Good Coaches, Bad Coaches

The February 2011 Spirit magazine features an article by Bob Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss who highlights five ways to be a good boss. While coaching is and is not like being a boss, the five concepts offer good advice to coaches:

  1. Protect your People
  2. Throw out Bad Apples
  3. Mind the Spotlight
  4. Get out of the Way
  5. Fight Fair

Protect your People

Sutton writes that the best bosses evoke a feeling of “my boss has my back.” Unfortunately, many coaches do not evoke that same feeling in their players. Players perform better when trusted, but when the coach yanks a player out of the game for a mistake or calls out a player in the media, they lose the trust factor. I have picked up technical fouls intentionally just to show a player that I had his back so he could concentrate on performance and know that I would fight for him with officials.

Throw out Bad Apples

Sutton describes a study that characterizes three types of destructive personalities:

  1. Jerks: violate norms of respect
  2. Deadbeats: slack off
  3. Downers: pessimistic

The study found that teams with just one of these types suffered a performance loss of 30 to 40 percent. This is the old adage – “Addition by subtraction.” Cutting a more talented player who is a “bad apple” often leads to a better team. The first goal should be to meet with a player and attempt to correct the behavior, but if the behavior persists, often eliminating the player is a better strategy than spending so much time managing the problems that the player creates.

Mind the Spotlight

Sutton says that being in a position of leadership “is the most reliable way to become oblivious and emotionally insensitive.” Many coaches create distance from their players as a means of showing their authority. However, the ability to relate to players and gain their trust is an important quality of a coach. Too many coaches forget what it’s like to learn new things during a socially awkward period of their lives in a high stress (high school) environment.

Get out of the Way

Sutton quotes former 3M vice president William Coyne who said:

“After you plant a seed, you don’t dig it up every week to see how it’s doing.”

Players, like plants, need the right environment to grow. When you plant a seed, you do not water the seed constantly or flood the garden with water. Similarly, players need an appropriate amount of feedback, but not too much. At some point, there is diminishing returns. The right environment requires a careful mix of feedback and repetitions. Players need space to try things on their own, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. If the coach is there to correct every mistake, the player’s growth stagnates.

Fight Fair

This often pertains to relationship with assistant coaches more so than players. Coaches must be willing to discuss and debate with their staff. when a consensus is reached, one coach cannot hold a grudge against another. The discussion should not be personal.

I coached with a guy who often ended arguments by threatening physical violence if I disagreed with his opinions. Needless to say, I quit the day after the last game. I know other coaches who give their assistants the silent treatment if the assistant suggested something that worked. These issues illustrate a coach’s immaturity, but also undermine the staff’s ability. Rather than working together, coaches work on their own agenda, regardless of what is best for the team.

By Brian McCormick
Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

  • What Is A Playmaker?

    Who decided that a point guard has to be small? More importantly, what is a point guard? We expect a point guard to be a leader and have a high basketball I.Q. Why don’t we expect or challenge all players to develop this game awareness? Why rely on only one player? Read more →
  • The PBDL Concept

    English soccer academies wait until players are 11 to play full 11v11 soccer; in Italy, youth basketball players participate in skill-oriented clinics at 6-years-old, but start competitive games at 12. In the United States, kids play 5v5 full court games and compete for national championships when they are 8-years-old.

    Read more →

  • Starting A PBDL

    The PBDL emphasizes learning and development. Presently, players and parents have numerous recreation options - leagues based on fun and equal participation, typically for beginners - and numerous competitive opportunities - teams focused on strategy, game preparation and winning. There are few true development leagues - until now.

    Read more →