Understanding Coach-to-Player (and Player-to-Coach) Roles and Relationships

January 4, 2013 | Stu Singer

Player and Coach

Achieving championship success doesn't rely solely on the strength of the team or the talent of individual players. Although these factors are important, what's truly fundamental is the relationship between player and coach. When there's a true understanding between the parties, a team can become unstoppable. (See Communicating With a Coach.)

The best example I can think of is the player-coach duo of Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. What can athletes and coaches learn from this fiery and intense relationship?

Just how bad was it? Early in Parker's career with the Spurs, Popovich's criticisms of his point guard's performance were sometimes absolutely brutal—so harsh that even his teammates questioned why Parker would continue to put up with it.

Why does Pop coach Parker so aggressively?

The answer to this question is the "Care Factor," as Pop calls it. He is ruthless to Parker during every practice, constantly pointing out everything that needs improvement. At the same time, the coach takes his star player out to dinner 15 to 20 times a year to discuss life outside of basketball. "You can't get on a player and ignore him until the next time he plays a game," Popovich explains.

As a sports psychology consultant, I work with coaches to help them understand this concept. Players respond better if they have an understanding of who you are and what you're trying to do for them. They want to know that you actually care about the person behind the number on the jersey. The younger the athlete, the more important this becomes, because developmentally, young athletes are still building their sense of trust.

Widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the game, Pop understands this, which probably has a lot to do with why he's been successful and respected by his players. (Read 3 Tips on Providing Feedback to Your Players.)

Why does Parker put up with it?

Simple. He agrees with the criticism and understands that Pop is right—regardless of how much he hates being singled out and criticized. The ability to put your ego aside and focus on becoming your "best self" is one of the greatest mental skills a player can learn. Coaches' words are often loud and harsh, but they contain important instructions and insights. Learn to hear the instruction and tune out the volume and tone.

Coaches ask you to do the very thing you need to do to become the "best you" that you can be. You as a player must keep that in mind, despite the fact that it may be the very thing you're most uncomfortable with. Learning to embrace this as a challenge is exactly what you need to do if you want to improve and maximize your ability. Never be too proud to think that you can't grow, learn and improve. We should all accept the fact that we're on a lifelong journey of improvement and knowledge. Your coaches are your teachers, put in place to help you understand lessons—about your sport and about yourself.

The takeaway

The overarching points here are:

  • Coaches need to understand that each player is a person, no matter how talented, old, young, strong, fast, short or tall. Treat the player as a person first and athlete second, and you'll establish a deeper connection in how your words will influence the player.
  • Players, never end the process of improvement. Remember, you are never a finished product, but always a work in progress,  forever on a journey towards your own personal best. Often, coaches pinpoint the exact skill or behavior that you absolutely need to work on in order to take your game to the next level. By letting go of your ego and being willing to stretch beyond your comfort zone, you're more likely to take your game to where you may not have thought possible.
Stuart Singer
- Stuart Singer has more than a decade of experience in both individual and group sport psychology performance, including responsibilities as an assistant director of a...
Stuart Singer
- Stuart Singer has more than a decade of experience in both individual and group sport psychology performance, including responsibilities as an assistant director of a...
Must See
Derrick Rose Explains How He Stays Positive Derrick Rose Explains How He Stays Positive
Views: 6,081,054
Antonio Brown Juggles 3 Footballs Antonio Brown Juggles 3 Footballs
Views: 1,206,482
Skylar Diggins Attacks the Off-Season On and Off the Court Skylar Diggins Attacks the Off-Season On and Off the Court
Views: 6,946,391

Featured Videos

Basketball Shooting Drill: Kevin Love's Turn-and-Shoot Drill Basketball Shooting Drill: Kevin Love's Turn-and-Shoot Drill Views: 1,877
SEALFIT: Pushing the Limits of What Athletes Are Capable Of SEALFIT: Pushing the Limits of What Athletes Are Capable Of
Athletic Gaines: Get Faster With Weighted Sled Pushes Athletic Gaines: Get Faster With Weighted Sled Pushes
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Derrick Rose Explains How He Stays Positive Derrick Rose Explains How He Stays Positive
Views: 6,081,054
Allyson Felix Explains How To Choose a Coach Allyson Felix Explains How To Choose a Coach
Views: 8,690,928
Dustin Pedroia on Training Dustin Pedroia on Training
Views: 10,919,916
Charging Ground Balls With Skip Schumaker Charging Ground Balls With Skip Schumaker
Views: 29,869
Yoga for Athletes: Crow Pose Yoga for Athletes: Crow Pose
Views: 3,539,411

