Coaching Basketball: The Ultimate Guide for Coaches

Coaching Basketball


There are many different basketball coaches out there with different coaching styles and philosophies, and many of those styles and philosophies conflict with each other. For example, one coach may be completely committed to tough half-court defense and walking the ball up the floor every time, while another coach wants to run and gun the entire game. Both basketball coaches could be really successful with their coaching styles, or they could both struggle to win games.

Coaching basketball the right way and being successful at it involves many different factors, and even though there is not one cut and dry way to be successful, there are some core principles that every coach should aim for with their team. This basketball basics article will cover some core coaching principles and some tips for being successful. Because this is such a broad topic, there will also be some great links to other quality basketball coaching articles breaking down some of the different topics. So make sure to take advantage of those links as well.


Team Culture

Developing your program’s culture is most likely going to be one of the hardest things you have to do as a coach, especially at the beginning. Team culture is the way that you believe your program should be run and what your team should be about. It is the standard that you hold all of your players, coaches, and managers to – regardless of whether you are winning or losing. Whether it is how you expect them to conduct themselves in classes, practice, games, etc., you have to be willing to work towards it every day and understand that it is sometimes going to be slow going.



Your Basketball System

The offensive and defensive system that you choose to run with your team can greatly impact whether you are successful or not as a basketball coach. A great example of this is NBA Coach Mike D’ Antoni. When he was with the Phoenix Suns as their coach, he had great success with his run and gun style of play, but when he got to the New Your Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers, his teams really struggled to win games. The reason why is because he tried to use his run and gun system with the wrong personnel. The Knicks and Lakers teams were not built for that style of offense, and by playing it, they really struggled.

As a basketball coach, you need to make sure that you give your team the best possible chance to win. That means that you need to adjust your system to the players you have on your team. Ideally, you want to recruit or bring in players that will fit your system already, but if you don’t have that ability, you may need to change your system from year to year.

Relationships With Your Players

Coaching basketball is more than just X’s & O’s and trying to win games. It is about teaching your players and developing real relationships with them. Not only will this allow you to get the most from your players on the court, but it is also a lot more rewarding knowing that you have had a positive impact on a player’s life outside of basketball.

Getting back to performance, though, and getting the most out of your players, think about it like this. If a random stranger walked up to you and asked you to help them move out of their house the following day, you may say yes because you are a really nice person, but most likely, you would come up with an excuse or just say no.

However, if a close friend or family member asked you for the same help, you would most likely say yes because you care about them and want to help. The same thing goes for coaching. If you have real relationships with your players and know that you care about them, they will give you everything they have on the court.



Basketball Player Development

Great teams have great players. That doesn’t mean that you need to have a player that scores 25 points a game, but it does mean that you need to have players that can step up and make big plays when needed. Very rarely are you going to get a player like this straight out of the box. You must be willing to help develop your basketball players and spend the needed time building up their skills. This is especially true when coaching younger players. It is your job to coach every player to their full potential.

As a coach, there are only so many practice hours or basketball training hours in a week, and the temptation will be to spend all your time working on team stuff like going over the offensive sets, defense, out of bounds plays, game situations, etc. You need to fight this idea, though, and still find time to work on your team’s skill development. Even if it is only 20 minutes of drills during practice, make sure that your players can work on their different skill sets. After all, it doesn’t matter how great your offensive set is if your team can’t make the shot at the end of the play.



Del Harris Basketball Coaching Philosophy


Del Harris Basketball Coaching Philosophy

Del Harris contributed to this portion of the article.


This basketball coaching article was written by NBA coaching legend Del Harris. Coach Harris has been the head coach and assistant coach for multiple NBA teams. The places that he was the head coach are; the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Los Angeles Lakers. With all the experience that Del has been able to accumulate over all the years of coaching, he has become a must-read. He has even come out with a new coaching book titled, On Point – Four Steps to Better Life Teams.

