Coaching skills and player development

Last week, I tweeted, “After the season, a head coach at a lower-level college said that she was too good for the level because her players lacked skills.” The general responses on twitter were that she should move to a lower competitive level. 

This is the common thinking. We believe that the best coaches should be at the highest competitive level. It makes sense. Professional coaches generally make more money than college coaches, and college coaches generally make more than high school coach. Since our society tends to equate competence with status and renumeration, our most competent coaches should be those at the highest levels.

Beyond our societal thinking, is that the way that it should be? Wouldn’t it be better if our best coaches worked with players at the most important stage of development? It may, in fact, be the case. I know some who argue that St. Anthony’s Bob Hurley is the best coach in the country, regardless of level, and he works with players in the important 14-18 year-old age range.

While I laughed at the audacity of the coach, at least she showed some awareness of her flaws: She is unable to develop skills in her players, so, if anything, she should be at a level of competition where players have more fully developed skills. Having her move to a lower level of competition – high school – would help nobody; the players would be even more desperate for instruction, and she would be even more helpless to help them.

I know another coach who struggled as a college coach who I felt would be a good WNBA coach. Her laissez faire style of discipline and lack of enthusiasm would play better with professionals than college players, and her best skill set was designing sets out of a timeout as opposed to developing or motivating players. However, if she dropped to the high-school level, I could not imagine her lasting a full season. She lacked the patience and understanding to work with lesser-skilled players.

Different competitive levels require different skills and personalities. Some coaches would be successful at any level. Other coaches are perfect at one level, but would struggle at another. Other coaches are searching for the level that suits them best.

The goal, from a system standpoint, should be to have coaches at the right level. The coaches who are best at developing skills and motivating players to improve should be coaching players at a developmental level. The coaches who are best at team management and strategic decisions should be at the highest levels.

This does not mean that the coaches at the highest competitive levels are the best coaches. Instead, each competitive level is littered with coaches who run the spectrum from poor to great. If we could develop a level of Master Coaches for each developmental and competitive level, we could have a system that rewards the best coaches at each level and matches society’s values (status, compensation) with the best approach from the system’s standpoint.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES

Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

2 thoughts on “Coaching skills and player development

  • Here are some tips to help form an effective coaching philosophy and help your players and teams to reach their full potential:
    * Be eager to learn, and work hard to be as up-to-date as possible by reading, attending clinics, and talking with fellow coaches.
    * Be yourself and strive to be the best you that you can be.
    * Never lose sight of the impact that you have on young people’s lives.
    * Teach your players the importance of proper priorities.
    * Emphasize team objectives to play hard, play smart, play together, have fun, and give a winning effort in games and practices.
    * Evaluate wins and losses objectively, focusing more on effort and execution than the outcome of the game.

    Success is based on getting an individual to work to develop skills and then getting them to sacrifice that for the well-being of the team.

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