Using Silence in High Performance Communication

The following article from Coach Reed is an excerpt from his free eBook: "The Untapped Power of Silence in Coaching." Get the free eBook here.

Do not be afraid to use silence as a tool in your high-performance feedback loop. It is a very effective teacher for high-performers. They are self-motivated, analytical, and critical of their own performance. If you are engaging and empowering them as problem-solvers, the silence allows them to learn to solve things on their own without outside assistance. This helps develop intrinsic motivation, internalization of locus of control, and self-reliance.

In a classroom that employs scaffolding, the students are allowed to learn at their particular level of competence with little outside influence. All students are being challenged at their required level but assisted by peers and teachers who may be able to help them learn. The goal is for students to be self-reliant to the point of overload, and then to seek outside help. When done properly, what you have are students who will work effectively on their own but know when to seek help. The help given is just enough so they can still work through it independently. Like a “boost” or a “spot” in lifting. They still do most of the work but needed a little push.

In sports, this kind of component in the high-performance feedback loop goes a long way in developing elite level players because they are self-confident, self-reliant, competent, resilient and resourceful. They learn to develop their own solutions and to try again until they solve it. They don’t look to the sideline every time they do something, they look at the facts before them on the field. This also means they are more grounded and self-aware because they read the game to decide if what they did worked or not. Players like this are not deluded or have unrealistic expectations because they are able to see clearly what is happening around them. These are the best players to have in a process-focused, development environment.

This is built by “shutting up” sometimes and letting them try to solve it. In the classroom, you could see a child struggling to solve a puzzle. The teacher will come near and stand to let the child know “support is nearby” but to continue on his own. If he solves it on his own he is praised for the process and resilience and encouraged to try more difficult puzzles. If he finally reaches that moment where he is out of his zone of proximal development, meaning he cannot solve it without some help from a peer or teacher, the smart teacher will step in but only with enough “hints” to move him along in the process.

The teacher won’t reach down and solve the puzzle. Instead he might say “have you tried a different piece”, or “what colors match up with that part of the puzzle”. These are questions that require the child to process and analyze the given factors before him. They get him thinking and solving so when he does finish the puzzle he knows he got a little help, but ultimately he solved the puzzle. It was the initial silence that taught him to look inward for the answer. That silence was a valuable teaching tool.

In soccer, I have seen children mess up in a technical session and young coaches move to help, only to be stopped by a veteran coach who says “Wait for it. Give him a moment to solve it on his own”. If the player solves it, you must follow with verbal or visual “atta boys” to reinforce the effort that lead to the success and to encourage him to try that move again soon. If you fail to use any other communication, the child does not know he did it “right” and may stop doing it. BUT, if you had not remained silent in the moment of failure, the child would have learned to always look to you for the answer. The silence directs the motivation to try and the motivation to seek answers inwardly. Inward looking athletes are a very special kind of athlete. They grow exponentially because they direct the learning, the pace, the growth, and much more. They hold their destiny and they have all the confidence in the world to achieve it. In those instances we become guides in the process but not the "score keepers" or all-knowing wizard of answers. We are there only as a light post or road sign on their journey.

Learn to use silence as a tool in coaching and you will continue to develop the high-performance communication loop that develops the kind of athletes who succeed in so much more than the game. What follows are hints and tips for when and how to employ silence in your coaching.


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