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Communication And Athletic Groups Part I: An Overview

By Paul Schienberg, PhD

It is so gratifying for a coach and an athlete to be a member of a team that gets along well and works together efficiently. When individuals work together in groups, communication, coordination and interaction is essential. Communication is the center of the wheel as it moves along towards the desired goals. It directly affects group solidarity and team performance. Success is highly dependent on teamwork and collective efficacy. In successful groups, all leaders and members talk openly about interpersonal and task-related issues that affect them directly.

Unfortunately, not every group functions so well. Many interpersonal problems on teams stem from poor communications. Conflict with group members is often the result of misunderstanding or miscommunication of feelings. Five types of misunderstandings that often surface within groups (teams) are:

  1. a difference of opinion resolvable by common sense
  2. a clash of personalities in the group
  3. a conflict of task or social roles among group members
  4. a struggle for power between one or more individuals
  5. a breakdown of communication between the leader and the group or among member of the group itself

Misunderstandings are also the result of inaccessibility (not being privy to sources of information); inattentiveness (being distracted, not paying attention, not listening); failure to speak up (mind reading); or misperceiving someone’s motives intentions, or behavior. People are often afraid to express how they truly feel for fear of being ridiculed or rejected for saying what is on their minds.

I have worked with many groups which displayed interpersonal communication problems and conflicts. The problems have ranged from jealousies within the groups to power struggles, control issues, perceived injustices and inequities between leaders and members. Learning how to express oneself in a constructive manner and communicate effectively is an important initial step in preventing and solving problems.

In general, the more open people can be with one another, the better are your chances of getting along and achieving both individual and group goals. Hence, it is important for leaders (coaches) and members (players) to learn how to express their thoughts and feelings about various issues that affect them directly. Airing problems is not just appropriate in groups. It needs to be encouraged as well. Harmony in a group blossoms when members listen to each other, and when there is consideration of fellow members’ feelings, and there is an atmosphere of acceptance of differences and when there is mutual help.

In Parts II, III and IV of this series, we will review group communication dynamics, assertiveness training, and active listening techniques.