Matt Barnes and two styles of coaching

What is the job of a coach? At the professional level, an argument could be made that the coach’s job is to put the team into position to win. How does one accomplish that goal? There seem to be two approaches: One limits players in an attempt to reduce mistakes, whereas the other attempts to develop and expand players. 

In Chris Ballard’s profile of Matt Barnes for Sports Illustrated, former Philadelphia 76ers head coach Mo Cheeks is described as the first type of coach, one who limits players to well-defined roles.

As Barnes tells it, he was working with shooting coach Buzz Braman after practice, hoping to smooth out a hitch in his shot, when Sixers head coach Mo Cheeks walked by. “I don’t see why you’re working on your shot,” Cheeks said. “You’re not going to get to shoot here.” Barnes fumed, but said nothing.

A week later, in practice, things came to a head. “I came down on a 3-on-1 and hit pull-up 15-footer off the glass and [Cheeks] stopped practice,” says Barnes. “He yells, ‘What are you doing? What are you shooting the ball for? You know that’s not your job, you gotta pass the ball!’”

Barnes was shocked “What? But I made the shot.”

Said Cheeks: “That’s why you don’t play.’”

Nothing like having a coach discourage a player who is working outside of practice on his weaknesses. Later in his career, Barnes played for Don Nelson with the Warriors.

“Nellie told me, ‘It’s OK if you turn the ball over. I don’t want you to, but if you do you’re going to keep playing.’’ For Barnes, forever on a leash, it was a revelation. “People don’t realize that everyone in the NBA is really good,” he says. “The difference is having a coach that believes in you.”

If it is that important for a professional athlete making millions of dollars to have a coach believe in him, how important is it for a youth or high school player? Which type of coach would you prefer to play for? Which style of coach is likely to have players who enjoy the game, enjoy practice, and enjoy playing?


By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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