“The Four-Step System, described as a metaphor-based on four wheels, is intended for all who desire to improve their Influence Quotient, which is a specific kind of intelligence: the ability to influence our teams for a positive outcome.”

Coach Harris has a great basketball mind, and this article will give you a look into the mind of a basketball legend that has been able to spend a lifetime learning and growing as a coach. Learn from what he has picked up over the years in this basketball coaching article.


Your basketball team will reflect what you emphasize. Take your pick, but only about 4 or 5 of these will limit what the team will attach themselves to, so choose wisely. No order is intended here

  1. Defense and rebounding
  2. High powered offense
  3. Unselfish play—team unity—team attitude
  4. Half-court game—controlled pace/tempo
  5. Pressing team—attacking team
  6. Physical team
  7. 3-pt team open offense game
  8. Zone team
  9. Ball and player movement team—motion team, etc.

Game Time:

  • Be sure you have a helpful game card with you at all times, such as quarterbacks have on their arm.
  • A good game card will not only have all your play calls but will have categories that will get you a post up as needed and that tell you what basketball plays you have that will get each position (1 through 5) a shot when you want one of those players to have the ball for the shot.
  • On the back of the card or on a special situations card, you can have in your pocket (or an assistant will keep) be sure to have plays already diagrammed that are for special late-game situations such as: when you need a 3 pointer, or a quick 2, or you have differing amounts of time on the clock to get a shot.
  • Be smart on what you chart and have accountable chart keepers. A possession chart can tell you the pace and momentum of the game because it will tell you how many possessions you have had at every time interval—the pace. And once you know your best pace, you can tell if you are dictating or if the opponent is doing it.
  • Momentum is revealed on the possession chart by showing how many times you and your opponent have scored or failed to score in the most recent possessions.
  • Other charted items may be the fast break game on both sides of the ball, the low post game (scores allowed/how traps have worked, etc.), the pick and roll game (percentage of scores/stops; which angles hurt you more), deflections, penetrations allowed, uncontested shots allowed, and whatever else you deem to be of real value.


As You go Along:

  •  Prove you are valuable by helping your people get better, and success will happen for you. Be a serving leader and forget about the entitlements.
  • Doc Rivers: Try to keep the “chemistry guy” on your basketball team. Doc moves the lockers around occasionally to keep the right people together or separated as need be.
  • The team that will accept we over me (we/me) as a group has a chance to achieve all of which they are capable of.
  • My book, ON POINT, describes beautifully the way the Celtics managed to overcome the skeptics in 2007-08 who proclaimed the team as too old to be effective and became Champions.
  • The Caring-Trust-Loyalty Dynamic is of utmost importance to a successful organization. First, show you care consistently. Caring leads to trust. Trust breeds loyalty, and loyalty leads to unity—the end game for good relationships and team building. Again, see ON POINT for a fuller explanation.
  • Del Harris: There are five communication levels with players—use each one less than the one before it as you go down the levels. See the comments below:
    • 1. Conversational level—you have the give and take whereby you get to know the player, and he learns who you are. You demonstrate you care. Use this the most.
    • 2. Instructional level—the voice is slightly animated as you attempt to pass on teaching points that may help your player get better or that may help him understand the team concept. Use often, but mostly in practice or certain 1-1 on situations.
    • 3. Correctional level—the voice increases somewhat in urgency, but this is not to be confused with screaming. Naturally, this is used on important issues in practices and games to help eliminate errors. Use it as needed, but if it overwhelms the encouragement level, the team will tune you out sooner than later. Correcting is not necessarily showing a lack of “being positive.”  Remember:  Everything isn’t OK—mistakes are made and need to be addressed.
    • 4. Encouragement level—the voice is animated and enthusiastic. Use it as much as you can, but it has to be a result of real achievement, not just blowing smoke. But the worst person to be with or to work for is the one you simply cannot please. But you must be real! Phony positivism will not get the results you want.
    • 5. Level Five or  “Go Nuts” level—Yes, there is a place for letting them know that they have crossed the line in terms of lack of effort, execution, attitude, etc. They must know you really care about certain issues. But, of course, you must maintain control here, as it should be a purposeful act. Overdo this level, and you will lose your team by Christmas unless you are winning every game.


