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Listening - The Golden Key to Understanding
I wonder what's for dinner...I can't wait to get out of here...What time is it, anyway?...Oh darn, I forgot to call the office.
This is the sort of dialogue that is usually going through our minds when we're supposed to be listening. We pay attention with half an ear, waiting impatiently to make our point, while pretending that we understand. We all do it. The world is much too fast paced to really settle into a receptive position in a conversation and give ourselves completely to the person before us.
There is a difference between conveying and receiving information and understanding the meaning behind it. We're all pretty good at relaying messages and nailing down data that is necessary to carry on various operations. What time does someone have to be picked up? Who has the best price on copiers?
I had a woman in my office earlier this afternoon who bitterly complained that she doesn't have anyone to talk to. She went on to describe how she attempted to speak with her husband about her stressful day last night and began crying when she observed the glazed over look in his half open eyes. "I have no support," she whispered and her body sagged in loneliness.
Ask yourself this: When was the last time you truly felt listened to? I mean, when you felt understood as a human being? It's a remarkable experience. In fact, it is so powerful that it emotionally bonds you to the person who has grasped your meaning.
Something happens in that relationship which puts it into a special category that has to be earned.As coaches, you are teachers. And when you are recruiting, you are sales people.
I will wager that the first concept about teaching or recruiting that leaps to your mind is that you have to be able to articulate effectively - make them understand your point or just how good your school and program are. In other words, you need them to be your listener. And while there is no doubt that this is an important part of the job, the irony is that we will more than likely have better listeners if we practice it ourselves first. Isn't it true that you are more likely to give full attention to someone who has opened herself to you?
Okay, I made my point. Now let me see if I can help you out a little bit. Listening is not easy because it takes a lot of energy and requires you to control your thought processes. Technique helps. And I'm not talking about anything tricky or manipulative - I'm talking about using a skill - like good extension on a swing.
Try mirroring. Pretend that you are a mirror for the person speaking to you and instead of thinking about what you're going to say next, concentrate on reflecting back to her what she just said. For example, "I know I'm late to practice, but I have a big exam tomorrow and I don't really understand the subject and I rushed over here as fast as I could. I'm sorry!"
What is the meaning behind this communication? You could say, "Okay, get out there and shag some flies." Your player would undoubtedly be relieved. But what if you took it to the next level and said something like, "You're really feeling a lot of pressure to be two places at once and it sounds like you're scared of flunking your exam?" As a response, you might get tears as the pressure released. But one thing is for sure, something very positive would take place between you and your player because she would feel understood.
Think about recruiting. If kids don't feel emotionally bonded to you, they will most likely go somewhere else. Is the initial goal in recruiting to overwhelm them with information so they get all excited about what you have to offer? Or is the intial goal to start working on your relationship to this young lady? Mirroring puts people at ease, gets the conversation off to a good start and allows emotional bonding to occur even when people are from diverse backgrounds.
In my "Recruit to Win" seminars, I suggest to coaches that the first question they ask on that first phone call is one which allows a mirroring response. "How is your year going?" won't do it. When they say OKAY, you have nothing to work with. On the other hand, "What are you looking for in your college experience?" ought to yield all sorts of good stuff.
I call listening "the golden key to understanding" because it opens the doors of peoples' emotions to you. Mirroring is a skill which allows you to open the door very quickly. It's simple. Try it once. Good things will happen!
(Tom Dunlap presents "Recruit to Win" workshops for coaches at all divisions of intercollegiate athletics. He has been a guest speaker in the past year at both the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and Women's Basketball Coaches Association conventions. In addition, he maintains a pastoral counseling and mediation practice from his Cincinnati home. He can be reached at 513/771-5017).