Basketball Coaching Leadership: 5 Proven Strategies To Grow

Basketball Coaching Leadership Strategies

Can You Strengthen Your

Basketball Coaching Leadership Skills?

As people in coaching leadership positions, we have a great responsibility to those around us. We have a responsibility to be a leader in all walks of our life. It comes with the territory. But for all of us, being a leader is very difficult as we are faced with daily challenges, obstacles, and sustaining our energy daily can be difficult.

The following is a day to day leadership checklist that we try to keep in mind throughout our basketball program to boost our ability to lead those around us.


Establish (And Stick To) Your Core Values and Pillars of Belief

Knowing what you believe in and what you stand for is so important in being a leader. These values or pillars of belief are the cornerstones of everything. They will help you determine how you think, what you emphasize daily, and most importantly, these core values allow you to make decisions.

Whatever comes up in your program or organization, decisions become easy when you keep in mind your pillars of belief.

Unrelenting Work Ethic: In our basketball program, our 3 core values or pillars are posted and emphasized every day and are first, having an unrelenting work ethic. Working hard starts with me as the head basketball coach, filters to our assistants, and then down to our players. We cannot accomplish anything without working hard.

Great Listener: Secondly, everyone in our program is going to be a great listener. Especially in today’s day and age, where communication is done through our phones, on social media, all with our heads down into our own individual world. Listening has become a lost art. Listening requires your attention, shows respect, and allows you to connect more deeply.

Care About Other People: Our third and final core belief is we will care about other people. Obviously, caring about others includes our family and those within our program, but it also includes everyone else we come in contact with. Our teachers, fellow students, coworkers, and even those we may not know very well.

Keeping in mind our program’s core values and recognizing them everyday help provide clear direction for our program.


Hold Yourself Accountable to Those Values/Beliefs

The adage of “Do as I say, not as I do” is no longer an applicable statement that today’s players will follow. Times have changed in our culture today, as the people we lead are observing our every move.

As human beings, we can all be prone to taking shortcuts. We can look for the easy way out. We can make excuses and let doubts creep into our minds. If the people we lead see us as leaders cutting corners in our own pillars of belief, they may ask the questions such as:

“Why should I work so hard if my coach is not?”

“Why should I care about others when I see this staff mistreat people around them?”

“Why should I listen to you when I needed you last week, and you did not listen to me?”

Therefore, to get our team to buy into what we are communicating to them, we try to practice what we preach. But it is tough for us. We need to be intentional in our thoughts and actions in staying true to our core values.

We will not always be perfect, just as those around us are not. But those around us can see if we are truly trying to be a living example of our core values or are merely paying lip service to those principles.

Strong Communication

There was a recent free event put on by author Jon Gordon called the Power of Positive Summit. Many different leaders across all types of professions put informational webinars that emphasized how to lead through the power of positivity.

During the Summit, former NBA and original Dream Team assistant coach Brendon Suhr asked the question, “How often do you meet with your organization every year?” After contemplating an answer, Coach Suhr said that the year his organization won an NBA championship, their coaching staff met 2,800 times! All for one reason, to communicate.

They wanted to make sure that everyone was on the same page and that the same message was being communicated throughout the organization.

Constant communication is so critical to have with your team. Obviously, your players interact with those they come in actual physical contact with throughout their day. But in addition to those in-person interactions, players are bombarded with additional voices, thoughts, images, and videos made by other people.

They interact with thousands on Snapchat, Periscope, Twitter, etc., and consequently have so many different voices they can listen to. What differentiates us, as basketball coaches, from the other people that they may be listening to? Frequency, specificity, quality, and intentionality have to be at the forefront of your communication with your players.


Constant Communication: They must hear your voice constantly, directly from you or from your coworkers. Everyone must speak to the same beliefs that are core to your organization.

Specific Communication: You must be specific, get right to the point of what you are trying to convey to them as their attention span is not long (see how long a vine, snap chat, or IG lasts!).

