Improving players through effective listening

By Dawn Redd, volleyball coach, Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin

We spend sixty percent of our time listening, yet we only retain twenty five percent of what we hear. This is according to Julian Treasure in his TEDtalk, 5 Ways To Listen Better. Treasure is a consultant to businesses that want to learn to listen better, he’s written a book about listening, and writes a blog devoted to listening called, Sound Business. I’m not going to lie to you, I had no idea that listening was such a big deal. But if businesses are spending money to train their employees to listen, it must be important.

Huddle2In his talk, Treasure gives five suggestions for becoming a better listener, though I’m only going to elaborate on three. As he says, “listening is our access to understanding,” so let’s figure out how to put our teams into the best possible position to understand what we’re teaching.

3 ways to make players better through effective listening

1. The mixer. Using my sport (volleyball) as an example, noise and sound is built into the game. There are coaches shouting things from the sideline, players communicating about who should pass the ball, hitters screaming at the setter for the ball, the setter is cheering on her hitters, and then there’s the group celebration of the point. And that happens again and again and again over the course of a match. We have to teach our players to actively listen. There are so many levels of sound in a gym during a game and our teams should be able to filter our sounds from the opponent’s sounds and from the crowd. I think this is something that’s worth practicing in our gyms.

2. Listening positions. This one is huge. Listening positions are the vantage point from which we hear things. Are we bored? Are we excited? Are we tired?Are we annoyed? A person could hear the same information from each of those listening positions and respond differently each time. I believe one of the toughest things to teach teams is to give each other the benefit of the doubt. The teams with bad team chemistry are the ones where the players don’t believe the best about one another. You know what I mean: one player gives another a basic correction on the court and the corrected player gets super offended and now there’s a problem. I ask about the benefit of the doubt in our gym a lot, because mood affects things so much. If a player woke up late and missed class, received a D on a test, and got in a fight with their best friend…then they’re much more likely to get offended than a player whose first class got cancelled so they could sleep in, aced their test, and went for a cup of coffee with their best friend and had a great conversation.

3. R.A.S.A. This stands for receive, appreciate, summarize, ask. This is the nitty gritty of listening…and something tangible that we can teach our teams. Receive what the person is saying (I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell players that I need them to make eye contact with me when I’m giving instruction), appreciate what they’re saying (instead of planning what you’re going to say in response). This next one reminds me of Starbuck’s when you order and then the person making the drink repeats the same thing…then there’s no confusion. So, summarizing seals the listening process because we get to rephrase things in a manner that makes sense in our heads. After we summarize, then we make sure that we’ve got it right by asking the other person.

I can already hear my team giggling as we go through this and I tell them to “appreciate” what their teammates are saying. That being said, if we want our teams to be effective listeners — an essential quality in sports — then we’ve got to show them how to listen so that there is understanding.