Why You Need Active Listening

There’s a big difference between hearing and listening. You can hear something without paying any attention. When you listen, you make a conscious choice to pay attention. But there’s an even bigger difference between listening and active listening. Here’s how active listening skills can help you as a soccer player.

First, let’s clarify the distinctions between these three:

  • As long as you have ears, you’re capable of hearing. Your brain is using your ears to help perceive sound. You can be hearing without being aware you are doing so.

  • When you listen you concentrate on processing the meaning of what you hear.

  • With active listening you take this even further and focus on understanding and remembering what is said.

Obviously, active listening is beneficial when the coach is talking to you in practice. Instead of just noticing that Chris or Allen are saying something, or listening without really focusing on what they’re saying, you would try to understand and remember their advice. It can also come in handy if a referee calls you aside.

MindTools breaks active listening into five main steps:

  1. Pay attention

  2. Show that you’re listening

  3. Provide feedback

  4. Defer judgment

  5. Respond appropriately

Active Listening and Soccer

OK, so how are we going to do these things for soccer? Let’s look at each stage in more detail.

Paying attention. In soccer you are seldom alone on the field. There is a whole team of people looking to learn from the coach. This can be a distraction. There may even be other teams practicing nearby, parents waiting around on the sidelines, and a lacrosse game going on across the way. Try these approaches to help you pay better attention:

  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker

  • Observe their body language to help aid your receiving of the message

  • Try not to be preparing your answer or excuse beforehand

  • Avoid getting distracted by everything else going on around you

Next it helps to show you are listening. This will make things easier on the coach. They are getting positive feedback, which will put them in a better frame of mind. Also, it’s a matter of positioning yourself for success. If you show you’re listening with nodding or verbal cues such as “yeah” or “Ok” you are using your own body language to prime your brain to actually do the listening part.

The verbal or non-verbal ways that show you are listening are providing feedback already. But you can also make sure you're understanding what is being said by paraphrasing what you heard back to the person speaking, asking questions, or summarizing their comments. For example, you might say:

  • “sounds as if you’re saying you need me to pay more attention to where the attacker is before I make a turn in front of the net?”

  • “what did you mean when you said I should ‘shield the ball’?”

  • “you’re frustrated that I keep losing the ball in front of the net and want me to focus on my field and player awareness to be a better defender.”

Deferring judgment is crucial to active listening. This means you don’t interrupt and you allow the speaker to finish their point. Offering a counter argument — “but it worked this other time” or “I can never do that” — or an excuse “Juan-Carlos was shoving me” or “Herbert was offside” — shows that you were focused on what you were going to say next rather than what the coach is telling you.

Fine, but what do we mean by “respond appropriately”? Step one: no profanity. Step two: do not call your coach “sweetcakes” or “dumbo.” But seriously, even active listeners have the opportunity to share their honest, candid response to what is said. The thing is that these players offer opinions having actively tried to listen, understand, and comprehend what was said.

This kind of listening does take more work. But it can make a big difference in how you are hearing and taking advantage of coaching input. By opening your mind to hear what the coaches have to say, and trying to understand and remember it, you might be surprised when that pearl of wisdom they share pops back into your mind when playing under pressure. 

Those who were only listening are more likely to keep kicking their shots over the cross bar, clearing the ball out to the other team, or turning the ball over to the opposing team by continuing to make the same mistakes. 

We’ll see you on the pitch this week to see how your new awareness of active listening pays off!