Communication Essay

Published: 2021/11/30
Number of words: 2969

This report will critically appraise and contrast data which was sourced from a semi structured interview conducted with a coach on communication. The report will orientate on the coach’s perception of communication and the manner in which they communicate with their athletes at their disposal. The interview will be cross-referenced against relevant eminent theories which disseminate how coaches communicate with their athletes. Sport at all levels tends to involve varying levels of human interaction and engagement and dialogues which individuals have are dependent on communication. Goffman’s perception of communication within sport coaching is the main theoretical perspective consulted throughout the course of the essay, whilst the paper will also cover shared leadership.

Communication is generally defined as the act of conveying ideas, information and emotions to others, in addition to comprehending those which are transmitted by others. The process entailed in communication encompasses both sending and being the recipient of messages and is often multi-modal (Lutkewitte, 2013). Verbal communications are words which are uttered (including the prosodic features and register of speech). Conversely, non-verbal communication encompasses actions, facial expressions and gesticulations. Communication can be individual or occur in group formats, also taking a written form (like documents and printed materials) or a visual modality (such as images and videos). Furthermore, Burton and Raedeke (2008) surmise that communication is composed of what is contained in a message and the emotional ramifications of it, how it effects the intended recipient of the message, although they do not cover the potential emotional reaction to it.

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Communication for a coach refers to a variety of forms, including verbal, nonverbal and actions. Johnson (2003 as cited in Burton and Raedeke, 2008) theorises that as a coach, nonverbal communication is equitable to verbal communication in terms of importance. This is because a coach can express their feelings even in the absence of speech, for example showing a look of disappointment or disillusionment to convey negative emotions, whilst clapping expresses their approval or appreciation of what an athlete or player of theirs has done. Johnson elaborates that “communication experts suggest that between 65% and 93% of the meaning is conveyed through tone of voice and nonverbal behaviours (Johnson, 2003, as cited in Damon and Raedeke, 2008, p. 16). This infers that a coach should control their tone of voice and be aware of the nonverbal communication they use in order to increase the capacity of their athlete/teams competence. This point is reaffirmed by the coach from the interview, that verbal and nonverbal communication are both essential (“it’s always important to provide a level of communication whether it’s non-verbal, verbal, visual or by action”) as coaches are constantly displaying messages and emotions to their athletes, in how they talk to them and act with them. The coach also outlined some of the negative consequences of not being a proficient communicator (if you don’t get that done properly then you’re sessions are always going to be very poor people aren’t going to be interested or understand what you want”).

Burton and Raedeke (2008) reiterate that communication is a fundamental asset of a coach’s capabilities, reasoning that one’s success as a coach will ultimately depend on their capacity to be a good communicator, something which could motivate an athlete to perform at a higher level with increased confidence. Again the coach consulted in the interview concurs with the sentiments of the literature (it’s important to be a good communicator as a coach because that’s how you start your sessions, you’re presenting the whole time when communicating whether it’s verbal or non-verbal”). He also made the valid point that a “successful coach will know how to communicate properly at the right time and in training.”

Throughout the interview many key themes were identified. One concerned the notion of communication being essential to enhancing the performance of an athlete: “I sometimes think that communication can be more important than the session itself.” Burton and Raedeke (2008) concur, arguing that communication skills could be a measure which forecasts coaching success. Once more, this emphasises the importance of communication for a coach between themselves and their athletes. However, a point was made in the interview that communication is not an innate ability rather that it’s something that you have the confidence to do or you learn over time.” However, Stafford (2011) makes the rational observation that it is assumed that all coaches possess some aptitude in communication, leading them to be insufficiently educated on the principles of effective communication. This implies that communication is something which is overlooked and that coaches need to be taught how to communicate correctly prior to working with athletes, reaffirming just how important communication is for both a coach and athlete.

