicate your message depends on your audience. For example, when I was playing on the European Tour, I had an agreement with my caddie Myles Byrne as to how I wanted his information communicated to me.

Let’s say it was a second shot to a particular hole. He would communicate the yardage and if there was an observation to be made, like the fact a strong cold wind might affect the distance I could hit the ball or that I was hitting onto a firm putting surface, he would make it.

With that information, I would then make up my own mind and if he agreed with my decision, he would say, “perfect” and “stay in your routine” after which I would go ahead and hit the shot.

It was always a positive statement. On the other hand, if he disagreed with my decision, he would say something like “let’s make sure we get this wind right” — again a positive statement but one that would gently nudge me towards a decision which he felt was right, before I again made the final assessment at which time he would reply, “perfect” and “stay in your routine.”

As pedantic as that sounds, it always comforted me that I was making the right decision and therefore I was more likely to execute my shot to the best of my ability, while Myles was also happy because he was an integral part of the decision-making process.

With the proliferation of TV coverage of all sports in recent years, it is hardly surprising that we now see coaches and teams adopt a more professional approach towards their training methods. For example, nowadays, it is not uncommon to see elite teams using specialist coaches in everything from nutrition to strength and conditioning to performance.

But, with all this effort, how much time does the head coach put into analysing how to communicate a thoughtful gameplan, that ultimately defines the individual or group tactics and objectives while maximising the potential of both the players and coaches alike?

The responsibility for the success of the team starts with the coach and while the bottom line in professional sports is all about winning, good coaching in any code is about helping athletes to understand themselves, and helping them get to where they want or need to be.

So, if the basic role of an elite head coach begins with a strong working knowledge of the game and the design of a resourceful playing system, which is then executed by well-prepared players, peak performance most often comes from great communication where the coach and players demonstrate the necessary ability to function effectively and decisively in the most stressful situations.

Yet how often do we still hear half-time team talks where coaches throw their toys out of the cot or berate individuals negatively to the point of embarrassment? What purpose does it serve to demotivate players to the point of non-performance or to alienate team members against each other or against the coaches?

Surely, when a coach corrects or criticises, it should be done without malice and without creating fear? It should also perhaps acknowledge a failure on the coach’s behalf that the correct information or essential skills may not have been effectively passed onto the players. In modern competition, an athlete must respond quicker, both mentally and physically, than his opponent. Strength and speed are important advantages, but even more advantageous is a training regime that allows the athlete respond intelligently to unexpected situations under extreme pressure.

Most good teams are made up of a bunch of different talents and personalities. The super motivated are most likely able to look after themselves. And then there are the good, average or even marginal members — it is crucial to understand that in a team environment each team member can, with the right monitoring, motivation and counsel, learn to perform to their potential and in doing so add something of value to the team. Effective leadership comes from the head coach setting a level of expectation which everyone, from his coaching staff to his players, must buy into by volunteering their thoughts around their own area of expertise. Only by giving everyone a level of ownership in the decision- making process, does it allows vital information to get from bottom to the top.

From a player perspective, the knowledge that they are playing an active role in the direction of their own team’s performance, promotes a security and closeness which in turn leads to a happier and more committed player, which most usually manifests itself in a greater level of flexibility on the pitch when responding to any unexpected situation.

Egos therefore should have no value in a team environment as being distracted by one’s own importance can lead to growing insecurity amongst others, especially around communication.

Once everyone is fully committed, the decision-making around team selection simply becomes part of the process but with a clear communication plan and an understanding of where the team is heading and how they plan to get there, great coaches truly define themselves by selecting a motivated team that fully understands how to consistently produce a winning team performance.


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