Coach Bill was one of my favorites.
He had a way of engaging us so practices flew by and we felt super-ready for competitions.
Our first year was a great year.
He was a brilliant coach and part of that brilliance was he knew how to get his point across.
Communicate Your Point
All through history, great leaders became great not JUST because they were the smartest/biggest/most powerful, but because they could communicate extraordinarily well.
They could get their point across so others could understand.
Coach Bill was able to do just that.
His ability to communicate helped us athletes have a crystal-clear grasp of his strategies; potential donors to clearly understand the needs of the program and what they were to get in return; and his recruits to feel listened to and valued.
And you can do the same with the help of a few tools.
Time To Rip The Muddy-Communication Bandaid Off
There are several secrets I learned from Coach Bill.
Yes, I know there are a wealth of tips and tricks others promote on how to communicate well, and those might work.
But being on the receiving end I know that Bill’s methods worked great on me, on the team, and on those around us.
And today more than ever, with so many distractions, and attractions (ahem…social media, text messaging) pulling us and the athletes in a zillion different directions, you probably need help communicating your brilliance.
A Communication Toolbox
Bill was a master at building engagement.
He created situations where the listener WANTED to listen.
Heck, not WANTED to listen we were DYING to listen. We hung onto each and every word like we were holding a lottery ticket and he was reading the winning numbers.
It was like he had a coach’s toolbox, and whenever he wanted to communicate a point he would open up the toolbox, slip out a tool, and start to use it.
Those tools were his secret, and looking back I recognize five tools he used to create engagement that kept goofballs like us engaged.
- Prepare the listener
- Make it compelling
- Construct trust
- Create perspective
- Apply leverage
Let’s explore each and see how they might help you.
Tool #1: Pre-framing (prepare the listener)
At the beginning of each practice Bill would talk to us for about five minutes.
During that time he used a tool called pre-framing.
Pre-framing set us up, as athletes, for what was going to happen during the practice.
So, for example, Bill might say something like, “We will be doing 35 minutes of high intensity work today. About the 17-minute mark you should be feeling like…”
And then, sure enough, at about 17-minutes in we would feel almost exactly how he told us we would be feeling.
It was like magic and knowing these things ahead of time were of great help overcoming obstacles we might have encountered at that time (like feeling we were going to barf up a gallbladder).
This idea of pre-framing is not new, and has been used in teaching for years.
Yes, that’s classroom teaching and it works; however, for some reason many coaches don’t apply it at practices. Bill did with great success.
Pre-framing is a great way to prepare the listener for what is coming ahead so when it does you look brilliant.
Tool #2: Why Should They Care (make it compelling)
Bill made us think that the message he was delivering was really important even if it was something as simple as a small, technical change.
He made it compelling so that we would listen to it no matter where our minds might be drifting off to.
Many coaches do this by yelling.
I guess they think yelling will work because the person being yelled at just wants the yelling to stop.
Bill knew that was not true and I cannot remember him yelling at us, ever.
Instead, he showed us how the message was relevant and that understanding it was critical to our success — in whatever we were doing.
For instance, at the end of one practice he pulled us together.
We had gotten lazy about stretching after practice.
He reminded us of the big school dance coming up in three days.
If we didn’t stretch then chances were we’d get injured. Then out on the dance floor we would look like zombies.
That image stayed in my mind for a long time — stuck there by using the image of something as silly looking like a dancing zombie.
That was one way he communicated to us to stretch after practice.
Tool #3: “I don’t know” (construct trust)
There are many ways to build trust.
One method seldom used is saying these words, “I don’t know.”
Here’s how it works … Imagine standing in front of your team, giving a pre-practice talk.
A hand goes up and you are asked a question that you don’t have a clue on how to answer.
Your choices are:
- Fake an answer
- Hem, haw and dance around the question
- Answer the question with a question
- Respond, “I don’t know.“
Your athletes will smell BS for any of the first three choices above.
However, they rarely ever hear the fourth, and if you add this phrase, “But I will find the answer asap,” you’ve taken a step toward being authentic, and authenticity is a critical part of trust.
This I don’t know method also gives you an opportunity to have the listener really engage with your answer, because they know you’ve been moved to find the right answer, besides just slinging BS.
That builds engagement, with engagement comes clarity, and with clarity comes understanding.
Tool #4: Tell A Story Like It Matters (create perspective)
Have you ever been held hostage to a story that never ends, and doesn’t have a point?
Stories like those cloud over brilliance.
Instead, the right story at the right time can shine a spotlight on your point and make it standout like a solo-actor on a stage.
The story does not have to be lengthy, in fact Bill used extremely short stories to make his point.
After a rough practice in which the conditions were terrible, and we (or at least I) struggled, he approached us.
“I rowed with this fellow who used to love bad practices,” Bill said. “Races were hardly ever in perfect conditions, so the guy said they got him ready for reality. He’s got an Olympic medal somewhere in his pocket, so I guess he was pretty smart.”
And that was it.
No lengthy lecture about mastering conditions, or overcoming obstacles.
Just a simple three sentence story, right to the point.
Tool #5: Wing-man (apply leverage)
A wing-man flies next to you, protecting your tail and helping when needed.
A wing-man might be just what you need to get your point across.
Today, there is so much self-promotion that we have become numb to most messages.
When someone espouses about how good the product is, or about how much they know, or why you should listen to them, we click our listening-switches off.
This is where a wing-man can help.
If you need to make a point (and I’ll use the example of stretching after practice which I discussed before) an assistant coach piping up and saying, ” Uh-oh… head coach is truly mad that you haven’t been stretching,” can present that message in a different light, one that will grab their attention.
This happens all the time with my own kids.
I could tell them how important it is to eat their vegetables 1,700,303 times and they don’t hear the message.
However, when their favorite uncle rolls into town and mentions just once how eating his vegetables helped him win The Voice without even breathing hard, bingo… job over, message received, and the kids are asking for seconds. (Even if he cannot sing a lick.)
What’s The Next Action
You are smart.
We know that because you are reading this right now.
But being smart and communicating clearly are two different things.
Be like Coach Bill.
Create a situation of engagement and the listener will be hanging onto every word like it is their day job.
Try one, two, or more of these secrets to help your brilliance shine through.