Coaches differ from one another in various ways. Their coaching styles, their behaviours, their philosophies, systems and even their personalities. Combining these styles with that of their athletes results in some great working relationships and at other times, confusion from the athletes’ part as they struggle to understand their coach and fit in with the team.
There is no style that is correct or incorrect, rather, it is a question of athletes understanding what their coach’s style is and if they are happy to play under that system. Some styles or systems are better suited to certain players than others.
Throughout my coaching journey, I have had the pleasure to meet various coaches and athletes and it is always exciting talking about why certain coaches philosophies are so different from one another.
A more interesting topic stems from the athletes that I work and speak with. The conversations usually come up after a game and start like this, “I have been training really well, and I’ve improved defensively, but my coach still won’t play me!” or it might be, “Coach sometimes starts me and then at other times, I hardly play!“.
These aren’t just stories that players tell me about their coaches; it is also something that I live with on a consistent basis.
In my fourth game working with Charnwood Riders, a key player on the team was subbed out four minutes into the game. His first reaction was to ask (quite aggressively), “Why am I being subbed out?” It took me less than a fraction of a second to respond with, “It doesn’t matter now, because you are done for the day!”
The following thoughts may help players to understand their coaches better and assist in their development.
- Coaches aren’t always right and they don’t know everything.
- Most coaches’ doors are open for honest and open conversations, but there is a time and a place for that.
After the game, I was able to sit down with the player from the above example and we had an opportunity to talk through a couple of things, including the team, the vision we had for the team and how we were going to achieve that.
This is an important conversation that needs to take place between coaches and players. When a player understands how the coaches decision impacts their growth and development, an understanding and buy-in can take place from the player. However, if the player disagrees with the coaches thoughts, it is still important that they accept and respect them as the coach is doing what he thinks is best for the team.
Despite the onus being on the coach to approach their team and share their vision with their players, some coaches get caught up in other aspects and forget to make time to connect with their players. There are other coaches who don’t have enough experience to know the value that communication has on coach-athlete relationships. Other times, coaches get caught up in handling team logistics, satisfying administrators, drawing up X’s and O’s, recruiting and/or scouting and have no time left to connect with their team. These things shouldn’t happen, but they do.
The good news is that there are still things that players can do to help their situation and improve their understanding of the coaches vision for the team, the system that they’re playing in and their role within that system. Actively doing this will also help impact the team in a more positive manner than just whining and complaining about the situation.
“My Coach doesn’t know what he’s doing and he sucks”
- He says that, “I need to improve my confidence to play, but never plays me, so how can I improve my confidence?”
Coaches actively look for opportunities to play everyone. It is the best way to develop players, maintain team chemistry and build confidence. However, at the same time, there are pressures on them, from the players, the parents, the fans and the club to win games. As such, in situations where a crucial game is being played, coaches may not be so quick to play someone with low confidence because of the impact it has on the game.
Players who lack confidence impact the game in several different ways: (i) they are indecisive on the court, (ii) they hide and hope that no one sees them or passes them the basketball, (iii) they beat themselves down with negative self-talk, which results in them playing poorly and disappearing into a shell. These are just some of the things that may happen when a player is on the court. Coaches know that all of the above don’t serve to help the player or the team, and as a result don’t give them as much court time as they would like.
“Well, how am I going to develop confidence if I don’t get on the court?“
Developing confidence isn’t an overnight thing. It takes time and patience and is sustained by repeatedly doing a task until an athlete firmly believes that they are capable of performing the desired behaviour successfully (more about confidence in this blog).
Coach’s Tip: Approach your coach and tell him how you feel. Ask him to help you come up with a plan for your development. Find out what are the skills that you need the most work on and then actively start strengthening those skills. Keep a progress chart so that you can visually track your improvement. Overtime, you will see yourself improve in that skill and become more confident in your ability to perform that skill.
*(Keep an eye out for my post on confidence next month)*
2. He subbed me off when I hadn’t done anything wrong.
There are certain players, including some who lack confidence, that get so concerned and anxious about making any mistakes that when they get an opportunity to play, they hide. These players do everything they can to make sure that they don’t mess up, so they stay in the corner, rather than lift up. They pass the ball, rather than drive to the basket. They play it safe.