Quality Communication: There must be substance or quality to your communication.

Attentive Communication: Your players deserve your 100% attention, so do not text, type an email or talk on the phone when dealing directly with one of your players. Make them understand they are essential to you by giving them all of your attention when communicating with them.

Intentional Communication: Finally, knowing what is going on in your player’s lives, knowing when they are struggling, wishing them good luck on a test or a happy birthday can go miles in having intentional communication with them.

The stronger your communication, the stronger the relationship you will build with your players, and ultimately the stronger the relationship, the better chance you have to lead your players.


Have a Human Element as a Basketball Leader

Dr. Jeff Duke, in his book, 3D Coaching, emphasizes the importance to “Allow players to see coaches away from the sport and personalize that relationship.” It is easy in today’s day and age to take ourselves too seriously. We can find ourselves barking out orders, firing out emails, and creating to-do lists for those around us to complete.

While these are all certainly necessary elements of our profession, we must recognize those around us need to see us as truly human. One way to accomplish this is we must admit our mistakes. While our hearts are always in the right place, we are far from perfect coaches, and we are prone to making mistakes (I make more mistakes than anyone reading this article!).

When we recognize our mistakes in front of those we lead, they see us differently. The players see that even the leader of the organization makes mistakes, and they also see we are ACCOUNTABLE to those mistakes. Once WE demonstrate accountability, then we can hold our players more accountable.

We can drive them harder to improve and get better, which is all our ultimate goal: to watch our players grow.

Other examples that we can have a more human element to our leadership are laughing at ourselves, spending time with our players outside of our work environment, and having conversations about things outside of basketball. It has been our experience that those around us feel a stronger connection to their leader when they see us in a more human light.


Self Study, Self Improvement, Self Evaluation

Yogi Berra once said, “Life is a learning experience, only if you learn.” You can never stop looking for ways to learn, improve, and evaluate yourself. It is sometimes difficult to carve out time for yourself, but the minute you become stagnant is when your organization will stop growing.

There are so many ways you can look to improve yourself. Look to attend conferences or basketball coaching clinics to help you better understand the game. Leave your campus and watch another team or organization for a practice or a day and see how they operate.

Pick up the phone and communicate with other individuals in your profession, and bounce ideas off one another. Call one of your former mentors and communicate with them about how things are going in your life (may as well thank them while you have them on the phone!).

Read books, study historical figures, start a diary, etc., as there are many ways to get better as a person. One of my favorite books that I have read recently is “LEAD…for God’s Sake” by Todd G. Gongwer.

It is the story of an ultra-competitive basketball coach who learns many valuable truths about leadership, success, and relationships LATE in his coaching career! We are always asking those around us to improve and get better, so doesn’t that mean we should too?!

Speaking on a personal note, the number one way that I have really grown as a person and ultimately as a leader is by growing stronger in my faith. My faith is helping me develop important character traits; it helps me prioritize the important things in my life and is strengthening so many of my relationships.

Explore ways to help yourself grow. Self evaluate where you need to improve because any self-improvement allows you to mature as a person, which will help you become a better leader in the long run.

Being a leader as a basketball coach is hard. It takes intentionality. It takes endurance. It is a process. But what we hope is these small things like sticking to our core values, holding ourselves accountable to these values, being in constant communication with those around us, having a human element to our leadership style, and always looking for ways to improve ourselves are some ways that you can have some success in boosting your leadership when coaching your team.


Jimmy Elgas - Head Basketball Coach of Henderson State
Coach Jimmy Elgas serves as the Head Basketball Coach at Henderson State after serving as an assistant coach at Evansville since 2007.  Connect with Coach Elgas on Twitter @JimmyElgas1.


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One Response

  1. Thanks Coach for your inspiring words! From one former Purple Ace to another. God Bless and keep doing positively what you are doing
    Theren Snow Bullock class of 1982
    Geneva Switzlerland

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