Can You Strengthen Your
Basketball Coaching Leadership Skills?
We as people that are in basketball coaching leadership positions, 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 on a daily basis can be difficult.
The following is a day to day leadership checklist that we try to keep in mind throughout our basketball program, to help 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 cornerstone to everything. They will help you in determining how you think, what you emphasize on a daily basis 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 what are 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 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 with one another in a deeper way.
Care About Other People: Our third and final core belief is we are going to care about other people. Obviously, caring about others includes our family and those within our program, but it also includes everyone else that we come in contact with. Our teachers, our fellow students, our coworkers and even those we may not know very well.
Keeping in mind our program’s core values and recognizing them every day help provide clear direction for our program.
Hold Yourself Accountable to those Values/Beliefs
The old 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 short cuts. 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 attempt to get our team to buy into what we are communicating to them, we try to practice what we preach. But it is very hard for us. We need to be intentional in all of 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.
There was a recent free event put on by author Jon Gordon called the Power of Positive Summit. There were many, many different leaders across all types of professions that 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 entire 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 coaches, from the other people that they may be listening to? Frequency, specificity, quality and intentionality has to be at the fore front of all 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 very important to you, by giving them all of your attention when communicating with them.
Intentional Communication: And finally being intentional, knowing what is going on in your players 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 in a different light. 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 are able to 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.
Others examples that we can have a more human element to our leadership is laughing at ourselves, spending time with our players outside of our work environment and having conversations with them 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 the minute your organization will stop growing.
There are so many ways you can look to improve yourself. Look to attend conferences or clinics to help you better understand the game. Leave your campus and go watch another team or organization for a practice or 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, many ways to get better as a person. One of my favorite books that I have read just 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 is helping 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 kind of self-improvement allows you to mature as a person which in the long run will assist you in becoming a better leader.
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