RESEARCH: Synergistic Communication: A Collaborative Discovery with Female Coaches

Synergistic Communication: A Collaborative Discovery with Female Coaches

This story begins with an action research intervention study, which involved working alongside two female coaches of a female interuniversity sport team for an entire year. The goal of the intervention was to teach the coaches communication skills that would improve the personal and performance development of the players and themselves.

What emerged from this study has the potential to positively and dramatically influence coach education and development. The findings revealed how coaches’ roles, or what we call their ‘way of being’, are dramatically influenced by particular discourses that are normalized in sport culture. Their ‘way of being’ and these powerful discourses strongly affect coach behaviour and were challenged by the competing discourses introduced through the intervention.

In this research, a model of synergistic coaching was implemented. Synergistic coaching evolved from a solution-focused coaching model, which has its origins in humanistic psychology and uses language to enhance self-awareness, self-perception, positive emotions, autonomy, agency*, and goal striving. Most noteworthy perhaps is the fundamental principle of solution-focused coaching: the coach leads from behind.

This principle turns upside down our current model where the coach is the expert and athletes are docile. Instead, coaches lead with questions and approach problems or challenges with curiosity and, significantly, they believe that athletes have the innate wisdom, experience, strengths, and resources to solve their own problems.

Essentially, a synergistic coach aims to discover and uncover the athletes’ wholeness since it is every human being’s purpose to become their whole best self. A synergistic coach must learn to nurture, respect, and strengthen that wholeness. One way involves complimenting – a fundamental solution-focused practice.

Every day, athletes need to hear or learn something that is true about them, something the coach appreciated about them. If they failed, they need to know how much their effort was recognized; if they made mistakes, they need to know their risk- taking was appreciated. A synergistic coach recognizes that there is no such thing as a problem that is such one hundred percent of the time. There are always exceptions and coaches ask questions at those times because such questions improve coping, resilience, and critical thinking.

Synergistic coaches ensure that their athletes know they are already enough as human beings. Their athletes’ self-worth is not contingent on approval or wins. When athletes’ wholeness is facilitated, they perform from a deep, safe place of self-efficacy and agency. When diminished, they function below a level of wholeness that can incite fear, anxiety, depression, and alienation.

Dr. Daniel Siegel calls this a no-brain statewhere our nervous system puts us into a reactive frame of mind that prevents us from processing information effectively, which in turn prevents us from being able to follow directions and make good decisions. Synergistic coaches are aware of their power with regard to the hidden wholeness of their athletes and create the conditions that enable the athletes to make their own discoveries. Through the art of question asking, key words, and solution-focused talk, synergistic communication helps coaches to develop the eyes to see and the ears to hear through an approach known as E.A.R.S.: elicit, amplify and reinforcestrengths and resources.