May 11

“Body Language in Coaching: A Tool for Effective Communication”

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ASCA World Clinic 2010

August 30 – September 5

Indianapolis, IN

“Body Language in Coaching:  A Tool for Effective Communication



…Body Language is the outward reflection of a person’s emotional condition, defined as gestures, postures, and facial expressions by which a person manifests various physical, mental or emotional states and communicates non-verbally with others

People typically exhibit three types of behavior: touch, body position, and body movement. These come in clusters of signals and/or postures and convey a person’s feelings very clearly. However, one has to be aware of and sensitive to people from other cultures, who are likely to use body language in different ways depending on their social norms. Multiple demands by athletes, parents, and club administrators create pressures, which can influence daily coaching behavior unless one has developed specific coping strategies. According to research, 60-80 % of initial opinion is formed in less than four minutes as athletes make judgments whether or not the coach is approachable (interpreted as easy to talk to, friendly, amicable, sociable, open) or unapproachable for that day (perceived as distant, unfriendly, grumpy, aloof, cold, and/or standoffish}.

Such interpretation is critical for the coach-athlete interaction since the “coach is the true agent of change” in any sport environment. Coaches are, however, not always aware of the immediate affect of their body language or the emotional signals they send off. Yet, they are on ‘display, observed and studied’ by athletes before, during and after training; before competition or event; during competition or event; after competition or event; during de-briefing or evaluation; during non-training and/or in social situations. “See yourself as a book that interested people read – whether or not you want them to”… And one should always remember, “Pictures are worth a thousand words!” It is said, “the world’s greatest leaders throughout history have been good orators and use great body language to be effective in their delivery.” Similarly, coaches need to display effort, enthusiasm, and passion to motivate their athletes. Statistics imply that without body language up to 50-65% of human communication is lost or at least unreadable.

Subconscious gestures with hands, facial expressions and body language can often communicate more clearly the ‘true’ meaning. In the 1970s, Albert Mehrabian established the 7% – 38% – 55% rule to denote the amount of communication conferred by words, tone, and body language. The findings of that particular study reveal that the words we speak only convey about 7% of the overall message sent; 38% is attributed to voice tone or inflection and 55% to body language. His findings, however, have been somewhat generalized to 7% [verbal], 38%, and 55% [93%] as a working formula for communication. In fact, these numbers only reflect the results of that particular study; indeed, they are more about the importance of visuals and the degree to which we rely on them during communication. Although opinion on the exact percentage still varies among behavioral experts, non-verbal communication never the less ‘outweighs’ the verbal one.

Coaches should become familiar with the rules for accurate interpretation and increase their understanding of potential communication barriers. It is imperative for the coach-athlete interaction to develop special awareness, sensitivity, and techniques to ‘read’ body language effectively [females are found to be more perceptive, according to research]. This includes body gestures, unintentional signs, body posturing and poses, physical and emotional indicators, eye signals, body language and space [proximity], etc. Foremost, coaches should become skilled at presenting themselves with ‘open’ and positive body language and improve listening skills. Repeated video observation is one tool to identify respective personal communication skills or behavior, followed by practicing effective body language during daily interaction.