The Quality of the Questions We Ask
Just like a high functioning computer, our brain will go in search of an answer when given a situation or question to solve. Reaching a solution or finding an answer that propels positive reactions/behavior/results is imperative to quality performance. Coaches and players alike need to be highly aware of the questions that we pose to ourselves and to those around us, as the questions themselves dictate the quality of the answer.
“How come Coach doesn’t start me?” A player who asks that question of herself will find answers such as; I am too slow, I am not one of the favorites, I have never been a good player, Coach doesn’t see what I have to offer, I have no idea what Coach is looking for…..and many other possible results. Those answers will not give the player a positive direction for her energy, focus or tasks at hand. Those answers only lead to dead end thoughts and feelings because the question posed is a poor quality question.
Instead players need to ask a better question: “What exactly do I need to change about what I am currently doing in order to get what I want?” The answers to that question provoke immediate changes in behavior and ultimately, performance. There is no space in the answer to that question for blaming others, feeling discouraged or losing confidence.
Also significant is the use of the word “why.” Questions that begin with the word why can be questions that challenge a person’s values or character.
“Why do you fail to mark your player on corner kicks?” The player who hears that question can perceive the “why” as a challenge to his values instead of his soccer. He may feel that Coach is really asking why are you so lazy, why are you so mentally weak, why don’t you have the commitment needed to get the job done, why don’t you work hard enough. The challenge to his values and character will cause an emotional withholding or withdrawing, consciously or subconsciously. Our job as coaches is to actually bring out every bit of emotional, intellectual and physical characteristic or resource that our players have within themselves. A better phrasing of the question could be “what needs to change in your head and your body in order for you to defend properly on corner kicks?” or “focus your work rate on staying goal side and alertly anticipating the attacker’s movement.”
Coaches can ask why, within a phrase that clearly marks out what is being challenged. For example, “why do you play a ball over the top to the front player? Can you describe what affects that choice versus playing a through ball on the ground?” This question is challenging the decision process and not their values – or who they are as a person.
Re-frame Your State of Mind
Re-framing is one of the very best tricks for changing results instantly. We all need a refresher on re-framing periodically.
Player self talk on the way to practice: “Today’s training will be tons of running and conditioning, which I hate and I dread. I can’t wait for practice to be done.” This is not going to get the player ready to be fully engaged and highly functioning. Re-frame that to “Being fit is what makes playing the game easier and more fun, so I will do the work today for Saturday’s game.”
Coach self talk while watching session: “These players are never going to get this, they are just not good enough.” Re-frames could be “even slight progress is progress,” “one player improving is one more player closer to what we need,” “I challenge myself to create the most effective training I can for this team, and continue to grow as a coach with any talent level.”
Catch yourself when your state of mind is not contributing to your optimal performance, and give yourself a re-frame to affect immediate change in your state and therefore your results.
The Culture of Your Organization
Sustained successful performance will come out of a positive, learning, growing organization. You will put your own meaning to those words, particularly the words successful, positive, learning and growing. You will have an idea and vision of how those words are incorporated into your culture and how that culture is perceived by the members of your organization. What is your outcome in terms of team culture? The best way to know more precisely where your team or club is currently positioned in these areas is to get their feedback. Asking questions can reveal where your players and staff are with relation to many characteristics of a learning organization. If you were to survey all the staff and players in your organization, the responses would provide useful feedback for where the organization is in this moment. The feedback can give you direct and useful insight into how communication is being perceived within your program. Are you willing to take the risk of asking questions that challenge the status quo or how things have always been done, addressing “uncomfortable” discussions, asking all those in your organization to actively give and receive in an open feedback loop? What kind of responses would you desire, in comparison to what you actually might receive, in response to these questions?
Does each member of this organization feel honored and respected?
Do players in this organization believe that the coaches focus on them individually, in order to affect individual growth and improvement?
Do players believe that coaches have the coaching capability and talent to help them become better individual players?
Do players believe that the coach is effective at creating collective team improvement?
Do we (in this organization) fear failure?
Is the atmosphere in this organization where learning, including mistakes, are accepted and addressed as part of the development process?
Are we allowed to excel without alienation?
Is open and honest communication encouraged, demonstrated?
Are people in this organization rewarded for offering ideas different to the leader, or tradition?
Does this organization have a method for consistently giving and receiving feedback?
How would you describe communication in this organization during difficult, stressful or challenging situations?
Is there clarity and consistency between coaches and players about roles and responsibilities?
Is the language used by staff consistent from coach to coach? Are the words utilized creating the highest level of performance?
When performance is not as good as we want…does the staff place blame or responsibility on the players, the coaching, the referees, other? Where and how does responsibility for performance get “assigned” within this organization?
These questions begin to explore the many facets of a team or club organization in terms of what people say and do and how it is understood within the system. Knowing how your message is perceived is the first step toward making your communication result in the best possible impact on staff and players.
Our daily responsibilities demand our focus on so many tasks. Those demands can distract us from noticing details about the language we use and the quality of our communication. Frequently we assume that people will “know what we mean” when we say something. That leaves a vital aspect of communication to luck or chance because the meaning of our communication is in how the receiver responds to it. And very often, we measure how the receiver responds to our communication by their performance or wins and losses. Consider communication to be a vital component to achieving excellence in performance within your team. Most exceptional leaders are characterized as also being excellent communicators.
Jennifer Griffin is a Sports Performance Analyst at Syracuse University for the women’s soccer program and is also a consultant on Organizational Leadership and Development, Personal Development and Mental Skills. She has also been part of the US Soccer Federation’s Per Diem Staff and was formerly a member of the Women’s Soccer Committee for the NSCAA. Jen’s soccer resume also includes having been a coach at the high school level for nearly 22 years. She can be found on LinkedIn.