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
6 Ways Sport Parents Are Doing It Wrong

6 Ways Sport Parents Are Doing It Wrong

I love my kids more than anything. So, I get it, how they perform is important to me. But their performance is not a reflection of my parenting, just a...

Get Tough on Your Goals to Get Fit

Get Tough on Your Goals to Get Fit

Growth Mindset: How to Think Like a Champion

Growth Mindset: How to Think Like a Champion

Study: Athletes Think Faster, More Accurately Than Non-Athletes

Study: Athletes Think Faster, More Accurately Than Non-Athletes

5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Athlete

5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Athlete

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Coach

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Coach

How Nik Wallenda Prepared to Walk Across the Grand Canyon

How Nik Wallenda Prepared to Walk Across the Grand Canyon

The Art of Strength and Conditioning Coaching

The Art of Strength and Conditioning Coaching

Can a Faster Brain Increase Sports Performance?

Can a Faster Brain Increase Sports Performance?

Home Field Advantage Is Real, Says Science

Home Field Advantage Is Real, Says Science

How Mental Performance Affects Your Workouts

How Mental Performance Affects Your Workouts

Does Home Field Actually Confer an Advantage?

Does Home Field Actually Confer an Advantage?

A Coach Describes What Its Like to Cut Players

A Coach Describes What It

Build Mental Toughness in the Weight Room

Build Mental Toughness in the Weight Room

Why You Should Be Training Instead of Exercising

Why You Should Be Training Instead of Exercising

How Clayton Kershaw Gets in the Zone

How Clayton Kershaw Gets in the Zone

How Mental Flexibility Boosts Your Game

How Mental Flexibility Boosts Your Game

Using Sports Imagery as Pre-Performance Routine

Using Sports Imagery as Pre-Performance Routine

What's Your Backup Plan When 'Plan A' Fails?

What's Your Backup Plan When 'Plan A' Fails?

How to 'Keep Your Cool' on the Football Field

How to 'Keep Your Cool' on the Football Field

5 Steps to Changing a Bad Habit

5 Steps to Changing a Bad Habit

Mental Warm-Up: How to Build Confidence Before a Game

Mental Warm-Up: How to Build Confidence Before a Game

Positive Affirmations for Athletes

Positive Affirmations for Athletes

Tips to Be a Better Leader

Tips to Be a Better Leader

Stress Exposure Training for Basketball

Stress Exposure Training for Basketball

4 Reasons Your Team Is Losing

4 Reasons Your Team Is Losing

Regain Your Confidence by Getting BIG

Regain Your Confidence by Getting BIG

5 Tips for Playing Mentally Tough Tennis

5 Tips for Playing Mentally Tough Tennis

Use Sports Psychology Against Your Opponents

Use Sports Psychology Against Your Opponents

Why Athletes Must Focus on Developing Their Own Identity

Why Athletes Must Focus on Developing Their Own Identity

4 Obstacles to Better Goal Setting

4 Obstacles to Better Goal Setting

How to Improve Mental Focus on the Baseball Diamond

How to Improve Mental Focus on the Baseball Diamond

The One Word You Should Never Say to Yourself

The One Word You Should Never Say to Yourself

4 Tips for Building Confidence

4 Tips for Building Confidence

Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Q&A: How to Deal With a Tough Coach

Q&A: How to Deal With a Tough Coach

The Athletic Brain: How to Learn to Anticipate

The Athletic Brain: How to Learn to Anticipate

Overcome the 5 Most Common Mental Mistakes in Sports

Overcome the 5 Most Common Mental Mistakes in Sports

How Mentally Tough Are You?

How Mentally Tough Are You?

The Holistic Approach to Impactful Sports Coaching

The Holistic Approach to Impactful Sports Coaching

YardBarker