I will share today my opinion and some of the things that I do for coaching better and inspiring the athletes in my team, hoping you will form your thoughts about it.
We are in 2019, and the whole world changed so much since I started playing basketball. I remember we were going to one of the courts where people gathered for pick-up games every afternoon. Sometimes there were so many teams that if you couldn’t pick up a good team and without a strong strategy after the first lost you should wait two or three hours for the next game. It was a must to be competitive. Otherwise, you would end waiting too long. No matter how the day was ending for us, as happy winners or sad losers, we were back the next day with the same passion and the willingness to compete again.
There were no mobile phones, no internet, no consoles (and later too expensive for our families), and we had only one tv channel. I remember that the only way to communicate with our friends was by the landline phone.
Nowadays, kids have smartphones, internet, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Gmail, two hundred tv channels, Play Station, Xbox, Nintendo, and I can continue for a lot of pages.
We, the coaches, need to adapt and to understand how to coach someone who is under assault by a massive amount of information, every minute. They have so many activities to choose from that it doesn’t matter anymore if they win or not a game. In this “under pressure” environment, we have to find a way to coach and inspire our athletes to compete and to win. Don’t get me wrong when I am talking about winning; I don’t mean to be driven by competition only because this will be wrong, but we need to compete on any game that we play even it is Monopoly with the family. The goal of any game is to win, and for this, you need to engage fully.
Moving on, I have to say that the most important thing in creating an individual bond with a player and another bond with the whole team (or with any other community) is by building the trust. Any society in the world which is based on mistrust will collapse, jusct as the one found on mutual trust will flourish.
I will never promise to the players something that I can not do, or I am not sure it will happen that way. For example, I will never promise “playing minutes,” because I don’t know if I can keep my promise. Also, there will be a lot of players who will improve more than others if you give everybody equal chances in reaching their full potential. Another way to create trust is to create a family atmosphere inside the team. The players need to know that they are here for each other, they not going to be thrown away at any sign of trouble or mistake, and I will treat them like mdy kids are.
Building trust takes time, and it can vanish in a second destroying everything you built. After losing the trust, rebuilding it takes ten more times than creating it, and sometimes you will not succeed again. I can tell you this from my life experience, and I know that I am right.
Earning the respect of my players is another crucial aspect inside my team. I can do this by being honest, by making commitments that I can stand by. When I create respect between the player and me, by doing things that I say I am going to do, by spending extra time to communicate and to figure out who this young man is; this respect turns into affection over time. As a coach, I got to be able to say NO to the player, but in the trust process, he should also know that the coach will ONLY DO what he says he will do.
The coach needs to have dialogues with his players and to understand their needs. BUT he has to keep in mind that FIRST and FOREMOST the player wants to know what is in it for HIM. So, a coach can talk like: here is your role, here is how we will win, here is how we will play, here is what we are going to do as a team, but the most important thing is to tell him: HERE IS WHAT IT’S IN IT FOR YOU. It is important in life for all of us to see the “Why” in whatever we do.
Sometimes players open their minds and souls to someone else, who can be from outside of the team, or part of the stuff. I want to know their perceptions or worries, what they don’t like or agree. Finding out those things I can coach them better and I am ready to do whatever it takes for it.
All the players are different, and therefore they need something else from us. Understanding individual needs and acting, in consequence, creates that bond where they will go out to work for you, to go out and battle for you and try to win it for you. We also have to create that bond where they know WE are fighting for THEM to be better individually.
Holding the players accountable is as important as inspiring them because they will get off track and we have to be there to say: I am keeping these people accountable. For example, if I have a rule about being late at the practice, let’s say like if you are late, you will sit on the bench next game, I have to stick on it if it happens, and to keep them accountable. Doing things this way and for everyone, I guarantee you that over time if a player screws up and you don’t react, he will be somewhat disappointed than happy. Imagine that moment and reflect what bonds and what great characters have you created.
We have to understand that with all the pressure created of the informational environment they will going to mess up, and they will be going to make mistakes, BUT WE ARE HERE TO MAKE THEM LEARN AND GROW.
I am dealing, and for sure I will deal, within my team with players from different countries, different cultures, different family backgrounds, some more educated than others, some more fluent than others. Now, the question is how do I communicate with my team, and how I put this group together so they have synergy, and they are working together and not against each other. It starts with great DISCIPLINE and STRUCTURE. There is a consequence of action, and it’s firm, quick, and fast without excuses. It should be a consistency; this action has this consequence every single time. In the end, you will see, if you do the same, it will be much easier for the players also.
What is essential for us, it will be essential for them too. For example, if academics are important for us, we have to show them by knowing when they have a test, what they did on a paper, and doing it with all the team together, they will understand that this is important for their coach, and in the end, it will be important for them.
After I observe my team in the first two weeks at the beginning of the season, I will define roles for everybody in front of everyone. I will give you one example: “Basi and Pavel – your role in this team is enthusiasm and passion in every practice. When I come to the gym, I want to be sure that everybody is ready to go, and that’s your job.”
We need to create bonds between players, and I think a good way to start is to bring all together and to let them say three things about each other that they like. Then we have to make them talk about us, and then we have to say things that we love about them and at the whole team. They will understand that even if we are different, we have common things to like to each other, and we can stay on this page versus the one with differences.
One delicate subject is dealing with the parents. First, I would like my players to understand that the parents LOVE their child and what they will do, right or wrong is because they love them. After that, I will have a single time talk about basketball with the parents, where I will explain them about the way things works in our team, which are the rules and the values we promote, and why is right for their child. Then, I will never talk about basketball with them. I can speak two hours about academics, or another thing, but not about basketball. In other words, I want the parents to LOVE their child, and I wish me to COACH their child.
On the court, to inspire the today athletes, I will create a professional competitive environment, where I will challenge them, and in all the drills or games they will have to compete. On every exercise, there will be a winner and a loser. I will take the first part of the practice, when they are fresher, to work on what is the most important for me, and I will let the final part of the training for what is the most important for them, for example playing five on five.
In the end, I want to remind that all of us need to understand, if some players are behind culturally, educationally, socially: IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT!
It is our job and our first responsibility as leaders, to help them get through that. Don’t be afraid to take the challenge to give them a chance to choose the right door, even if it’s only one right out of ten.
My advice for any coach is: If you ask your players to climb Mount Everest, be sure that you will do it hand to hand, and you will never leave anyone behind.