Talk Less, Communicate More

Talk Less, Communicate More

The average person speaks over 15,000 words a day… But, how many of those words are mindful, intentional, and meaningful words versus just words spoken for the sake of speaking ….

As a talkative extravert Gemini I know I can be guilty of this! 

And as Tennis and Pickleball coaches, we need to be mindful of our words. After all, the average adult attention span is less than 7 seconds! So, make your words count!

This is especially true now.  Reflecting on the changes in the world brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, communication has been a big one with zoom meetings replacing in-person ones. As we start to carefully get back on the courts, being mindful of our communication and even learning new communication techniques has never been more relevant. 

How do we coach effectively while social distancing? How can we stay connected while physically separated? How can we communicate better internally and externally? 

Here are a few ways you can start to develop your mindful communication skills.  

1) Utilize W.A.I.T. This is one of my all-time favorite acronyms. It stands for Why Am I Talking. It may sound silly but try it! The next time you are about to speak, just pause for a second and ask yourself, “Why Am I Talking?” This will help you make your words intentional and mindful and have a bigger impact on your students. 

2) Develop Mindful Listening: As renowned leader Stephen Covey says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” Developing mindful listening is huge. As coaches, we want to truly listen to our students to be able to coach each player as a unique individual as opposed to merely sharing the methods that have worked for us but may not be ideal for our students. 

A great exercise to practice mindful listening is to find a partner (maybe even your student or perhaps your doubles partner!) and take turns talking for a minute each (you can do this for up to 5min if you really want to go for it). While one person talks, the other must simply listen and can’t interject at all. Once the speaker is finished talking, the listener can share what they heard to check for proper listening. 

3) Integrate Kinesthetic and Visual Learning (Not Just Auditory!): It is rare to find someone who is a pure auditory learner, learning best from spoken verbal instruction only, especially in sports. Yet that is all too often what coaches can be guilty of. The more we can integrate kinesthetic and visual learning to complement our auditory instructions to students, the more we will help them improve. Studies show learning retention and improvement can jump 300% to 400% with the use of kinesthetic and visual aids. And it does not have to be complicated or expensive either. You can find aids quite affordably online or make your own with a little creativity and maybe the help of a local hardware store. During these times, using aids is also helpful for being able to teach effectively while social distancing.  

4) Mind Your Self-Talk: Talking of course is not just external and what we say to others but is also the internal dialogue we have in our own minds.  If we speak an average of 15,000 words a day, imagine how many words we think! If your internal self-talk is negative, that will filter into your external talk. Practice simply noticing when a negative or critical thought enters your mind and then gently and compassionately bringing yourself back to the present moment – that is mindfulness. Remember to be patient with yourself. It is not about getting rid of those negative or critical thoughts but rather not dwelling on them unduly so that you don’t go into a negative spiral. Imagine noticing your thoughts of all types floating by like clouds; if you have a negative or anxious thought notice it and let it float by and then reorient yourself to the present. It can help to use anchors to bring your back to the present such as feeling the soles of your feet on the ground or even the feeling of a tennis or pickleball or your paddle or racquet in your hands. Again, these are all good things for us to practice as coaches so that we can embody and share them with our students. 

Try some of these mindful communication strategies and exercises the next time you coach or even just in your daily life at home with your family and friends and watch the transformations begin. Just remember to be kind to yourself as you practice – mindful communication skills are a journey that take time and practice so be patient and have fun while you’re at it! 

“When you talk you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” -Dalai Lama

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