Episode 112: Communication
Chelsea: For dance coaches and teachers, we are the role model for how we want to communicate in our programs and our studios and our teams. We establish the rules and expectations for how to talk to each other and what healthy communication looks like. It starts with us. So, today, let’s talk about communication.
Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea! Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast where we talk about mindset, motivation, and resilience in dance, and communication honestly falls into all of those areas. Good communication can improve motivation. It can help dancers be more resilient and put them in the right mindset to persevere and have fun. It’s a huge topic both in its complexity and its importance. So we’re gonna take a bite out of this today, just a small piece, and I want to start by sharing seven tips for effective coach/athlete communication or dance teacher to dancer communication.
As I always say, your language matters, so how you communicate to your dancers can make a big impact in their lives. So, here are seven tips to make sure you are positively communicating with your dancers.
[Motivational Intro Music]
Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
[Motivational Intro Music]
Foundation of Trust – 1:42
Communication from the coach or teacher starts from a foundation of trust and credibility in the eye of the athlete. So when your athlete trusts you, they will believe what you're saying and they understand where you're coming from if you might be having a harder conversation. We know that trust is that all-important foundation. We have to start there, and we gain trust through acting with honesty and integrity, authenticity and respect. I think if you're here and you're listening and you're a part of this community, then that’s how we all operate. We’re always trying to be a coach or a teacher that our dancers can trust because, in my view, that’s what a coach is always trying to model: how to be honest and authentic, how to respect each other but also hold yourself accountable to the rules and expectations just like everyone else.
So, let’s just assume that you are acting in integrity, you are honest and respectful. That’s great. That’s a good foundation, but how do you take that a step further and allow for open lines of communication with your athletes? You're probably that coach that wants to be fair, authentic, consistent, and that means you may have to have some hard conversations with your athletes. At least you have that foundation. You will have that platform to start with. You can have hard conversations while still having the central idea of empathy in everything you do, but I do feel like this is one of those things where it’s easier to say then maybe to do. We know we have to have good communication and be open and honest, but how do we do that?
Giving Difficult Feedback – 3:17
Well, let’s think about times when you have to give difficult feedback to a dancer. It could be when you have to talk to them after a competition where maybe they made a big mistake onstage, or maybe the judges just didn't understand the routine so it didn't score well, and you're trying to help the dancer understand what happened and kind of pick them up a little bit. Maybe you have a dancer who has their heart set on a certain college team or ballet company and you know it’s gonna be a really big uphill battle but you want to be supportive. How do you develop that strong, positive relationship with your dancers where challenging communication like this is well received? Well, you use these simple tips and always start from a place of empathy and then just do your best.
Before I dive into the tips, I just want to say remember that this might vary a little bit depending on your situation. You may not need to or want a strong interpersonal relationship with every athlete you have, but if you are a coach or teacher or maybe studio owner who is with the same athletes for years, you probably are a trusted adult in their life, and these communication tips might be a good reference for you to keep in mind.
I also want to say that communication is this ongoing process. It’s not this skill that you learn it, you master it, it’s in your toolbox when you need it. It’s a constant interaction between people, so that means it’s always evolving and changing. So even if you feel like you're a good communicator or this hasn't been an issue for you, it could potentially come up as a big challenge depending on who you're communicating with because it’s this interaction process. That’s what makes it so challenging, but it’s also honestly why communication is so powerful because it allows you to have deep, meaningful connections with your dancers.
Seven Tips for Effective Coach/Athlete or Teacher/Dancer Communication – 5:06
So, let’s get to it. Here are seven tips for effective coach/athlete or teacher/dancer communication.
Tip 1: Recognize Individual Differences – 5:14
Number one is to recognize individual differences. As I was just saying, remember that each of your dancers has a different experience with dance growing up, which means every interaction’s going to be a little different. One dancer might have always been the teacher’s pet, and another dancer might have always felt like the port de ballet, I stand in B+ the corner and wave my arms without recognition. They have unique experiences of what dance has meant to them leading up to this conversation. They also have unique family backgrounds or cultural differences that play into how you are communicating that you may not be aware of.
One dancer might have a stage mom at home and another dancer has a parent who believes dance is a waste of time. Don't assume that you and your dancer will interpret the information you're trying to communicate in the same way because you are coming to it from very different places. I think just having that kind of understanding going into a conversation can be really important. Recognize individual differences. People are bringing different dance experiences, plus obviously the bigger cultural family backgrounds as well. But even just within dance, they're bringing something different to the conversation. So, be aware of that.
Tip 2: Remember Key Characteristics of Effective Communication – 6:31
Number two is to remember the key characteristics of effective communication. So, how you have a good communication in any context is to be open, honest, direct, sincere, and consistent. Again, key characteristics of all effective communication: open, honest, direct, sincere, and consistent.
We know that, if you have to have a hard conversation with one dancer or even have a really positive conversation with a dancer, they may talk to each other (they likely will), and they know if you're telling one dancer something and telling another dancer something else or if you're just being inconsistent in how you talk to them. Any kind of sarcasm or degrading conversation will of course destroy trust, so stick with that consistent style of open, honest, sincere conversations. they will respect you for it, they know what to expect, and then it’s, again, rooted in trust, they will believe you and be able to take what you're saying to heart.
Tip 3: Tell Dancers Your Rationale – 7:33
Number three is to tell them your rationale. If you are asking your dancers to change their behavior, like you're asking them to not talk so much in class or to be more supportive of a teammate during group work, whatever it is, if you're asking them to change a behavior, remember to include why. Athletes, and kids in general, respond better when they're told why a change is important. It’s not just that you're telling them to do it. So, when you clearly communicate a request for a behavior change, “I need you to do something different,” explain why it matters to that dancer, why it matters to you, or why it matters to other people in your studio. Tell them your rationale. That can go a long way in that kind of open, honest communication rather than just telling them, “This needs to change.”
