Why is the coach always right?

by on December 19, 2012
in Parents & Coaches

Nearly every day, on one message board or another, I read a forum posts complaining about parents or players. The general consensus from coaches is that they know who should be playing, and the parents and players do not. How do they know? 

I play everybody in every game. I track wins in practice to determine my starters and my captains. I still don’t know who should get more minutes and who should get less. It tends to change from game to game and week to week.

Some teams have some obvious choices and some obvious divisions. However, how are those divisions made? Is the division because the top 5 get 75% of the repetitions and playing time? Is the division because the top 8 get 100% of playing time?

Coaches often say that parents do not watch practice, so they do not know who deserves to play and who does not. As someone who has worked for several coaches in an unofficial capacity, but has no real input on playing time or other team decisions, I have had a unique opportunity to watch several coaches in and out of practice. I disagree with their assessments of their own players. Who is right?

I could be wrong. My point is not that I am right, and the coach was wrong. My point is that we disagree. If two coaches disagree about the personnel (with an assistant offering a third opinion), how are so many coaches certain of their infallibility?

I talked to a player over the weekend. I know the player well, probably better than the head coach. I have watched nearly every game and many practices. I am convinced that the coach views the player as she was 3 months ago, and not as she is today. Three months ago, she was out of shape and could not move laterally; she also was not cleared to play basketball, as she was closing in on six months post-ACL surgery. When she first returned to the court, after the start of practices, she was behind her teammates in fitness, quickness, sharpness, etc. However, she could do things that nobody else on the court could do because of her feel for the game.

Now, 3 months later, she has nearly caught all of her teammates in strength and fitness. However, the coach believes that she is slow. The coach believes that she does not move well. The coach believes that she is a defensive liability. She isn’t. She is not the best defender on the team, but the best defender does not play. She is not the best defender of those who play. However, she is no better and no worse than the player who plays ahead of her. Two rational coaches could make an argument for either of the two as the better defender. One might like the slightly more vocal, slightly more active player who tends to make more mistakes, whereas another might favor the better help defender who is always in the right spot and smart enough not to get beaten. However, the coach’s perception is that one player is a strong defender, and the other is a liability. To me, this perception is built on a perception of the player from three months ago, not of her ability today.

Coaches suffer from the self-fulfilling prophecy. When I drove home from my game yesterday, I asked my coaching friend who watched the game if I was missing something on a couple players. We disagreed on 2-3 of my players. Who is right? I am in practice every day. The player who I favored is 4th in practice wins, and the player who I did not favor is 13th (of 13). Does that mean that I am right? Maybe my behaviors have caused the one player to excel in practice, whereas the other may not excel because of my behaviors. Maybe I am too quick to see one player’s mistakes and he becomes demotivated, whereas I give the other more room for errors.

Playing time is hard. Coaching a freshman team, it’s not only about this season. For some, this will be their last basketball team; for others, this is a learning period for higher levels. Should those who will not make the team next year play less so the others gain more experience? Should those not likely to make the team play more because this is likely their last competitive experience? Will playing less affect who makes the team next season, either because it plants a seed in the mind of the next coach as to who is good and who is not or because the player does not improve as much due to the reduced repetitions? Who is to say what is and is not correct?

I don’t know if I am playing the right guys the right minutes. I think that I am. I ask input from my assistants and play who they say. I ask input from other coaches after games. I use the wins and losses as a guide. But, I make mistakes. I play one player too long and cheat another player. I notice one mistake and not another. I relate more to one player than another. Whatever it is, I know I am not perfect. My issue is with those coaches who believe they are infallible and who believe parents are evil. Sure, I can be critical of parents. However, I understand that parents want the same as I want: they want their child to have a great experience and to improve. I want that for their child too. For all of their children.

We may disagree on their child’s talent level or amount of PT. We may disagree on where basketball should fall on their child’s list of priorities. However, in the end, the parent has to juggle his or her child’s schedule in a variety of activities, whereas I have to juggle numerous players in a singular activity. But, the goal is the same: To create a great experience for the child. As long as parents are willing to meet on that common ground, what is the problem?

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