“Battlefield communication is incredibly important for athletes, coaches and members of our armed forces and members of our first-responder communities.”The Program

We are constantly telling our teams to communicate. We all want our teams to communicate more. But where we miss the mark often is that we don’t work with them on how to communicate. How often do you talk to your players about the most effective ways to communicate? The longer I’ve coached and the more I’ve seen the challenges teams have with communication, the more certain I am of the importance of teaching how to communicate. How many times have you heard a coach say, “I don’t get it, off the court these guys won’t shut up?” Well, they know exactly how to communicate with each other off the court. It’s second nature. But on the court, in the heat of an intense game or practice, it’s not that simple.

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“Words can get drowned out and our attention can be snatched by something else more pressing. We further complicate the environment when we do not communicate effectively. Too often, in a fit of frustration, people will yell a general statement to no one in particular. “We have to work harder!” or “Catch the ball!” The impact on the team is no different from the drunk, shirtless, painted fan in the stands yelling “Play defense!” Nobody listens to that guy either.

“Battlefield communication has three components: name, command and volume.

Name: Use your teammates name. Yelling “Let’s go guys” has never worked. Direct your message to the person who needs to hear it. We all like to hear our name called and are far more likely to pay attention to the message delivered when our name is used.

Command: Tell your teammates what you need them to do. During the heat of battle, literal or figurative, we don’t have time to be unsure and insecure. Using modifiers like “I think” or “maybe” only dilutes the message. Be clear with your command and communication.

Volume: Use the volume appropriate for the location and situation. For a pair of Marine Corps Scout Snipers in a hide site exiting a reconnaissance and surveillance mission, the appropriate volume may be a whisper. On a volleyball court, foot field, pool deck, or trading floor, the appropriate volume is nearly always loud.

Say the person’s name, give the command, and use the right volume. Make it a habit.

I think this approach translates very well with basketball teams. It may not always be perfect or easy, but it is a great way to teach communication to your players. First of all, so much of what we all say gets lost in the moment, because we are naturally focused on the next most important thing. I’ve stood in front of my team at many practices trying to get a stern message across, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Using someone’s name directly when you want to deliver a message is a great habit.

The command aspect actually gets muddled a lot more than you think it would. We always stress talking on defense, but I learned early we also had to tell them what to actually say. I’ve had players who called out a screen like this: “Hey, I see you Cam, here it comes, get over it, get through it…” There is too much communication, and the command actually gets lost. What I want them to say is “Screen right! Screen right!” and that’s it. If you listen closely to your team and what they say on defense, I’ll bet at least half of what they are saying is just noise, not a message. Well if that’s the case, the actual message is going to get lost.

We used to say to our guys “Talk to the ball” on defense, a phrase of I always liked. But I’ve learned we have to tell them more. We want you to talk to the ball, but here is what we want you to say.

The volume, and the way the message is delivered, probably takes the most work. I don’t think there’s an easy scale to use to determine how loud the message should be in certain situations. The important thing is to talk to your team about how the message is delivered, and get them to pay attention to how it is received.

If your freshmen center blows a wide open lay-up off a great feed from your point guard, and your point guard screams at him “C’mon Matt! You need to focus!” he’s probably going to make him more uncomfortable after missing the lay-up than he is going to get his point across. If he waits until the next whistle and pulls him aside and says “C’mon Matt, focus on that lay-up,” the message will likely be a lot more productive.

A lot of the volume and the delivery of the message is going to be trial and error. The situation, the noise around you, the urgency and the receiver all play a role in how to best make the point. But it should be part of your communication process and the way you teach your team to talk.

Name, Command, Volume. Three essential aspects to effective communication, especially in the “heat of battle,” or the intensity of a basketball game. Don’t just tell your team to communicate. Teach them what to say, and how to do it.

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