In this article “Why Coaches Need to Tell the Truth”, Canada’ highest certified basketball coach explains how being honest with your athletes can lead to productive conflict, courageous conversation and great results.

By: Shawnee Harle

When I meet with coaches, I always ask them about their team culture. I want to know whether they strive for truth or harmony with their athletes. They always say “truth.” But the truth is, nobody really wants truth–it’s uncomfortable, it forces people to stretch in new directions and it raises the bar for expectations. Most people actually prefer harmony because it feels good and it’s easier. I’m not against harmony. In fact, I believe all successful teams have a healthy dose of it. But there is a difference between real harmony and false harmony.

False harmony looks like this:
  • We say what we think our athletes, teammates or parents want to hear
  • We avoid conflict and difficult conversations
  • We have perceived agreement on everything
The most destructive part of false harmony is third-party conversations–the “meeting after the meeting,” when issues that really matter are discussed behind closed doors and in the locker room. The front door of false harmony is always nicely decorated, but once you get behind the door, where nobody can see or hear, it’s dark and gloomy.

Are you worried about upsetting your high maintenance athlete or their parents? Are you spending your valuable time managing the emotions of your athletes so nobody is offended? Have you lowered the bar on your standards so your athletes are happier? If so, you are allowing false harmony to become more important than truth. False harmony may feel better because it’s easier, but it’s also the fastest avenue to mediocrity.

Truth leads to harmony Great leaders value truth and they understand that it leads to real harmony. Real harmony means you can share thoughts and ideas with the understanding that everyone might not agree–and that’s okay. Real harmony means you and your athletes understand the important battles are won or lost before the competition begins. It also means coaches and athletes are worried about how their words may be perceived. Truth allows us to put our cards on the table and see each others hand.

Real harmony looks like this:
  • Truth is invited into every conversation
  • Truth is spoken to help us reach our potential
  • Truth is used to evaluate the performance of our athletes, team, and organization
Truth often invites productive conflict. Conflict may not always feel good, but as the leader of the team, your job as a coach is to give athletes what they need, which may not necessarily be what they want. What your athletes want is ice cream, but what they really need are vegetables. The truth is much more like vegetables–you don’t always like them, but they’re good for you.

Truth isn’t easy, whereas harmony is. Truth is uncomfortable, while harmony feels good. Great leaders are okay with being uncomfortable because they understand productive conflict and courageous conversations lead to great results.

The difference between honesty and truth Telling the truth isn’t a license to say whatever you want. Saying whatever you want is honesty, but that is different than truth. Honesty tends to be emotional and personal. It usually involves feelings, mingled with words, designed to hurt. Hurtful honesty can exhibit itself in a variety of ways–comments that make an athlete look bad, challenging authority, or undermining an athlete or the team. Honesty usually invites defensiveness and results in divisiveness.

Truth, on the other hand, is rational. Truth is thoughtful, truth is thought provoking, and truth invites productive conflict. It involves ideas, which are different than feelings. Truth requires team members to explore and debate possibilities with an open mind without attaching personal feelings.

Strong leaders understand that athletic greatness is difficult to achieve without personal greatness and the foundation of truth is based upon helping our athletes reach their highest podium in life and exploring their true potential as people.

If the truth is like vegetables, and harmony is like ice cream, then honesty is like poison. Truth raises the bar, harmony lowers the bar, and honesty destroys the bar. Great leaders build and strengthen their team culture with open, thoughtful dialogue–one truthful brick at a time.

“If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.” ~Author Jane Kirkpatrick

Communication strategies for coaches Now that we’ve examined the importance of truth and understand the guise of honesty, there are some key communication strategies to consider if you hope to get the best from your team members.

Consider the difference between passive and assertive communication: passive communication is common on many teams and often results in false harmony.

Passive communication looks like this:
  • Silencing of voices
  • Withdrawal
  • Disengagement
  • Holding grudges
  • Participating in third-party conversations
Never make the mistake of ignoring those passive people who seem to be easy to get along with. Those who are willing to go with the flow are often the most dangerous team members. They silence their voice in a big group but later stir the waters and even paddle the boat in the wrong direction. Everyone on your team will have an opinion and passive communicators will express silence for agreement. Anyone who is silent during a team meeting is likely not silent once they leave the meeting.

The opposite of passive communication is aggressive communication and it looks like this:
  • Complaining
  • Criticizing
  • Demanding
  • Bullying
  • Guilt trips
While it’s possible to ignore passive communicators, it is impossible to ignore aggressive ones. You know what they look like–they dominate meetings, talk loudly and interrupt, they complain about small things, and are critical of almost everything. Worst of all, they often get their way because they guilt-trip and bully people.

Aggressive communication is used by negative, insecure, ego-driven people who are only willing to paddle if the boat goes in the direction they choose. But if you let them lead, you’ll head for the rocks.

Winning teams use assertive communication with each other and it looks like this:
  • Engagement
  • Asking for what you want
  • Asking clearly, concisely, and rationally
Assertive communicators have nothing to hide. They know that being passive, silent, withdrawn, or holding a grudge is not acceptable on a winning team. They get to the point and specifically ask for what they want. They understand that to move people to action, they must make a request.

Assertive communication is not easy. And telling the truth can be hard. But as Tom Hanks’ baseball coach character says in the movie A League of Their Own: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Great coaches create a culture of truth. Even if that is hard to do.

Shawnee Harle is the assistant coach for the Canadian Olympic Basketball Team. She was a basketball student-athlete at the University of Victoria and a member of two CIS National Championship teams led by coaching legend Kathy Shields.She has a master’s in coaching studies and is the highest certified basketball coach in the country. Harle is also a Master Learning Facilitator for the National Coaching Certification Program, where she trains and mentors both advanced and novice coaches from all sports. Her vast experience in the world of sport has made her a sought-after business coach and motivational speaker.

Source: Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog
Subscribe to Email Newsletter
Share this article to...