2. “Every-time I sub my players’ off; they demand an explanation. I can’t provide that during the game”
Nobody expects to play forty minutes every game. Most players would like to, but they don’t expect it. As such, player expectations are based on their self-perceptions in comparison to their teammates, how many minutes they usually play and what situations they are usually played in. When coaches deviate from these norms, players become anxious and have mixed thoughts.
It is this uncertainty that players fall back to when they start questioning their coaches’ decisions. Of course, coaches can’t explain every single one of their decisions and can’t predict exactly when players will play or how many minutes they will get. The situation changes constantly in a game, and coaches have to adjust as best they can; most players fail to see this and assume it’s a direct reflection of their performance when they get subbed.
Coaches can help reduce players uncertainty about such situations by introducing communication methods. This will also allow coaches to fully focus on the game instead.
When I was an assistant coach with the Irish U16 women’s team, part of my role involved me talking to players as soon as they came off the court. They would high five all of their teammates and then sit next to me. I provided them with some quick feedback as to why they were off and what they needed to do the next time they got back on the court. The players didn’t have to agree with me, but they weren’t left there to wonder why they were subbed out or to over think things on the sideline. My job was to help them refocus on the game as quickly as possible and prepare them for the next opportunity they were back on the court.
If you don’t have an assistant coach to do this; then you can them sit at the top of the bench, so that they’re not left sulking and/or pouting at the end. Assign a captain, or an enthusiastic player to communicate and be positive with the players that come off and help them refocus again.
A couple of years ago, I coached an elite U18 girls team in Ireland. During the pre-season, I met with all of my players individually and discussed what my plan for them was and how we were going to approach the season. I was honest and shared my vision for them and the team. In our first team meeting later on that month, roles were assigned to all players. This was done in a team setting so that there was no confusion as to each players’ role.
One of our players’ role was to be the most enthusiastic person in the gym. That was her role. She wasn’t promised any court time, but she had to work hard in every practice and maintain her enthusiasm throughout. This was as tough a role as any you could possibly imagine. However, she bought in and fully embraced that role. She was our hardest worker all season and she brought tremendous energy. During games, whenever someone got subbed out, she would be positive and help build their confidence up. This was really hard for her, as she wanted to be on the court more than anything else. Despite playing less than 25 minutes all season, she was in my eyes, our most valuable player that season, as what she contributed couldn’t be measured. She bought in to something that she may not have fully understood at the time and completely gave herself over for the benefit of the team. The team had a really successful season because of her and she continued to develop, play and later became my assistant coach.
The point I’m making here is that despite whether she agreed with me or not, she bought into a role by having the relevant information through clear communication before the season began. She knew what the teams vision was, she was aware of what would be required by her and she knew how she would develop over the course of the season. She was also played a key role in providing enthusiasm and positivity to others on the bench.
By having someone on the bench to communicate with players’ coming off, coaches will not have to deal with players questioning them during the game, as someone else is handling that aspect. However, coaches should consider meeting with players after the game and reviewing their performances. Guiding players to discuss situations and possible solutions that they can put into action at their next practice session or match assists them in their learning process, which provides ownership and also shows them that you care about their development.
Also, crucial to connecting with players is being honest with players and occasionally this means owning up to your mistakes. A couple of nights ago, Michigan State Spartans coach, Tom Izzo, apologised to his team following their tough loss against Baylor. He made a mistake in putting together the teams schedule, but he wasn’t going to blame the players. When the coach owns up to his mistakes, players respect that. They see that their coach is human and holds himself to the same standards as the team.
More in this series:
Upcoming: My Players Suck – Pt.3 and Pt. 4