Team Communication

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.


  1. Bowers, C. A., Jentsch, F., Salas, E., & Braun, C. C. (1998). Analyzing communication sequences for team training needs assessment. Human Factors, 4, 672–679.
  2. Eccles, D. W., & Tenenbaum, G. (2004). Why an expert team is more than a team of experts: A cognitive conceptualization of team coordination and communication in sport. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 26, 542–560.
  3. Eccles, D. W., & Tenenbaum, G. (2007). A socialcognitive perspective on team functioning in sport. In Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of
  4. Harrigan, J. A., Rosenthal, R., & Scherer, K. R. (Eds.). (2005). The new handbook of methods in nonverbal behavior research. New York: Oxford.
  5. Lausic, D., Tenenbaum, G., Eccles, D. W., Jeong, A., & Johnson, T. E. (2009). Intra-team communication and performance in doubles tennis. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 80, 281–290.

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