Coaching behaviors build from general beliefs about human nature

I learned two rules during my childhood that I will never forget: (1) Turn off the lights when you leave the room; and (2) if you’re not early, you’re late. The tweet below captures the second rule and represents a standard belief among many coaches. I think this tweet says a lot more.

Now, being early is a good thing. When players rush in right as practice starts, they may not be prepared or ready to go. Of course, why are they rushing or late? I am rarely bothered by a player arriving late because I assume that the player had to do something important that prevented her from being on time. Players had classes, one had to babysit her little brother and sister and pick them up from school, players had to rely on the athletic trainer being on time at a school that refused to pay for a full-time trainer, and more. I trusted that players wanted to be at practice, and consequently their tardiness was due to something important and/or unavoidable. The only time that tardiness irritated me was morning practices when players did not have classes or anything prior to practice, and tardiness was due to forgetting to set an alarm clock or hitting snooze too many times. However, even then, I never had much to say to the player who had to rely on her grandfather to drive her through traffic because she lived at home and did not have her own car, while the majority of players lived on the corner and rode their bikes 5 minutes to the gym.

I trust players want to be at practice; the attitude expressed in the tweet suggests a belief that players do not want to be there. In an old Harvard Business School article titled, “On managing with Bobby Knight and Coach K”, Sean Silverthorne wrote:

I don’t have a lot of rules or use a lot of punishment because I believe my players want to do their best and are self-motivated. Despite not having this arrive 15-20 minutes early policy, players often arrived 30+ minutes early and stayed after practice until the men’s team or volleyball kicked them off the court. They played shooting games or did their rehab exercises or sat and talked. No rules were needed; just high expectations, and self-motivated players.

How does a coach maintain or strengthen the players’ self-motivation? Autonomy helps. Creating more rules does not give players greater autonomy.

Steve Kerr and players running the show

Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, 8.3. Subscribe here

Steve Kerr allowed Warrior players to run the huddles during their game against Phoenix last night. His decision has inspired praise from those who view it as empowering players and derision from those who view it as disrespecting an opponent or evidence that the Warriors are so good that they do not need a coach. What’s the big deal?

In nearly every practice, we play a simulated game. We play four quarters with the quarters anywhere from one to three minutes. We have two teams. Players coach themselves. Players substitute themselves. Players set their defense and call their own plays (Occasionally I insist on a specific defense or plays for a quarter to practice for an upcoming opponent, but generally, they choose offenses and defenses for at least two of the quarters). After a quarter, I may ask questions or review a new situation that occurred, but generally they coach themselves to win the game.

I want to win the end of quarters, which is one reason that we spend time on these situations. Last game, we had one more possession in three out of four quarters. That is a potential six to nine extra points in a game because we value the end of periods and practice these situations two to three times per week. I want to be prepared for end-game situations. I do not rely on drawing up a play at the end of a game. I may call a timeout to organize, advance the ball, or substitute, but we run one of our practiced plays, which they choose to run during these scrimmages.

Kerr’s decision is headline news today because it is the NBA and the Warriors generate great dialogue because of their dedicated fans and detractors, but what is the big deal? These are professional players. Do we really believe that they are so clueless about basketball that they have no idea what play to call or defense to run? Do we believe that professional players are mindlessly running around a court following a coach’s directions without any thinking, anticipating, adjusting and adapting? Is that our vision of athletes?

I once wrote on a coach’s message forum that we should develop players who are capable of playing well in pickup games. This was met with derision from high school coaches, as was most everything that I wrote back in the early ‘00s, because many coaches have a negative impression of pickup basketball, at least in terms of its fundamental execution. I still believe that it is true. Successful pickup players do not rely on a coach’s offense or instructions; they can adapt to different teammates, positions, and demands. Why do we believe that the coaches should possess all the knowledge? Why do we not value what players see on the court? Furthermore, how do we improve their knowledge if we never challenge them to think or make decisions?

Offseason leagues and empowerment

I coach an u16 boys team in a small, local league. The teams are unbalanced and range from u15s to teams filled with graduating seniors who are college bound on basketball scholarships.  Read more

Learning from the problems of college basketball practices

Originally published in the Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter, 7.8. Subscribe here

Because of my books, clinics, and travel, I know coaches and players from Canada and Europe who develop with FIBA rules and matriculate to the United States to play college basketball. Increasingly, I hear from these sources that college basketball is boring. These players appreciate the opportunity to play basketball and receive a free education, but they are dissatisfied, especially with the coaching and the practices. They cannot wait for the season to end, although they plan to play in Europe after graduation. In the most recent instances, this angst has nothing to do with playing time, team’s success, or other issues that lead to common complaints; one player leads her team in minutes on a league champion, and another is the team’s best player and likely all-league selection.  Read more

Coaching is more than punishment and yelling “Play harder!”

This generation blah blah blah

Jeff Walz lost a basketball game and condemned a generation:

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Coaching the individual: Contrast not compare

Contrast, don’t compare. When I speak to parents, this is one of the lessons that I share. Contrast your son or daughter from a previous moment of time until now to measure improvement and see how he or she is progressing, but do not compare your child to another child. Children develop and learn at different rates. Each child, each player is an individual, and should be treated as an individual. This is one of the most important lessons that I learned as a young coach from the HoopMasters director Jerome Green. Read more

The effect of coaching on players’ behaviors

When I referee soccer, and especially when I am an assistant referee, I hear exactly how coaches coach during games. Often, it is apparent that they do not understand how their behaviors affect their players on the field.  Read more

What is a proper reaction to a loss?

One of the biggest criticisms of this generation is that they are immune to losing. Many attribute this flaw to the number of games that children play, as it makes any single game less important.  Read more

How do we develop talented players?

The NBA is not a development league; it is a competition, and most teams strive to win as many games as possible to reach the playoffs and ultimately win an NBA Championship. However, few players are finished products, and many players enter the NBA barely out of their teens, which means that continued player development is imperative for continued team success. Therefore, coaches not on the 76ers have a balancing act: Win games and develop young players to continue to win games.  Read more

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