Listening to Understand vs Listening to Reply

By Max Ruhl, Head Coach, Ohio Valley University  @OVUwlax

As a coach, we are always talking about communication and its importance on the field. In this day and age, it seems like we are in a hurry to hear the words, respond, and then move on without really listening to understand each other’s perspective. Recently, we brought in health psychologist, Dr. Amber Adams of the Counseling and Wellness Center, to do some team building after a Saturday morning practice. The big lesson we learned… we don’t listen very well. As the receiver, we hear what we want and forget to consider the perspective of the person communicating. Our team found we can become narrow minded and less agile when working together towards that goal, creating an environment with a variety of opinions and viewpoints of our short and long-term plans. Since identifying this “plank in our eye,” we’ve spent more time considering all perspectives and being slow to react, which has made more individuals confident in talking through situations. Our practices have immediately taken an upward spike in our learning curve to grasp concepts, imagine that! Before I move on, if you can use an outside unbiased perspective to work with your team – I’d encourage it. We look forward to the next session with Dr. Adams prior to our first scrimmage this spring. Due to her insight, we plan to invest more into team bonding and not just team building.

   Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley University Athletics.

Preseason is full of long hours, stress (physical and mental), worrying about installing offenses and defenses, etc. causing individuals to be short with one another and miss the importance of being present in the moment. So how have we become more intentional about listening? Small compartmentalized practices, using the concept that less is more. As coaches we have all kinds of coaching points and we want to get it out at once – that can be overwhelming. Our program no longer runs 2-3 hour practices every day where we try to cram transition, offensive, and defensive concepts into one session. Instead, we operate with limited 2-hour sessions for big schemes and a variety of smaller specified training sessions for skill development. Let me give you an example: Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings we do big concepts, then skill development in the evenings. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons we break into position groups and dial it in for skill development. Then to wrap it up on Saturday, we put it all together for the last big practice of the week. This has led to more one-on-one time with each student-athlete and a better overall understanding of each position or scheme. Something we didn’t see coming from this practice structure was our position groups starting their own meetings to review concepts instead of always relying on coaches to guide the communication. Our students feel more knowledgeable and empowered to have conversation – it’s no longer my system, it’s OUR system.

So, what’s the take away from all this? Spend more quality with each other. We all have 86,400 seconds in a day, 1,440 minutes in a day, and 24 hours in a day. Use them with purpose. If you feel like there’s not enough time in a day… It’s not a problem of “not enough time,” it’s a problem of time management – how you spend your time. Know your priorities, write an extensive list out, know when you need to have something implemented, and be agile with where you can fill in the rest. You just may find that student-athletes AND coaches will listen to understand and not just reply to move on to the

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