Communication is commonly defined as a transmission of thoughts, feelings, information, knowledge, and ideas by means of written or verbal messages. However, when people communicate face-to-face, they position their bodies in a certain way, vary their stance, control their eye gaze, and move their hands in particular manners. Therefore, there is an additional set of nonverbal behaviors, which is often coordinated with verbal message exchange. Verbal (overt) and nonverbal (covert) are the communication channels athletes use in practice and competition. Team communication consists of a least two individuals who share meaningful exchange of information in which a person attempts to influence the response of another person or the team as a whole. The shared information in verbal communication is open, explicit, unambiguous, precise, and clear. Conversely, in nonverbal communication the information conveyed is hidden, implicit, covert, unexplained, and sometimes, not obvious to the casual observer.
The communication process consists of the following sequence: deciding to make a message, encoding the message by the sender, sending the message, decoding the message by the receiver, and finally, responding to it. Communication among team members can suffer due to the sender’s inability to successfully encode the message, noise or interference in the communication channel (e.g., physical noise, psychological barriers), and the receiver’s inability to effectively decode the message. In sport, noise can be created by cheering fans or a whistling umpire (physical noise), as well as the context of the competition, such as game standing and time phase (psychological noise), which can equally disrupt the communication process.
Team Communication in Sport
The contemporary viewpoint is that teams, more than individuals, can find more solutions to problems evoked during competition. To become effective, the members of the team must communicate, particularly when participants wish to convey a message. Communication processes can result in persuasion, evaluation, information transfer, motivation, and problem solving. Besides, communication may carry more than one function at the same time. For example, a playmaker in basketball can motivate and inform a teammate about the next play in order to overcome a defensive strategy set by the opponent team. Thus, communication may serve for the coordination (cognitive function) and for motivating the team members (affective function). Communication patterns (e.g., how do members of the team respond to each other’s message) are found to discriminate between more effective and less effective teams. Effective sport teams tend to (a) display more consistent types of communication, and (b) use frequent planning statements.
Many sports are characterized by constantly changing locations and time constraints. In sport such as basketball, soccer, and field hockey, players change locations and the ball moves at speed from one player to another. Under such circumstances, members of the team often rely on both overt and covert communication in an attempt to increase team coordination and performance. In baseball, the pitcher and catcher communicate through a series of hand signals what pitch will be thrown. At the same time, the shortstop and second baseman can communicate who will protect the second base. In basketball, the playmaker communicates to the rest of the teammates which play will be performed, to slow down, or to speed up the tempo of the game. Finally, soccer teammates communicate a particular target to a player who executes a corner kick. It follows that team members in sports communicate with each other to achieve better solutions to challenges posed by the opposing team players, and in so doing are better positioned to coordinate and implement team strategies among themselves.
Team Communication Moderators
Culture moderates verbal and nonverbal communication on a large-scale level. Customs, norms, and display rules are areas in which one culture is differentiated from another. Furthermore, the fact that genetically and culturally determined rudimentary messaging (displaying aggression, play, and association) is universal, there is remarkable inconsistency in how individuals, as well as groups, articulate and understand verbal and nonverbal signals. Gender is an additional variable, which moderates encoding and decoding processes. Evidence in the recent literature supports the conclusions that men and women differ in terms of encoding and decoding verbal and nonverbal behaviors. First, differences exist in relation to nonverbal expressivity. When compared with men, women tend to use more smiling, touching, and eye-contact behaviors. In addition, women have more speech fluency. On the contrary, men tend to use extraverted gesticulation and movements more so than women. The majority of these differences are salient when in public. Second, men tend to be socially less responsive and less attached than women. Moreover, men tend to interrupt and talk more, listen less, and are overall more dominant during conversations. Also, men tend to assume less proximity and signal less friendliness in comparison to women. Furthermore, women tend to have better facial recognition and are more precise in interpreting other people’s nonverbal messaging.
Research findings also show that the tendency to receive messages visually is positively associated with receiving messages audibly (different encoding channel abilities correlate one with another). In other words, people who better receive, interpret, and respond to visual messages tend to be better in doing so when receiving auditory messages. Also personal traits, such as extraversion, being talkative and expressive, having high self-esteem and trait self-consciousness, positively relate with encoding skills. Furthermore, if people are outgoing, vigorous, autonomous, mentally accommodating, and have low levels of trait anxiety, they tend to be better predisposed in terms of their nonverbal communication skills. That said, it is important to note that nonverbal communication can improve with practice. In addition, encoding skills are affected by age; they improve as one gets older but deteriorate when one becomes old. No meaningful relations tend to exist between communication encoding skills and race, education, or IQ.
Team Communication Assessment
The assessment of communication in sport has primarily related to aspects of team cohesion and centered on general communication styles. There is no evidence to date of published studies in which researchers sought to measure communication at a behavioral level (i.e., amid teammates members during actual play) or in which they related such assessments to the performance of teams. Recent research by Domagoj Lausic, Gershon Tenenbaum, David Eccles, Allan Jeong, and Tristan Johnson has assessed verbal communications through video and audio recording technology to elicit the type of messages that tennis players exchange during doubles tennis competitions. In this research, winning teams more than losing teams were found to respond more constructively and confirm actions offered by each player, as well and using motivational statements during the competition.
While research in the area of nonverbal communication has increased during last 25 years, there is a paucity of research on nonverbal communication in sports. Three procedures are typically used to assess nonverbal skills: (1) standardized performance measures, (2) individualized performance measures, and (3) self-report measures. Standardized performance measures consist of audio or video presentations about which the respondent draws conclusions about a perceived emotional message, an interpersonal relationship, or the presence of deception. The respondent is typically tested on accuracy in recognizing emotions that are communicated by another person’s face, body, and voice. Individual performance measures include videotaping subjects while partaking in various group activities, where videotaping captures a range of emotions. The tapes are subsequently viewed and analyzed by a group of judges. Self-report measures capture participants’ assessments of their own nonverbal skills.