In the world of sports, there is always room for improvement—not just for athletes, but also for coaches. Many coaches could profit from a little fine-tuning. Having an impact on players requires more than deep knowledge of the game. Successful coaches help athletes reach their potential by building relationships based on trust, confidence and communication. (Read about David Jack’s Training Philosophy.)
Here are nine techniques that can help coaches have more impact on their players and result in a more successful season. I discuss them in a basketball context, but the techniques apply to coaching any sport.
As a coach, you need to set an example if you expect your players to put in the time to improve. Coaches should constantly be learning, practicing and planning. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you know enough. At Coaching U Live, Boston Celtics assistant coach Kevin Eastman and former Chuck Daly assistant coach Brendan Suhr not only run the clinic and present, they also take notes throughout. Other NBA head coaches do the same, even when they are not presenting. If these guys are still learning, you should be too.
For your players to get quality repetitions, they need to understand what they look like. The smallest fundamental of form or technique determines how well an overall exercise is done. If you let players cross their feet on defense in practice, you can be sure it will happen in a game. You have to slightly over-exaggerate the small details in practice to get what you want when the game starts.
A popular saying is that "you get what you accept." This can be applied to skills, execution and discipline. Don't let your players fall short of meeting the standards you set. Know what you want and determine what is acceptable. Not everything will be perfect, but that doesn't mean perfection shouldn't be a goal. Know what is realistic in the circumstances, and enforce all team rules consistently.
Bringing intensity doesn't mean you have to be loud and crazy. What it does mean is that you must do everything with purpose and focus. Your team will take on your personality and, hopefully, your mentality. Personally, I am not loud, and I am always pretty calm. I have been called "the cool coach," because my temperament doesn't change. To some, I may seem to lack intensity, but my teams play with confidence and focus, train hard and smart, and carry these traits with them beyond basketball. We win a lot, too. The players understand that when they are on the court, they have a job to do. They enjoy working hard and they expect to win.
Being positive produces longer lasting results. Negativity wears off, because it acts primarily on external motivators. Players who are, or learn to be, internally motivated go farther. If players don't buy in to the team's goals, there is only so much you can do. But creating a positive environment is crucial. This means ruling out negativity, not just from your players, but also, insofar as you can control it, from your fans. In partnership with leaders among your players, it is important to be firm and in control, but in a way that brings people in. Never sacrifice discipline. But when correcting mistakes, use the "sandwich technique"—give a positive comment, make the correction, and follow it up with another positive comment. (Check out High School Basketball Coaches: Be Flexible When Implementing a System.)
Employ the two "cons": always be confident and consistent. They will be contagious (another "con"), and your players will buy in much faster. If you are unsure, your players will be too. Without consistency, your players will never know what to expect from you. You will lose them if you don't enforce the same rules for everybody, or if you accept different behavior from one day, or year, to the next. Players need to know who you are and have full trust in you.
This is part of being consistent. If you are not a screamer, don't become one just because something upsets you. Honesty works better, even when it's hard to do. There are times to build confidence, but still be honest, just positive. There are also times when, if you are not honest, players will know. Athletes don't want to play for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Most of all, your players need to know that you care about them. They will do more for you, and for themselves, when they know that you care. How you communicate shows how much you care and determines how well they learn. Part of communication is listening. When you listen, you learn more about your players; and the better you know them, the easier it is to teach them. (Read How Sport Psychology Improves Athletic Performance.)
A winning culture includes the previous techniques, but also dedication, commitment, competitiveness, and high standards. Don't settle for less than you expect. Don't let players cheat themselves or the team, and don't do it yourself. Team success must come before anything else. Make all coaching decisions in the best interests of the team. Leave your ego and emotions out of it, and don't put any player above the team. You want your players to put the team first and make winning their priority. That starts with the example that you set every day.
Want more coaching tips? Check out Building A Better Young Athlete, Part 1: Laying the Foundation.