Regardless of what role you play, coaches don’t want players on the court who hide. It doesn’t add value to the team. As a player, you have to ask yourself, “what are you adding to the team when you’re on the court” and if it’s just a presence on the court, then you’ll find yourself getting limited court time. Players who are tentative and indecisive often end up hurting the team more than they help. They limit the teams options on every possession.
Whilst coaches don’t want reckless players, they do want players who aren’t afraid to make mistakes. Players who will go after loose balls and who’ll step up and make that big play. You may not have the talent that your teammates have, but you can add a scoring threat and a presence every time you’re on the court. This will increase the chances of you getting more minutes Otherwise, you’ll keep getting the few minutes that you’re probably getting now, whilst your teammate is getting a quick rest before you’re back on the bench and she’s on the floor again.
Coach’s Tip: Be a student of the game and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. When you’ve learned your coaches offenses and defenses, and identified what your teams non-negotiables (more below) are; then play within those concepts, but get out of your comfort zone. Yes, sure, you will make some mistakes, but your coach would prefer that than just playing it safe. Turning the ball over because you’re getting called for travels as you look to explode to the basket on your first step is very different to you turning the ball over because you’re holding onto it for five seconds and fail to make a decision. Make mistakes, but make them within your role (more below) and within the team concepts.
3. I was playing well, taking care of the ball and scoring, and he still subbed me out.
Sometimes you will play decisively, taking your chances and attacking the basket. You are helping your team and scoring well, and then for whatever reason, your coach subs you out.
When I was an assistant coach with the Ireland U16 womens team in the European Championships, our starting point guard was one of the team captains. A feisty, young player who aggressively went out and played hard. She was coachable and bought into the team concepts. She led the team on and off the court to the best of her ability. She was captain material and was an integral part of our program.
After the first two games, in which she started and played really well (despite us losing both games), the coaching staff decided that we needed to change something up. We didn’t know what, but we knew we had to try something different, in the hopes that that it will spark something or give us a different look.
A couple of minutes into game three, we decided to sub our captain and starting point guard. It threw the other team off as they had spent their time scouting her and figuring out how to slow her down. With our starting point guard on the bench, we had a different look and it was the edge we needed to claim the win. Our first win of the tournament.
We assumed that as a leader, she would understand what we did, and following the game, we didn’t sit down with her to explain the situation or why we had done what we did. We had won, she was supposed to be happy. This was an assumption made on our part.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it played out. She didn’t understand why she got limited minutes and was subbed out. She thought it was something that she had done wrong and ended up beating herself down. Perhaps, she didn’t lead well, maybe, she didn’t perform to the standards set, maybe her teammates didn’t like her. These may have been the thoughts that were going on through her mind.
Unfortunately, we were all too busy celebrating our first win to provide her with what she needed. As a result, her performance dipped over the next couple of games and the team chemistry declined.
Yes, it is the job of the coaching staff to identify and anticipate this potential problem and then come up with steps to deal with it when it happened, which we didn’t do. But, how can players deal with this situation if it happens to them?
Coach’s Tip: After a similar situation arises with you, allow some time to pass so that the emotional levels of both you and your coach level off, and then look for an opportunity to talk to your coach about the game. Be honest with your thoughts and try and understand theirs. Most coaches will appreciate the maturity and you will gain your coaches trust in the process too.
4. He immediately subs me out the second I make a bad play in the game, but the same rules don’t apply to the others on the team.
Players often get caught playing the comparison game. What players fail to understand at times is that they aren’t the same person as their teammate is. Every player brings a different dynamic to the team and coaches try to see how best that compliments the team.
The problem with team sports is that coaches always look first at the team and secondly at the individuals. It is usually a question of what does this player add to the team as opposed to that player. Due to this crucial aspect, spending time trying to be someone different becomes wasted time. After all, the coach picked 12 players based on something. He must have seen or thought that each player can add something to the team. If that’s the case, then why do coaches substitute a player immediately after a mistake occurs.
