by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Whenever I think about communication and how important it is for a team’s success, I think about a fishing trip with my dad years ago. These fishing trips always included lots of competition to catch the biggest walleye, and every advantage was exploited to win. During this particular Canadian excursion a call came out from the pilot of the boat to “get in”. Immediately you could hear several reels whizzing as lines were cast and lures hit the water. Well, what the pilot really wanted to happen was for those fishermen who had lines in the water to “get in” the boat. Ah, the importance of accurate communication.
All of us recall similar instances where the lack of detailed communication has created confusion. Confusion created by poor communication during an athletic contest is something that can be avoided by paying attention to a handful of vital elements.
We feel there are several dimensions to successful communication to include not only how accurate the information is, but also how concise the information is being communicated. Using words, terms, or phrases that are carefully thought out cannot be overstated. The timing and audible level of the communication taking place is also critical to good communication. Players that scream so loudly that passing cars slow down inhibit good communication more than help it. Teams that communicate well are those that are accurate in saying what they mean and are economical with their usage of the words or terms used. A common example to bring this point home is of the supporting player shouting multiple times “yea!, yea!, yea! at the ball carrier. In fact, what the ball carrier could really use is accurate, concise communication such as “short right ! or long left !”.
Descriptive communication not only tells the ball carrier which side their support is, but also what the distance and weight the pass should be.
Additionally, it is far less taxing to say something once with a higher level of detail than to shout a vague word or comment over and over.
In team sport, and especially in rugby, there is a necessity for accurate and concise information, but it is equally important for communication to be a shared venture. Shared because we believe that communication is an exchange where information is given and received in equal parts.
I have a vivid memory of being involved in some one-way communication during a test match. During this match I was trying to get my teammate to reorganize and connect with me as we were rebuilding our phase play defense. In the end, I was unsuccessful in my effort to try to get him to acknowledge the information I was sharing. It was a frustrating and terrible feeling. There are few things worse during a competitive match than having a monologue with the back of your teammate’s head.
Communication, accurate and concise or not is ineffective if teammate(s) doesn’t acknowledge receipt of that information. When working with the All Marine Corps rugby team a few years ago, the Marines reinforced the importance of being able to give and receive information in the heat of the moment. Marines deal in communications that, if inaccurate or misunderstood, could have disastrous results.
The system that they used to “lock in” the information that they receive is to use the word “check” when acknowledging that they have heard the incoming communication and understand what has been said. Conversely, if there has been communication received that they do not understand, “hold” is the term used to tell the person providing the information that they do not fully understand or did not clearly hear what was said.
The system that we use to “lock in” and therefore share in the communication process is to ask the players to visually and verbally lock in the information with a verbal response. This way, the information provider can be assured that the information was received and will be acted upon accordingly. This seems to be a simple task but experience tells us that players will often shut down some or all of their communication skills when under the stress of athletic competition.
Training to share accurate and concise information will minimize confusion on your team and make you a better player.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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