Communication seems to be something which is unique to each person. The authoritative theorist Goffman (1959) surmised that the majority of people act theatrically as if they were on stage in their interactions. The participant in the interview agreed with this, observing that they tailored their method of communication to suit the age of those they were coaching, often acting as an entertainer or babysitter with younger kids: “with most youth teams, kids, they want someone whose going to be an entertainer someone who they can laugh at feel safe around, feel happy around.” Expanding on this, he reasoned that an individual’s actions in society correlate with how they would ‘perform’ in a drama. They adopt a role and will project a sense of self to others as they wish to be viewed. Again the coach enacts Goffman’s theory, observing that in the presence of younger children “I go very much like an entertainer, very much happy and very much excited”, reaffirming Goffman’s point that people act as if they are in a ‘theatre’. Jones et al. (2011) theorises that people act in an expansive array of ways to leave a lasting impression on people, which was illustrated by the coach when working in participation football and needing to hit targets so they needed to mark their mark on people so that they would attend the session again: “when I coach the sessions it’s all about making it fun and enjoyable and make sure more people come back next time”. The techniques coaches employ tend to depend largely on their sense of self-image and esteem, something which can particularly powerful if they are comfortable with who they are and have reached ‘identity achievement’ (Marcia, 1966, p.551).

On a different note, Goffman emphasises that humans/coaches in everyday life communicate information through symbols and images, and how the people/ coaches display their selves and incorporate this into social expectation, a phenomenon which Goffman labelled ‘the interaction order’. This arguably influenced Goffman’s subsequent work as it showed the importance of interaction in maintaining moral and social order, something which is particularly pertinent in sport, where athletes may be role models to children (Bandura, 1977; Jones et al., 2011). Goffman feels that individuals have the capacity to manipulate people’s impressions of them strategically as social situations which individuals find themselves in are not entirely governed by social forces (Potrac et al., 2002). Expounding on this, Goffman formulated a theory of self and stigma, which argues that due to the social situations which one may find themselves in, individuals may display a different side of their character, for instance a coach could make themselves out to be more of a performing character, using their ‘role’ as a coach to respond to their athletes differently as a coach would. This was a point referenced in the interview as the coach would be concerned about how to act, as he is the coach, a stable profession, but also which requires the ability to act differently due to multi-faceted nature of the social circumstances coaches find themselves in, like working with different age groups: I think I have many different acts in me depending on who I’m working with.” Goffman consolidates this point, arguing that an individual does not enter social interactions without a larger purpose as they want to sustain an image of how others see them (Goffman, 1969, as cited in Jones et al., 2011). This was a view also expressed by the coach, who felt the need to maintain a professional veneer whilst coaching in front of parents: “I think you have to act different when parents are watching as there needs to be a sense of professionalism in your when coaching children which is different to coaching adults.”

Goffman also observes that in the dialogues and interactions we construct with people, we project a self-image onto others which we wish them to see in order to control how people see us. This may not give an authentic image of the self and for this to be successful one must possess a multi-faceted personality so that they can select the appropriate persona to display for the situation (Jones et al., 2011). Again the coach concurs with the literature, verbalising that when “working with the young ones I use a lot of high 5’s a lot of laughter and a lot more fun and games” which is more like a performance, rather than a coaching session, aimed having fun rather than development. Goffman (1959, as cited in Jones et al., 2011) saw performance as referring to all the activity of an individual which happens during a period when they continuously interact with a certain set of observers, exerting a certain influence over them. Yet again this demonstrates that the coach differentiates their approach according to the age group they interact with, putting on more a ‘performance’ when coaching the children as “when I’m with the very young ones I go very, very, I don’t like using the term but I go very much like an entertainer, very much happy and very much excited” whereas when coaching an older group he will put on a different front, acting in a more professional manner as when he is coaching adults “it’s a lot more serious because people are there because want to improve their football they’re there to better themselves not just for a bit of fun.” Jones et al. (2011) rationalise that the objective of a performance is to convey a certain impression and ideal to the people who are in the current moment which indicates the nature of future interaction. So in the context mentioned by the interviewee above, the coach was conveying that the session would be fun for the young children and more serious for the adults, which is presumably what each coaching group would prefer.

