What is Communication?

‘Communication’ is a broad term that includes many skills, such as talking, understanding what other people say, and body language. Body language includes using and understanding gestures (e.g., pointing, waving hello, nodding your head to mean “yes”, shaking your head to mean “no”), using eye contact, and showing how you feel by using different facial expressions.

Many children can face challenges with communication. These will vary and be unique to the child. Some may have challenges using and understanding spoken language (i.e., talking), others may have more difficulty using and understanding visual parts of communication (e.g. gestures, eye contact). Some children may use other ways to communicate if they can’t speak, such as sign language, gestures, picture cards or iPads.

A child’s ability to understand spoken language may differ from their ability to use spoken language. For example, a child might be able talk and express themselves clearly, but they may find it harder to understand instructions, especially if they are complex or lengthy.

What might be some challenges on the footy field?

  • If a child has difficulty understanding spoken language, they may misunderstand instructions if they are lengthy or complex, which could make it look like they are not following the rules on the footy field.
  • Having difficulty communicating can be very frustrating. If a child does not feel understood, they may appear angry on the footy field or they may withdraw from an activity. Talking and communication concerns can make social interaction more challenging.

Quick tips

  • Use a visual schedule: Use a visual schedule that kids can see at all times so they can easily transition from one activity to the next and know what is coming up.
  • Use visual instructions: Visual instructions about how to do a skill can be very effective for some kids. Consider using a flip chart to show the visual instructions when teaching.
  • Simplify instructions and limit the information given at once: Some kids may get overwhelmed if they are given too many instructions at one time. Break the task down into smaller steps, and only give a small amount of information at once. For example, try to limit instructions to 2-3 key steps. Learning a skill might require coaches to break it down into smaller explicit parts to learn individually and then eventually put it all together.
  • Repeat instructions: Instructions may need to be repeated multiple times.
  • Reduce background noise when giving instructions: Minimising background noise while giving instructions will help enable all kids to hear.
  • Check in with the child to see if they have understood: You can do this in a supportive way by asking them to tell you in their own words what they have to do for a particular activity.
  • Be aware of your body language: We rely on body language as well as spoken language to understand what someone is trying to communicate. Using gestures and actions when talking can help a child’s understanding. Be aware of your body language (e.g., facial expression, body posture, tone of voice), making this as open, friendly, and supportive as possible.
  • Use footy stories: A footy story might be needed to teach a kid a new football skill or help them play.
  • Consider different roles: Consider different roles: Game play may sometimes be difficult for some kids. Kids can do other roles (e.g. umpire).
  • If you’re unsure, ask the child or their parent: Some children will have developed different skills to help them communicate, like using an iPad or pictures. If you are unsure about the best way to communicate with a child, you can ask the child or their parent.
  • Try activities where no speaking is allowed: Consider doing activities where speaking is not permitted. This allows all kids to participate in the same way, and enables other kids to understand how it might feel to not be able to speak well (reverse inclusion).

Things to consider

Just because a child faces challenges with talking or communicating does not mean that they are not smart or that they have difficulties with thinking or learning. As a coach, learning how to communicate most effectively with a child is important so that everyone has the same opportunities to participate and have fun.

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