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Listening as a Coach, Manager or Referee

There are many kinds of conversations that you need to have with your players.  Some conversations are easy, and some are hard.  Some players share readily, and others seem to struggle to communicate.

“One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know someone is listening”.

Are you listening?

We need to ask ourselves, how much we are actually listening to our players?  Are these simply opportunities to give our opinion? Are they too one-sided? 

Do we actually listen to what they say and if we aren’t listening, are we amazed that they are less willing to share?

We all need to listen differently depending on the subject or the situation.

“If you want to take all your frustrations out on anyone, your coach is your easiest target. They are not listening anyway!”

Active/Passive listening

Active listening takes effort and requires that you put in the hard work.  Listening actively means that you give measured attention and focus to the other person.  You listen to understand what is being said and to let the talker know that they have been heard.  While listening actively you might even nod, ask questions, summarise, or clarify something you don’t understand and respond.

Passive listening does not require much work.  It is the listening that we do when we listen to music or have the radio on in the background.  We’re listening, but the listening does not require any interaction or response from us.  Passive listening is important and can be appropriate in certain situations but doesn’t build much of a relationship with the other person.

“It may look like I’m listening to you but in my head, I’m thinking about my grocery list!”

Critical/Empathic listening

Critical listening is “listening for the gold.”  As we listen critically, we listen to evaluate what we hear, to gauge the value of the information, to separate out facts and opinion and to form our own opinion of what we hear.  It is the kind of listening that we might do in an interview or as we listen to gather facts to solve a problem.

Empathic listening is intended to support the talker’s feelings and to help them feel safe, open up and share freely without any judgment on the part of the listener.  As an empathic listener, your role is to show your player that you are in tune with them, that they are valued and respected.

Obviously, there are times when we need to listen critically to evaluate what our player is telling us, but are there also times when we just need to let our player know that we hear them and resonate with their feelings?

“I wasn’t listening, so I am going to smile, nod and hope for the best”.

Reductive/Expansive listening

Reductive listening is listening for the bottom line.  We want the speaker to get to the point and let us know what’s needed.  We listen to find the solution, fix the problem and move on.  This is listening that is results oriented.  It’s an important type of listening but can leave our player feeling frustrated or unappreciated if we are too anxious to get to that bottom line.

Expansive listening is listening with someone.  In this type of listening, the listening itself is the journey.  It is the point.  This is creative listening, chatting for the sake of connection, brainstorming or listening without an agenda.  Expansive listening may do nothing more than help create trust and goodwill between communicators.  Of course, expansive listening may take more time than reductive listening, so we need to be prepared.

“I am listening – I just don’t care!”


Keeping your listening in line with the needs of the conversation will open up new ways of communicating with your players.  

If your player is looking for an analysis of a problem and a solution, they don’t need empathic listening right then.  They need you to be active, critical and reductive.  Help your player solve their problem. 

If your player wants to vent and needs to share, then it’s important that you’re ready and able to listen empathically and expansively.

As a listener, you have more control over the conversation than you realize, even though you may not say a word.  Naturally, you may already do much of this without even realizing it but thinking consciously about employing different listening approaches may enhance your communication – and may encourage your player to share more.

Mark Slater