Goffman construed interaction as an act which is determined by the environment and audience that it takes place in, something which is formed to convey to others the desired impression with how the actor wishes to be seen. They may also alter the tone and volume of their voice to achieve the desired reaction from other individuals (Potrac et al., 2012). This theme is prominent throughout the interview, as the coach has to alter his ‘image’ or ‘action’ depending on who they’re coaching, something which is affected by the gender of the audience: “girls is a lot different from dealing with lads” and “girls they’re very timid and you’ve got to do a lot more communicating.”

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Another predominant theme throughout the interview was the need for roles and shared leadership within a team. Leadership is when a leader cultivates and shares a vision which gives reason to the work of others (Handy, 2002 as cited in Bolden, et al., 2003) Belbin was a theorist who was fascinated with the team roles and leadership qualities within a team. Belbin’s original field of study was business, which overlaps with coaching to a certain extent, as they concern people and how they interact, like team roles. Belbin (2011) asserts that a leader has to be effective in meeting short team goals. Belbin identifies that leadership is a vital commodity and that team leadership is particularly important. He also reasons that for a team to be successful, it has to contain the correct mixture of personalities, with no divisive characters. An example in terms of coaching is that a coach may be ill-advised to make the most talented player the captain, as they may not possess sufficient assets to be vocal and be able to motivate people, so therefore a coach would have to choose someone who has these abilities, possibly someone who is intrinsically motivated to perform well for the team (Coon and Mitterer, 2010). Belbin (2011) outlines some roles in a team which need to be present for it to be successful. The first is a ‘plant’, an individual who is the most creative in a group, the second was a ‘shaper’, someone who was a good all round team player, who would specifically challenge and argue points, rather than having other people direct their actions. Sallie and Stevens (1999) undertook a study on the effectiveness of team roles using Belbin’s musings on leadership, concluding that within a team, it is more beneficial for there to be multiple ‘plants’ and ‘shapers’. rather than just 1. However, a possible criticism is that in the long term people may change in their roles and be more volatile in terms of their actions and how they react to people. This corresponds with with the theory of shared leadership, which takes each individual to be a ‘gatekeeper’, with a unique role to play in society (Goffman, 1983, p.7), inferring that everyone in a team has an important role. Pearce et al. (2014, p.276) argue that if each individual’s role in a team is recognised and valued, then the team may be more successful and cohesive as a whole. This could take the form of letting individuals now that their views and opinions are valued as the coach interviewed said that he likes “giving people the opportunity to speak” and asking them if they have “any views what do you think we’ve done well.” Bruner (1966) sheds light on some of the advantages of shared leadership, asserting that it helps individuals to learn off each other, particularly if they is a strong mutual respect, something which could be based on an appreciation of the player’s ability, something which the coach identifies: “the better known players, I like giving them a bit more of a say because like me they can be the role models”. Shared leadership could also make a team more resilient, particularly if they are able to collectively adopt a ‘growth’ mindset and see problems as opportunities (Dweck, 2006).

Essentially, communication is something which is clearly essential for a coach in order for them to get the best out of the athletes or players that they work with. This is something which was corroborated by the literature and the coach who was interviewed. Furthermore, it seems that the style of communication needs to be tailored to meet the needs of the age group coached, with a coach sometimes being an ‘entertainer’ (in the eyes of Goffman) and perhaps being more professional with older age groups. Leadership is clearly an essential trait for the coach to possess, but it seems to be that delegation and distribution of leadership will result in the optimal performance of a team as ‘sharing’ leadership between team members and recognising the value of each team member will elevate the performance of a team and bond its members together. Fundamentally, communication (of a coach) and leadership seem to be intertwined, with both being elements being crucial to determining the success of a team.


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