Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Taking it to the Next Level, Vol. 4.2: Verbal and Written Communication

In the second half of our installment on communication, Tony Raffo, director of IGT-Intensity Goaltender Training and goalie coach for Hockey Thurgau in the Swiss NLB Pro League, discusses how important it is for young people to develop and USE good communication skills off the ice: 

Verbal & written communication is a critical skill in taking your game to the next level. We all need to work at it every day, but it's especially important for young goalies to learn to be enabled to develop their communication skills.

Some parents do not allow or enable their children to communicate in a reasonable way. For example, often when I ask a goalie a question, their parent answers before they have a chance to respond. While almost 100% of coaches will go out of their way to listen and respond to a goalie, many do not want a lot of communication with parents. Of course, parents have to monitor this and vet any coach communicating with their child, but players should be encouraged to build open lines of communication directly with their coach.   A goalie should always speak with their coach first if they have a problem. The very best way to communicate is in person, face to face.

Easy example: Bantam Bill had a great week of practice; prepared, working, battling and stopping everything. His partner Greg played last weekend, and did well, but Bill believes that he consistently outworked and outplayed Greg this week in practice. This may be a great time for Bill to speak with the coach, not to ask who is starting, but to state: 'Coach, I am ready to "steal" the game Saturday.' Making that statement puts pressure on Bill to perform, and calls for a response without asking a direct question. The results may not be immediate, but it just might get the coach thinking about Bill's week and to consider that maybe it's time to give Bill a chance.

Instead, what I see too often this: Bill's parents are unhappy because Bill did not play last weekend. They communicate their negative emotions to Bill who pouts and goes through the motions instead of bearing down for a great week of practice. Greg starts his 3rd game in a row on Saturday and then Bill's parents confront the coach to express their concerns.

Parents, please encourage your children to communicate directly with their coaches, in person, themselves! Normally, coming off the ice after practice is a good time to address a coach in relative privacy, but if communication is kept positive, as above, there is no need for privacy. Once again, a little role playing at home will help and can be fun. Family and friends can help, but it shouldn’t be treated as a joke.  It should be considered communication training. Remember to keep the message positive.  Avoid such statements as: 'Coach, Greg missed practice, and was lazy this week, so I deserve to start Saturday.'

Phone Calls: Most young people don't know how to speak on the phone anymore. Texting is fine at times, but the best substitute for speaking to another human being in person is to call them on the phone. Not all coaches give out their cell number and prefer not to receive a lot of texts.  In the example above, maybe Bill didn't get the opportunity to speak with his coach Thursday at practice, so Bill can call him later that night or on or Friday. Always be prepared to leave a short message, such as:  “Hi coach, this is Bill, 216-555-9687. Please call me back when you have time. Thank you." This is another area in which role playing with your goalie will help. Really call each other, and don’t be in the same room together so it seems as real as possible. Also, make sure your voicemail is set up and check it regularly so that you don’t miss important calls.

Texts: Texting is great for quick info and is an easy form of communication, but not for deep thoughts or writing that requires more thinking. Texting the weekend's schedule is fine, but for communicating about starts and playing time, texting is not fine. Some coaches are at fault, too, because it's easier to text unpleasant info. If a goalie has the courage to speak and call, then a coach looks bad by texting unpleasant info. We coaches need to be held accountable, too!

Email: Email is a great tool for detailed writing and copying other parties. Young people should be taught to check and respond to email promptly.  It is excellent for a goalie to email a coach and copy his parents, and coaches must also copy parents when communicating with a player. The problem with email is that some hide behind it.  Email gives people the courage write what they may not say in person. It takes courage to speak with a coach in person or to call them. When emotions are high, it is useful to a step back. Maybe Bill is too upset to be respectful to his coach in person, so in that case emailing his thoughts calmly would be better, perhaps the next day.  A lot of back and forth emailing is too much. To follow up on an email, it is recommended to call or speak in person.

Writing: Real writing, which can be delivered in person, or sent via US Mail, has a much stronger impact today than ever before. You should teach your children to use that to their advantage. One of the best examples of appropriate use of written communication is writing thank you notes.  Buy a box of small thank you cards, stamp the envelopes, even get your goalie their own address stickers, and encourage them to fire away! Hundreds of emails, texts, and calls come in every day to successful, very busy, coaches, but how many thank you cards do you think they get in the mail?

Example:  Bill asks a Midget AAA coach, in person, if he can practice with them to prepare for a tournament. (TIP:  It is much harder to say no to someone in person!).  The coach agrees and afterward spends some time with Bill, telling him that he is welcome anytime but must contact him first. After the tournament, the Midget coach receives a hand-written thank you card from Bill, with a copy of his schedule, also asking if the coach will come to see Bill play sometime. Bill writes that he will let the coach know when he is starting, and will be in contact with him soon again. Bill includes his phone number, and email address.

Do you see how this could payoff come tryout time? Written communication should be genuine, but is a very effective  way to make an impression. Your goalie has to be hungry to train and do the work, but this style of communicating is something we must teach them to do, and it takes practice. 

In conclusion, the way a player conducts himself and communicates with coaches, parents, teammates, off-ice officials and others can play a critical part of his or her success in hockey.

One last thing, a little off subject: After a goal, banging sticks, cursing, acting out in any way must not be tolerated! Coaches need to address this, but parents can help by using positive communication. Goalies should collect themselves, stay calm, maybe get a little water, have a little skate, and reset until they are ready to stop the next shot, no matter what!  Blaming teammates also must not be tolerated.  Some goalies need a little "tough love" until they get it, like getting pulled, losing starts, whatever it takes, and parents must be prepared to back this up if the coach makes the decision to do so. It can't be allowed to go on, goal after goal, game after game, with no consequences. With some coaches, I have even had to step in with a few students to take starts away personally. Sometimes parents may have to be the one to do that, and if this is the case, don't let a coach talk you out of it.  Part of their job is to teach your children respect for the game, teammates, coaches, parents, officials, and opponents, and those actions disrespect everyone.

1 comment:

  1. Another outstanding article, Coach Tony. Keep these coming!