Communicating With Players During The Game Is Where True Player Development Happens

Anyone who works with players on a daily basis understands the fine line that young players walk . A lot of people don’t understand that players are made and broken on a every day. As coaches, we must understand at any level when dealing with young players there must be some type of delicacy when dealing with them. Player development today doesn’t mean you put players through a series of drills and then call it a day. It is a full time job that starts the minute the player walks in the gym for a practice or game to the minute they leave.

I was in Springfield, MA a few weeks ago attending the Hoop Hall High School Basketball Classic an event that features some of the top high school teams from across the country. During the event I was having a discussion with a very good friend of mine about a very big issue that effects basketball at every level. During almost every game , both teams would have their head coach at the head of the bench and the rest of the coaching staff right next to him. It’s not something that is uncommon in any basketball game, but there was something else that we noticed. Every time a player was substituted for and walked to the bench there was no communication from the any of the plethora of coaches that were on the bench. This is commonly made mistake from coaching staffs. The player comes out of the game either receiving applause or thousand yard stares from the coaching staff and retreats to the end of the bench. The problem is the player has no idea for the most part why they were taken out. If there was a mistake made they have no idea of how to correct it. In some cases there was no actual reason besides that player was looking a little tired and needed a breather on the bench. The issue mostly starts there as the player is frustrated from this because there is no communication from the coaching staff. Also, they have no idea what mistakes they made and how to correct them that most likely they will repeat the same issues that put them on the bench in the first place.

The easiest ways to stop this problem from occurring is to have assistant coaches at the head, middle, and end of the bench. When a player comes out its important for one of those assistants to sit right next to the layer and tell them what they did right as well as what mistakes they made and most importantly how to correct them. This will help players understand what is expected of them and to correct mistakes that they made. Mistakes are what makes players better. A great player will make mistakes early on in their career and work very hard at not making those same mistakes later on. Sometimes it takes time playing through those mistakes, but if the player identifies the problem and is given the information needed to solve these issues that they will get better.
Like I previously stated player development isn’t about putting players through drills and expect them to get better. Player development has many layers and isn’t as simple as one would think. You need to embrace it with your player and it needs to be something that is repeated on a daily basis. The main factor in this development is the communication with your staff to the players. Sometimes we just think players supposed to understand what we expect from them. No question that some do understand, but for others you need to convey this information more than once. Coaches tend to get frustrated with players, but in player development it is a marathon and not a sprint. It is a gradual process that a player goes through that needs to be reinforced again and again especially when they are young. This is for every level, not for just high school or college. So many players at the professional level are out on their ass before they know it because they didn’t get better. Sometimes it was that the player wasn’t good enough or had attitude issues, but some of the blame could have been for the reason that their coaches didn’t explain to them what mistakes were made and how to correct them. It’s not always the coach’s fault that a player didn’t get better, that’s not what this post is about. What I’m trying to get through to players and coaches is that there is a communication barrier that needs to be broken. Coaches need to take the initiative during games to explain things to players. This will improve the player’s chances of not repeating the mistake. I also think its up to the player if no one is talking to them after a substitution to find a coach and ask them what they did wrong and how to fix the problem. There is such an issue with young people communicating in a professional manor to their elders that this is the beginning of many other coachability issues that come up during their career. You have no idea of how many NBA players I speak to during the year that have issues with their play. The first question I ask is “Did you talk to the coach?”. They’ll either give me some excuse why they didn’t or tell me that there is no communication with any of the staff with any of the players.

For young coaches that are trying to get in the game and move up the ladder this is something that you need to be comfortable doing. You can read all of the coaching articles, playbooks, and breakdown all of the tape you want. If you aren’t comfortable talking to players and understanding what makes them function you have almost zero chance of making it as a coach. This game isn’t all about x’s and o’s and reciting manufactured speeches from successful coaches. You need to understand that players come in 1,000 shapes and sizes. It’s so important to be comfortable being around and communicating with players. I think communication is so important to be able to have a conversation with players and tell them the truth. It doesn’t matter how much you know as a coach, if you cant relate to your players and communicate with them you are a dead man walking.

The best thing that ever happened to me as a coach is being an assistant coach with The Boston Amateur Basketball Club AAU team when I was 18. They were by far the best AAU team in the country filled with division 1 players from all different backgrounds. My first couple of years I don’t think I did much x’s and o’s or on the court workouts at all. My job was to be around the players and make sure they knew what they needed to do to be successful. I dealt with anywhere from future NBA players to absolute degenerates. Quickly I found out that the way you motivate one guy isn’t the same way you can get through to the player sitting right next to them. You had to understand how to get through to them and get them to do what was needed to be successful. Sure I was cussed out at times, but what I took from that is how not to approach that person the next time. It was such a positive learning experience to me. You are probably saying to yourself, wow I would have told that guy that I was the coach and he cant talk to me like that. You know what that thinking will get you?? Players will shut you off in a heartbeat and you’ll be a joke. Sure as a coach getting cussed out by a player is tough and an experience that you don’t want to happen ever although sometimes it happens. At a young age I learned so much about talking to players and how to get through to them. My boss Leo Papile taught me early in my development as a coach that never be in awe of a player and understanding what makes them tick as far as their personality and background is the building blocks as a coach. From the age of about 20 years old to now I’ve never had issues getting through to players whether its Kobe Bryant or just some random player its not an issue for me to get my point across to them and have them understand.

It’s so important to create a support staff around players. In the grand scheme of player development there are so many moving parts. It all starts with communicating wit your players and understanding what makes them tick. Games are so important to develop players, practices and drill sessions are not enough these days. Players aren’t robots that understand something because you told them at practice or drew it up in the locker room before a game. Sometimes they need to be taken by the hand with understanding things. Constant communication in games is so important and must be something that you implement in your program at any level.

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