Things that Great Coaches Think

The big story in women’s basketball over the past couple days has been the culture of fear and intimidation created by Oregon State University women’s basketball coach LaVonda Wagner, who ultimately was fired.

Perhaps Wagner could have learned a lesson from Stanford professor and management expert Bob Sutton, author of Weird Ideas that Work. In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, he listed “12 Things Good Bosses Believe.” The 12 things provide a good starting point for a discussion of coaching and a coach’s relationship with his or her players.

6. I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong.

This is an important aspect of coaching, and one thing that many coaches never grasp. If a coach appears unconfident, players will not follow his lead. However, a coach who believes that he is never wrong will lose his players as well.

As a coach, I am willing to admit mistakes and tell players that I do not know everything. I often seek players’ input and advice before making decisions. I do not ask for players’ opinions because I have no ideas of my own, but because I am willing to admit that they may see something differently, and possibly better, while on the court than I do on the sideline. I may feel that our mistake is one thing, but when I ask the players, I find that it is something entirely different. If I stubbornly tried to fix the problem that I saw, I may have never solved the problem and the players may come to doubt my ability. Rather than showing weakness, I feel that empowering players through the decision-making process illustrates confidence – unconfident coaches tend to take the “my way or the highway” approach to silence any chance of dissension. I embrace different ideas because I want to find the best one, not my favorite.

8. One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is “what happens after people make a mistake?”

My coaching philosophy basically boils down to this question. I run practices and teach in a way that prepares players for imperfection. I do not expect everything to go as planned during a game, so I need to prepare players to adjust and adapt to mistakes. If I stop practice every time there is a mistake and solve the problem, how will players solve the problem in the game? Practices may look disorganized sometimes, but so do games. It is better to have players prepared to deal with the disorganization, than to run a neat and tidy practice.

11. How I do things is as important as what I do.

This is another big part of coaching. We often focus so much energy on the plays that we run and our defensive adjustments that we forget that what we do on the court is not as important as how we do it. I often tell players that it is better to make the wrong decision aggressively than to make the right decision passively because the aggressive play is tougher to defend than the passive play. As a coach, it is often not what you say to a player, but how you say it.

If you take a player away from the group and critique a performance, you are more likely to have success than criticizing the player in front of the group, where he ignores the information present in the critique and thinks that the coach is picking on him.

This year, I wanted to emphasize competition, so we scored each drill. To make the competition meaningful each day, the day’s winner avoided post-practice conditioning. Rather than punish the losers, I rewarded the winners. Essentially, I did the same thing – the top scorer skipped conditioning and the bottom scorers did the extra conditioning. However, rather than feeling like they were punished, the girls congratulated the daily winner – they focused on the positive, not the negative because of how I introduced and approached the conditioning.

The other nine ideas complement the coaching process as well. I’m curious which things other people think fit most closely with coaching.

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

2 thoughts on “Things that Great Coaches Think

  • In my experience as a former college player and now as a youth basketball coach – two types of players exist 1.) players that love and will do anything for their coach OR 2.) players that dislike their coach so greatly that they want to do whatever it takes to “keep the coach off my back”. It becomes difficult for players to play when a coach substitutes players every time they make a mistake on the court.

    This creates 2 types of bonds for the players on the teams, regardless of how Coach runs the team (or is liked or disliked) – the group rallies and wants to do everything possible to please the coach (think run through a brick wall) OR everyone agrees and dislikes the coach or style of coaching and again it brings the group together as they may “just want to prove coach wrong.”

    Coaches confuse players when they have much different styles of coaching the team, depending on what day of the week it is. Consistency and communication help greatly in this area. Also, having the same players year over year allow players to better understand the coach and their methods.

    Plays/sets are in fact suggestions. If there is a better option than what was drawn up in the huddle, they’ve got to react and let their experience (time, score & possession) kick in. In youth basketball especially, it makes a difference when coaches teach kids to run plays versus teaching kids to play and make plays.

    Hope this helps. Feel free to follow me on twitter (weak plug I know. @youthbasketball & @beaugreen).


    PS feel free to reach out to me if I can help in any way – particularly in youth basketball.

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