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Are you really listening? – The first skill in coaching! Girls Tennis Network

The words of a child are a gift and their value should not be underestimated. They help us to develop a greater understanding of who they are and what motivates them. They allow us to open the door to learning and help a child to reach their potential as a player and a person. That is if you know how to really listen.

In a world where words fly around faster than ever before it can be hard to tune in to the right meaning of a child’s words and ensure that the message sent from them becomes a message received by you.

As a father and coach with a heavy work load I am constantly reminded that the skill of really listening is one that I may never truly master and so must practice constantly. Recently thinking about listening helped me to formulate the plan below and your input to this still developing skill, and very much unmastered,  skill is very welcome.

STEP One : What did I say?

Ok this might seem obvious but it is important to really be present, by stopping and giving your student your full attention. If at that moment you can’t give it you might want to practice using phrases that show you do care and have a strategy to give the message the attention it deserves.  Be honest and explain when you have the time if group organisation is stopping you give your all.

STEP Two ; How, Where and When did I say?

Just as most of our communication is non verbal, so most of our verbal communication is expressed more through tone, pitch, internation and context. The words are just a small part of verbal communication and accents, cultures and vocabulary can all influence how a message comes across. Be sure that you remember that you are still at step two of listening and its’ not time to dive in with both feet. It’s a time to actively listen and make sure that you don’t jump the gun.

STEP Three: What did that mean?

No I mean really what did it mean? Look at the message from the child’s perspective! There is very often a deeper meaning behind the words. As a young coach I was trying to persuade a boy to enter a club tournament when he responded with a phrase I will always remember! “Why should I play, we all know who is going to win anyway!” On the surface this seems like a throw away but when you think about what it means we arrive at an understanding of the messages that this boy was receiving, including those from me. Winning was valued as a major element of my, then quite naïve program. I placed a bit emphasis on results and it took me a while to get the message behind the words.

STEP Four: Why did I say it?

At GTN we try to ensure that the needs of the player are at the center of everything so it’s logical for us to connect the “Why” to our principles.

For example, did she speak because she wants to …

  • feel Secure? She wants to be confident and know that she won’t be embarrassed?
  • be Connected to others, make friends, build relationships?
  • be seen as an individual, have her voice heard and be respected?
  • Grow and make progress, develop her skills or gain information or knowledge
  • Create an environment which is more supportive for her learning and enjoyment
  • Add something of value to the group or community and help others

STEP Five; Respond?

Now before you respond with the stereo typical coach response, “Here is the Answer!” read the information in STEP Four, it’s  not always about wanting answers. A player who needs to feel secure for example does not need a “How to do it!” explanation, they want empathy, reassurance and confidence. If a child communicates for different reasons then surely they are seeking different responses and sometimes even …. no response just a greater level of understanding!

As a coach. especially a male one, we are conditioned that a big part of our role is to find answers, sometimes forgetting that they may not be what is really needed. But opening your ears is not enough. It’s not listening unless you open your mind too! Go flex them both and watch your players grow in every way!

Better still join us on a GTN Workshop and help us to keep more girls in the game!

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