Greetings from Charlotte, NC!
Coaches everywhere talk about the importance of communication. That without the ability to connect with players, all of the technical knowledge in the world is nearly meaningless.
I agree, but feel that we don’t take this far enough.
As I’ve written before, communication skills are far more important than we think, even when we think they’re important.
Which is why today, we’re going to talk about communication.
How less is more, why it’s better to coach in bullet points than paragraphs, and why compressing your ideas is so important.
Let’s dive in.
We have a natural tendency to add things to our life as we try to solve our problems, but it’s often more useful to subtract, to do less. As they say, less is more. And this applies in coaching as it does in most other areas of life.
To start, let’s take a look at this short article summarizing some lessons from Wade Gilbert, a true “coaches’ coach”.
Shoutout to Stu McMillan for sharing this article on Twitter.
One paradox of coaching is that the best coaches often say the least. This is a tough lesson to learn, because we naturally assume that those who do the talking are the most knowledgeable. But in coaching, it doesn’t always work that way.
The author writes:
One interesting point that Gilbert brought up in the presentation is that good coaches actually talk less. The difference is not small either: research has shown good coaches give 50% less comments to athletes. These coaches listen first and intervene second.
This article reminded me of one I’ve previously shared, Tips for Lean Coaching.
One mental model I’m taking away from this section is to coach in bullet points, not paragraphs. While it’s not perfect, coaching in bullet points is a good rule of thumb for interacting with players in a practice setting.
Personally, I always appreciate having an example to look to. Theory and philosophy is great, but I often need an example to make something concrete in my understanding. That’s what this article provides.
During Wooden’s final season as the UCLA Men’s basketball coach, 2 researchers followed Wooden and documented his coaching methods over the course of 30 practice hours. Here’s what they found:
“In their observations of 2,326 discrete acts of teaching during thirty hours of practice they observed the following:
- 6.9% were compliments
- 6.6% were expressions of discipline
- 75% was PURE INFORMATION”
Most of his comments were short and precise — bullet points, not paragraphs. He spoke infrequently, but when he opened his mouth, his words had power. And perhaps paradoxically, it was his short messages that packed the strongest punch.
The lesson for all of us, as Jack Han writes in Coach Like You Tweet, is to improve your skill in distilling a complex concept down into a nugget smaller than a tweet.
When you can do this, you stand a chance at scaling your knowledge to the furthest corners of your team or organization. Just ask Jeff Bezos ⤵️
As organizations grow, they begin to experience the “telephone problem” — the difficulty in getting a message to remain consistent with its original intent as it touches the furthest corners of the organization.
Because the leader can’t scale their time to speak with every person to deliver their message, they need to use a different method to solve this problem.
As Eugene Wei, former Amazon employee writes, Bezos compresses his message down into short, memorable bites that can guide organizational decision-making without him being there. Perhaps the most famous example is his concept of “Day 1”, which he first wrote about in his 1997 shareholders letter.
As Wei writes about his experience working with Bezos:
Jeff doesn’t even bother explaining what Day 1 is at the start of his letter to shareholders, so familiar is it to all followers of the company. Instead, he just jumps straight into talking about how to fend off Day 2, which he doesn’t even need to define because we all can probably infer it from the structure of his formulation, but he does so anyway. Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.
When I think of this idea, I think back to a conversation I had with Caleb Cotham, then the MLB Assistant Pitching Coach for the Cincinnati Reds, back in 2019.
In an attempt to explain pitch data to the players, he invented terms they could latch on to and discuss with others. The most memorable one for me was what he called a “hook” and how that gave his pitchers the keys to understanding pitch repertoires.
By compressing a big idea down into a small, memorable soundbite, Caleb made the information accessible to everyone on the staff. A huge win for everybody involved.
Hope you enjoyed this newsletter on communication skills!
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✌🏼 That’s all for this week. Thanks for hanging out!
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