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.

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