The Benefits of Open Communication

Open Communication
Mark Mauno

Why open communication matters


By Quinn McDowell


This article originally appears on

The player-coach (or captain) relationship can be difficult to manage—and understandably so. Generally speaking, the leader’s agenda is centered on the team, while a player’s agenda is centered on him/herself. The allegiances of both parties are usually directed (and rightfully so) toward their primary interests, which can sometimes cause leaders to be insensitive and players to show disrespect.

The majority of this friction could be laid to rest if all players received one specific thing from their captain or coach—honest, truthful, supportive, and open communication. This may sound simple, but the impact can be dramatic.

Here are three ways open communication will have a positive effect on everyone involved:


1. Expectations are Realistic

Sports (especially when you have to deal with tryouts, playing time and other similar issues) can be a great learning and growth experience at any age or playing level. However, one of the biggest reasons athletes can have a negative experience with their leader or team is because their expectations are never met, since expectations are never set. If an athlete walks onto a team with a particular set of expectations, and the coach never communicates his expectations with that player, inevitably someone will be disappointed.

Especially in the case of a coach, truthful communication about their expectations for both individual players and the team is one of the most important moves that diffuse toxic feelings between players and parents. A team leader should lay out expectations at the beginning of the season and continue to reiterate them throughout the season. Players’ roles can change and expectations can shift with the ebb and flow of the season, and a coach or captain should do their best to be on the same page with the players regarding these issues.


2. Truth is the Best Medicine

Truth is always the best way to go when it comes to potentially toxic communication. If a captain or coach fails to communicate to a player how they see them fitting into the team, the player is left to patch together a picture of his or her role from the mysterious verbal and non-verbal cues they see in practice and games. This guessing game can drive players crazy and undermine a leader’s credibility. Although it is more difficult on the front end to sit down with a younger player and tell them that they might not be seeing a lot of playing time, ultimately this is the healthiest type of communication.

In the same way, if a coach or captain delivers truthful feedback, it is the job of the player to do their best to honestly assess how they could improve. The truth can sting at times, but ultimately it is the best stimulus for growth and character building.


3. Positive Opportunities for Growth

Every directive from a coach to a player should come with a caveat on ways and opportunities to improve (should the player choose to). Positive communication begins and ends with the idea that regardless of how much playing time a player gets, their inherent worth is never tied to performance. Sports are so much bigger than minutes played or goals scored because they teach us about ourselves. When honest, truthful, and supportive communication becomes the norm, everybody wins.

Quinn McDowell is a writer, trainer and professional athlete. He has played in the NBA D-League, Australia and Spain, following his four-year career at the College of William and Mary. He is the founder of and desires to see coaches and players succeed with excellence. He currently resides in Palencia, Spain, with his wife Lindsey.

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