Tip 4: Catch Them Doing Good – 8:20
Number four is to catch them doing good. Don't underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Notice them doing the behaviors you want to see and point them out. Maybe they're caring for others, they're trying again after a mistake or they're showing up with consistent effort. Point it out, highlight the positives, encourage more of that behavior. We know that reinforcing positive behaviors increases motivation and self-esteem, plus it’ll just make it easier when you have to give that hard feedback.
So, while a lot of these points are about effective communication in a more challenging conversation, if you are also consistently using positive reinforcement, that’s gonna make the harder conversations much easier to have because you have, again, that foundation of trust and respect.
Tip 5: Remember Non-Verbal Communication – 9:08
Number five is to remember non-verbal communication. How you stand when you watch a routine, your face when you're watching across the floor combinations, how loud you sigh. It’s all a form of communication. You may have seen the meme that says something like, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make that face out loud,” and I struggle with that.
I definitely had times early in my coaching career that I think I made lots of expressive faces that I should have held back or been a little more aware of. Usually it wasn't that I was mad at the dancers. Maybe I was trying to figure out how best to explain whatever it was I was trying to get across, or I didn't like my choreography and I was trying to fix it in my head. But what I realized early on is that the dancers thought I was angry. They really thought I was mad. I was like, “No, I’m not mad at all. I’m trying to figure out how to tell you this,” but they just think I’m mad and I’m making faces out loud. So, we often spend a lot of time worrying about how we talk to our dancers (as we should), but don't forget the non-verbal communication matters too.
Tip 6: Evaluate and Monitor What’s Going on in Your Group – 10:19
All right, number six is to evaluate and monitor what’s going on in your group. Just take some time every once in a while to check in, ask how things are going. What’s working, what’s not, what do you need more or less of from your dancers? What do they need from you? It’s a good way to show that you value your dancers’ input and respect their opinions. You may not always be able to make the changes they're asking for, but it’s still helpful to check in and listen, and, again, you're being that role model for positive, effective communication.
Tip 7: Recognize Stress and Emotions Run High During Certain Parts of the Season – 10:52
Finally, number seven is just to recognize that stress and emotions run high during certain parts of our seasons. Whether that’s recitals, competitions, it just can get harder to communicate in those more stressful times, and we know when you're really emotional it’s really hard to think through what you want to say or to understand what’s being said to you, right? When we’re really emotional, the parts of our brain that are gonna be logical have a harder time.
So, if your dancers are coming back to practice after a competition that didn't go well or they're competing nearly every weekend and they're exhausted and not motivated or they're just arguing amongst themselves, tensions are high, remember the situation when you’re communicating and when you are trying to model what to do. We can all lose our cool and communicate with less empathy when we’re stressed and tired. I’m definitely not above this. I’ve had my share of blow-ups that I wish I had controlled a little bit more, but you get better with experience and time, and we’re trying to model that for our dancers because frustrations are just going to distort that message that you're trying to convey. So, keep that in mind especially during stressful times, and try to model how to regulate those difficult emotions in front of your athletes.
We can communicate respectfully even when we’re frustrated and tired, and I think it’s important to help them see that. Again, it’s not that we’re perfect, but we’re trying to model what to do and how to handle it when emotions are high, and if you've done all the other tips and set up positive, healthy communication strategies when you're not super stressed, it’s a lot easier to deal with it when you are.
Healthy Communication Strategy Recap – 12:40
So, let’s just recap these strategies real quick for healthy communication between teachers and their dancers.
- Recognize everyone’s individual differences coming into the situation
- Be open and honest
- Explain your rationale for change
- Catch them doing good things too
- Remember your body language is also a form of communication
- Check in with the whole group
- Remember how stress and frustration can make communication challenging
I hope it’s helpful to pause for a minute and think about communication in this way, and all of these are great reminders for your dancers when they are talking to each other too, so feel free to share it with them or, of course, if there’s interest out there, I can always make a different episode about dancer to dancer communication if that would be helpful, or if there are specific ways to help deal with conflict as well because I know that interpersonal conflict can be a big source of stress and a challenge for all of us as well.
So, if you’d like me to work on that episode or any other topic for that matter, remember, you can always send me an email or better yet leave a quick voice note at www.chelseapierotti.com/message. The link is in the show notes. It’s quick and easy. Hit record and leave me that voice note. Let me know how I can help and what you’d like to hear on the podcast. Thank you for listening, and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
[Motivational Outro Music]
Join My Email List – 14:29
Hi, dance coaches and teachers! If you are a dance educator, it’s important to make sure you are on my email list. It’s only for educators. It’s where I keep you all updated on my Mental Skills Workshops, the Relevé Membership, and even some special trainings coming up that are only available inside the membership. My email list is where I provide extra resources for dance educators and tips to help you and support you through this teaching journey.
If you're listening and you're a coach or a studio teacher and you think you might ever want to learn more about helping your dancers with their mindset, building their resilience, and motivating them, please join my list to make sure you get the inside scoop.
So, here’s how to get on. You go to www.chelseapierotti.com/email and sign up. There’s a link in the show notes to the episode as well, and again, that’s where I’ll announce special opportunities like the one coming up soon that’s only available inside Relevé. But mostly, it’s where I provide more support and resources to help you with your dancers. So, go join in at www.chelseapierotti.com/email, and let’s work together and make a more positive impact on our dance industry!