Nobody wants to be wrong. Players, coaches, officials or fans. Every person is entitled to their own opinion but yet everyone wants their opinion to be right. Think back to a time when you were corrected on something you cared about. The natural instinct is to rebut to defend your point of view because there is no worse feeling than being wrong. In sports, especially basketball, it is important to maintain a player’s confidence. With that said, coaches have the difficult job of teaching, correcting, preparing and motivating their players without crossing too far into their “defensive zone.” Just like on the court where players are defending their opponent from scoring at their basket, players also have boundaries where they will shield themselves from feeling a sense of vulnerability, especially when being coached. How a coach approaches each player in any given circumstance is one of the most important decisions he/she will make.
The first step in approaching your players the right way is to create a sense of Perceived Relevance. Perceived Relevance, is instilling your players with the belief that what they are doing is important. When players feel as though what they do is worthwhile, and is leading towards achieving a goal, they are more open to accepting constructive criticism. This holds true on the court, in the classroom and in life. The second something becomes important to a person, the more effort and focus that individual will be willing to apply. Creating the initial Perceived Relevance is the easy part; however, maintaining that sense of importance can become rather difficult. An example of this is when you are trying to get a player to understand a new play. You walk him through it on the court every day, drilling him with instruction and constantly correcting his mistakes. He seems to understand the offense by going through the motions, but once the ball is live and the game is moving faster he seems to forget the play. It can become frustrating, forcing you to yell or become agitated with your player for not knowing the offense. However, over time, pointing the finger at your player will force him to grow frustrated and lose his sense of Perceived Relevance. At this point he no longer believes in your on court method.
Attempting to maintain Perceived Relevance over the course of time is largely dependent on your Cohesive Connectivity levels with your players. Cohesive Connectivity is the extent which you know how to maximize your players’ physical and mental abilities. It is understanding your team on a deeper level, and how to deliver a message to each person individually. In the previous example there was a coach who walked his player through a new play on the court every day but the player struggled to execute it correctly. Over time that player began to lose his Perceived Relevance for on court instruction. As a coach, this should show you that you do not have a strong Cohesive Connectivity with this player. Instead of growing irritated, expressing frustration and posting the blame on the athlete, an alternative method of teaching should be used. Maybe this player is not a physical learner, but rather he needs to visually see it on film. If film does not work, try verbally teaching him each movement and read in the play, and WHY it happens. He quite possibly could be an auditory learner. Create an incentive where he has to draw the play on the white board in order to get his team out of one conditioning session. Reward based learning might be what triggers his mind. Have one of his teammates attempt to teach him, it is possible the coaches voice creates pressure to learn. There are many different ways to get your message across to a player but it all stems back to understanding how each individuals mind operates.
Cohesive Connectivity is deeper than on court instruction. A coach should know his players history. Did he grow up in a violent environment where voices of authority cause him to be defensive? How does he respond to yelling, one-on-one meetings, criticism and positive feedback? What is the player’s family history? Were there events in his past that helped form his personality? How long can your player stay actively engaged during instruction? How emotionally vulnerable is each individual? What motivates your team and each player? How does your player feel most comfortable communicating? These are only a few examples of what knowledge you need to build Cohesive Connectivity.
As a coach, you will have a wide variety of personalities in the locker room. No two people who enter your program will be exactly the same. This is why it is important to build Perceived Relevance in your program, and maintain it by having Cohesive Connectivity. It is essential for your players to believe in you as a person first and coach second. Likewise, it is equally important for you to understand your team as people first and players second. Just as your players cannot expect to pass an exam with studying the material, a coach cannot expect to maximize their players’ potential without doing their homework. If these two things are accomplished, then great teams will be formed.
During the 2012-2013 basketball season I was fortunate enough to have a spot on Jim Larranaga’s staff at the University of Miami (FL). During this season when we won the ACC Championship, was ranked as high as #2 in the country and reached the NCAA Sweet 16, I saw many circumstances when Coach L. had a great Cohesive Connectivity with his players. One circumstance in particular was the growth of 6th year senior, Julian Gamble. After having a roller coaster 5 years filled with injuries and mediocre stats, Coach L. turned Julian into an Honorable Mention All-ACC performer, All ACC-Defensive Team, All-ACC Tournament team and led him to his best season in his six year career. Coach L. did this by having a terrific Cohesive Connectivity with Julian. He understood how to deliver his message to Julian and was able to get him to fully buy into his role on the team. Likewise, he knew Julian’s strength on the court was left hand jump hooks, so he put him in position to play over his right shoulder every time he caught the ball. Through proper teaching, success on the court and his Cohesive Connectivity, Coach L. was able to instill a full Perceived Relevance in Julian. Julian rewarded himself with the best season of his career, the team with an ACC Championship and Coach L. with a trust in his system. After seeing countless examples of Coach Larranaga’s use of Perceived Relevance and Cohesive Connectivity, coupled with the success he has experienced, it is easy to see that coaches are the ones who make or break a team.
Kevin R. Noon