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How to Help Athletes Have Difficult Conversations

Whether you're a child or an adult, a coach or a parent, a teammate or a team leader, difficult conversations are never easy. Having frank discussions that feel confrontational can be intimidating and emotionally taxing at any age, but fortunately, there are ways to improve your athlete's ability to handle difficult conversations with teammates, coaches, and parents. And this won't just improve their ability to communicate with their team now—this is a skill that will help them navigate life.

Here, Nadia Kyba, MSW, TrueSport Expert and President of Now What Facilitation, explains how to use a form of nonviolent communication when beginning a tough conversation, as well as how to practice it in a low-stress setting.

Be okay with emotion

The most important lesson to teach a young athlete is that it's okay to feel emotional when approaching a hard conversation, whether it's asking the coach how to get more playing time, or asking a teammate why she won't pass the ball during games. "People often avoid having hard conversations because they're afraid that they'll get emotional—start crying—during them," Kyba says. "But that's okay. And if you take the time to prepare and have a bit of a script, maybe even practice having the conversation out loud to yourself or a trusted adult, then it's going to be easier to do it. I try to get people to prepare ahead of time when possible, and then invite the other person to have the talk at a set time rather than just getting into it."

Think before you start

On the note of preparation, Kyba is a firm believer in scripting out what you want to say, and knowing what you want to get out of the confrontation. The worst kind of difficult conversation is when both parties leave feeling as though they weren't understood and their needs weren't met. "Whenever you're feeling like you're about to have, or need to have, some kind of confrontation, the best thing to do is to step back and pause," says Kyba. Think about the conversation you hope to have. What are the facts that you're bringing in? Are there any assumptions that you're making that may not be true? What exactly is the problem that you want solved? Taking five minutes to journal through these questions can make the conversation much clearer, which means it's much more likely to get resolved in a way that benefits both parties.

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