“If all my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of speech, for by it I would soon regain all the rest.”
(Daniel Webster, 19th-century American statesman (Secretary of State), orator and lawyer)
Communications in any environment, whether in business, government, academia or sports, matters deeply because even if you are the most talented corporate employee, academic or sports professional in the world, you will not succeed if others do not understand you or are not persuaded to follow your lead. From presidents and world leaders, chief executives and leading entrepreneurs to national coaches and team captains, their ability to communicate effectively rarely comes naturally—it requires a conscious effort of constant practise and application.
The world is enjoying a bonanza of major sporting events in 2010, from the FIFA World Cup in South Africa to the FIA Formula One World Championships (the Singapore leg of the race was held in late September), as well as the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the Asian Games in Guangzhou, and of course, the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Singapore. In sports, as in business and in life, we can observe some important lessons about the “art” of communication.
We consider it an art, and not a science, because in any given communication or speaking situation, there is no single fixed recipe or formula to apply. In fact, what, when, why and how we communicate depends on a volatile cocktail of different factors which encompass various objectives, cultural nuances, the nature of the audience, environmental influences, historical circumstances, and so on.
In the sporting events I mentioned, you would have read in the newspapers and sports commentaries about how effective communication (or lack thereof) has a positive (or negative) impact on the team spirit, cohesion, and ultimately performance of a sports team. Much as in business, government, and academia, a sports team’s manager, coach, trainer or captain would possess the greatest knowledge, experience and skills, which would be world class by any standards. However, if that leader is unable to convince, persuade, inspire and motivate their players, subordinates or other people to take positive and affirmative action, all of that experience and skill would not matter.
Let us take the recently concluded 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and analyse a couple of top teams—France and Holland. The French team’s morale and spirit was in a terrible mess, and even their Sports Minister had to step in to deal with the debacle. France, a finalist in the 2006 World Cup, was knocked out during the preliminary rounds in South Africa. Many of the players blamed former national coach Raymond Domenech. In a interview with the weekly French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles, veteran defender William Gallas said that “the real problem is the coach…..Domenech was not open—a lot of players were unable to talk to him.” (“It’s all Domenech’s fault, says bitter Gallas”, 2010).
This is in contrast to Holland, the 2010 World Cup finalist together with Spain. The Dutch team were coached by Bert van Marwijk, an excellent communicator and motivator. This contributed to the strong team spirit in the Dutch camp. As their star striker Robbie van Persie said in an interview, “[w]hat I really like about this team is that we all talk…the team spirit is unbelievable.” (“We can make history”, 2010).