Q&A: How to Build the Coach-Athlete Relationship


Basketball Immersion member Paul had this question:

Hey Coach. I was just watching a couple of your clinic videos and I noticed a couple of similar but slightly disparate ideas when it comes to building the coach-player relationship. In one video, you say that you’ll ask them, “How can I best communicate with you?” In another video, you say that you cannot move forward with a player until there is an agreement that you will be able to hard coach them, and that they will cooperate with that. What if a player expresses a preference for a softer approach to communication? How do you reconcile the two concepts, and when you do, is it in the same conversation?


They are two different conversations.

Hard coaching implies I can correct them more than be an #@%hole to them.

This probably answers the question but to explore further…

Most players prefer to be communicated with rather then yelled at. So that is not what I am trying to learn by asking them how they prefer to be talked to or if they will accept the agreement. With the first conversation (How can I best communicate with you) I am trying to open communication about the player as a person and individual. For example I once found out that one of my players preferred when I called them by their full name instead of a a short form of their full name (ie. Christopher as opposed to Chris).

The second conversation (the agreement) is about the player understanding the importance of being held accountable for what we teach. If I determine something is important enough for me to teach, then I feel it is important enough for my players to learn. I want the freedom as a coach to be able to stop and correct when necessary. This may seem like an obvious concept, but it really is one lost on many players. Many players are close-minded, defensive, and in need of explanations as to why correction is necessary for learning.

The agreement is more or less semantics but is necessary to allow me to coach. It gives me a belief players are practicing with an intent to learn. The only true demonstration of this is actually how they practice but the agreement gives me confidence. If they are not approaching things with an intent to learn I can start any conversation about behaviour change by revisiting the conversation we had about the agreement.

The softer approach in our language means I don’t coach them. I just let them make mistakes or do whatever, but the result would be I would not play them. I have had players challenge me on this before and it becomes obvious to them that it is preferable to be coached than not to be.

I do want to know how it is best to communicate with my players. I do respect their answer. I do cater to individuals in my approach. However I do coach them all hard in the sense that I push them every day to be better.

In practical terms I have the coaching agreement conversation first. This could be while recruiting them, prior to our first practice or some other individual meeting opportunity. The second conversation relates to how it is best to communicate with them as individuals. I have done this both as a group and individual conversation. If I begin with a group conversation then I am using it to introduce the topic of individual communication preferences. Regardless, the follow up always needs to be individual as that is the only place you will get the answer.

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