- It was a coincidence
I try and make it a point not to take my players out of the game after a mistake is made. It’s just something that I have tried to do more and more of over the last couple of years; unless it’s a non-negotiable error (see point three below). However, there are times in the game where I have called a sub and before this can be administered, the player on court makes a mistake. Now, he’s coming to the bench believing that the only reason he’s off is because he made a mistake. He’d be wrong in this case. It was an unfortunate coincidence that he committed a foul or turned the ball over just prior to the buzzer going off.
- To protect momentum
Depending on how the game is going, I will try and get our role players in at some point in the first half of the game. However, occasionally, even though we might have the momentum; following a sub, the momentum suddenly shifts. In an attempt to regain the momentum, coaches will take the sub off. Players may feel like they’re being blamed for something they had no control over, but coaches understand that momentum in a game is a big thing and trying to control it is crucial to the team.
- Non-negotiable error
Every coach, regardless of whether they explain this or not to their players, have what they consider non-negotiables. A non-negotiable is an error, which when made, requires an immediate consequence. For me, it is when players walk on defense, display poor body language, argue with the refs or go 50% in a game. This absolutely drives me off the wall, so when one of my players commits this cardinal sin, they find themselves right back on the bench.
- Personnel adjustment
Often times, the substitution decision has little to do with what you may have or haven’t done, as mentioned in the above example. Coaches observe and analyse every possession in the game and constantly look for opportunities to gain an advantage over the other team.
This may mean attacking a mismatch, giving a player a couple of minutes rest or utilising a certain strength, e.g. noticing where the help is coming from and playing strong dribble penetrators or noticing a tendency to over help and putting in good shooters etc.
A couple of years ago, I was coaching in the women’s super-league in Ireland and my most consistent player had scored 12 of our last 17 points. The opposing coach called a timeout and adjusted their defense. Following this time-out, our team struggled and my best player was taken out of rhythm. I couldn’t see what the other teams adjustment was and I didn’t want to waste a time-out as I didn’t know what to adjust on my team. So, I subbed my best player out (not because she had done anything wrong, but because I needed the time to see how we could re-gain the advantage).
She didn’t understand the substitution decision at the time, but because we had a good relationship, she didn’t question it. I managed to draw something up for her on the side-line and get her back in the game, without using a time-out. She went back in and was back in rhythm. We ended up winning the game.
As a player, you don’t need to agree or disagree with your coaches decision, but you need to understand that their decisions are made with the teams best interest at heart.
- Going outside your role
Whenever I see my defensive specialist, trying to attack the basket off the dribble or when I see my dominant post player standing behind the arc shooting threes, it is time to send them to substitionville. If you have a role on the team, and your coach has taken the time to articulate what your role is, then you need to fulfil that role.
In order for the team to function efficiently and effectively, everyone needs to play their part. Not everyone can have the same number of shot attempts and not everyone can play the same number of minutes. The coaches job is to put players into positions that he believes will make the team successful. Your job, if you want the team to succeed, is to find out what that role is and then execute it to the best of your ability.
James Harden and Steph Curry have different roles on their teams than the rest of their teammates, so when Harden doesn’t play defense and is still allowed to remain on the court, as opposed to one of his teammates, who is subbed out immediately or when Curry takes those ridiculous shots and his teammates don’t, it’s because their roles on the team are different.
A salesman who brings in a a high percentage of sales revenue will be allowed a longer leash than the new salesman who hasn’t proven himself yet. A college student who has a track record of getting good grades will be allowed a longer recovery time (extensions) when he slips up as opposed to the new kid who messes up straight away.
Coach’s Tip: Take the time to speak to your coach. Ask questions about the team and the standards that the team is trying to achieve. Find out what your coaches non-negotiables are. Ask your coach what role needs to be filled for the team to be successful. Understand this role, accept this role and then strive to be the best at this role. When you can do this, your coach will be more open to having discussions about expanding your role and giving you more. Don’t forget to communicate with your coach off the court too. Former players of mine who completely bought into the team concept and that I enjoyed working with the most were the ones that I managed to connect with off the court and build a relationship with them. Occasionally, I initiated this, but more often than not, it was my players who approached me to start building this relationship.