Nine Key Survival Tips for Coaches

By Adam Barnes

  1. Don’t expect to be an overnight success – Winning consistently is not a matter of luck, nor is staying in coaching for a decade or more. Both require commitment and hard work.
  2. Don’t take it too seriously – It is true; it is just a game. Tom Seaver said it best, “The good players feel the kind of love for the game that they did when they were little leaguers.” And although as coaches we want to do our best, many of us are guilty of taking our work too seriously.
  3. Don’t promise more than you can deliver – The quickest and surest way out of town is to tell everyone within earshot that you’re going to win it all this year, and every game along the way. Championships and undefeated seasons are more easily talked about than achieved. In the poet Robert Frost’s words, we have “promises to keep,” but we also have “miles to go before (we) sleep.” And depending upon how much we promised, sometimes those miles can be very long indeed.
  4. Don’t try to do all of the work yourself – Simply put, find dependable people to do part of your work for you. Prolonged overwork can create a state of mental, physical, and emotional fatigue that saps your energy and drags you down like a case of walking pneumonia.
  5. Try to space out your work – Even in the best of situations, the demands of coaching basketball will consume most of your time from mid-October through March. If you work at it, you may be able to ease your preseason and in-season burden somewhat by working on various aspects of your program during the off-season.
  6. Be organized – One way to be organized is to file everything. If you’re familiar with Murphy’s Law, you know that two days after you throw something away, you need it again. The solution is, of course, not to throw it away in the first place. File it. And so you can find it in your files, use key words in your headings. Don’t file everything under B for “basketball” just because you’re a basketball coach. Another aspect of organization is to approach your coaching and your busy work as well, in terms of priorities. What sort of priorities? Well, a clogged drain in the dressing room is one kind of priority. Dealing with players’ problems is another and usually a high priority, too, except during practice and games, in which case dealing with problem players might be a higher priority.
  7. Evaluate everything and USE your evaluations – Coaches are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of their basketball programs. If you as a coach hope to achieve your potential in a given situation, you should strive to monitor the progress of every phase of your program. This means taking time out after daily practices to sit down and evaluate your drills, time allotments, and so on. Recording those evaluations in writing so you won’t forget them. In like manner, after games you should evaluate the effectiveness of your game plans and scouting reports, noting problem areas and jotting down ideas that might work next time you play that opponent. You should also periodically evaluate yourself, your assistants, your team, the referees, your program and your goals, including your progress towards them.
  8. Teach basketball’s fundamental skills – This may seem to be a silly thing to say, but it is not. Nowadays, young people through the pros are so deficient in basic skills that many of them couldn’t guard a preschool toddler without hand-checking him. When is the last time you saw a player shoot from a jump stop rather than a stride stop? Or block a shot without swatting the ball into the stands? The fundamentals situation in basketball is this bad: Your team will look well coached if you can teach your players one skill, namely, assuming and maintaining an effective defensive stance, while moving or stationary. They won’t want to do it, of course, because it is easier to play defense the way the pros do, by standing up, leaning forward from the waist, and hand-checking. But that low, balanced stance will make them very effective defenders and it will make you look like a very good coach in anybody’s league. Offensively, today’s players on all levels look as if they learned their individual fundamentals on the playground and their team patterns from their coaches. Athletic ability, quickness, and vertical jumping ability have all but replaced technique where offensive fundamentals are concerned.
  9. Learn to communicate effectivelyTeaching is communication; so is motivation. You cannot teach or motivate effectively unless you develop an approach to communication that is as precise and internally consistent as your game plans and practice schedules. Make no mistake of it, the ability to communicate effectively is the single most important coaching skill you can possess. And because it is a learned skill, you can master the art of communicating—and teaching and motivating as well—by laying the groundwork that will ensure its effectiveness in any coaching situation.
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Adam Barnes
Player Development Specialist (High School, College, & NBA) & Recruiting Analyst/National Camp Director
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