Coaching the Basketball Team:

  •  Why do basketball coaches or any coaches react so strongly to a player’s mistakes in many cases? Trust this: whether he knows it or not, it is because the coach wants to divorce himself from that mistake and possibly that player at that time. It is his way of telling the fans that it is “not my fault.” The same coach will give a body language reaction fist pump that says, “That is what I coached him to do” when the player scores.
  • One of your main goals with each basketball player is to coach him to become the best teammate he can be. When we interviewed a player pre-draft, we always asked him about his relationship with his coaches and teammates. When we talked to his coach, we wanted to know what kind of teammate he was. We sought the same information before making a trade.
  • When I coached college basketball, I coined a term called “Teammanship,” and in that concept, we tried to inculcate things that would honor team membership and encourage team building. (On one occasion, I had to put two of my best players on the brink of elimination from the team to get them to know I was serious. Thankfully, both stayed. However, he waited until the day before he was to enroll at another college to come in and tell me he wanted to come back and be a good team member. He followed through perfectly and still led the team in scoring, and our team finished 25-3, 6th in the nation, in 1967-68).
  • That 1967-68 team was the first of two of my college teams to be inducted into their own college’s Hall of Fame en masse. I had started with that team nearly 40 years previously, but they were still a team—at that event, all 13 players came from as far as Europe to be there.
  • The thing that makes for a bad team in the NBA (remember that every one of these players was the best on his HS and college team in most cases) is the inability to score.
  • Team defense is the difference in championship games normally. But while defense may win a championship for you, you will never get a chance to find out if you cannot score.
  • Avoid trying to keep your team at half court too much so that you can stop them and do more teaching. The game is played full court.
  • Too much time at half court will stifle a team’s fast-break game as the initial reaction to go to the other end is the difference in a successful transition most often.
  • A basketball team that spends too much time at half court teaching will not be as good a transition offensive or defensive team as it needs to be in most cases.
  • Use more scrimmage-like situations of three to five possessions that control the scrimmages and allow for teaching at the intervals between sets is what the team needs for transition offense and defense, and the coach needs for instruction.
  • The best scrimmage teaching basketball drills start with a specific situation at half court and then let there be that possession and two more that go full court. This three-possession game is called O-D-O for Offense-Defense-Offense. On the second and third possession, the teams can do whatever comes up, which is the way the game is played. This allows both “game feel” and coach control.
  • Limiting the scrimmage to three possessions allows you to teach the pluses and minuses of the three possessions better because everyone can remember that short of a series.
  • Drill also some 5-possession games and set it up the same way. You start with a controlled half court, and then the players play out four more possessions, ending up on the end they started. The game is generally played in spurts of about five possessions.
  • Remember that you must emphasize defense, but the offense is more involved because it involves ball skills and exact timing. Thus, offense takes more time.
  • I always doubt basketball coaches who say they spend far more time on defense than offense. Why would you do that when offense requires much more teaching and timing?
  • Hopefully, anyone should realize that you could teach both offense and defense simultaneously, as you generally have players on both sides of the ball in basketball drills. So teach both at the same time.
  • Even in the most dedicated offensive basketball drills, if a player does well or poorly on defense, you cannot overlook that. More time on offense, more emphasis on defense.
  • Your basketball team will reflect what you emphasize.
  • You are an offensive or defensive coach relative to what upsets you. If you say you are a defensive coach but never sub for poor defense by your better players, you are not a defensive coach. (If he is really good, you don’t have to leave him out for long—you made a point).


Taking Over a New Basketball Program


Taking Over a New Basketball Program

Chris Capko contributed to this portion of the article. 


Every year around this time, college basketball coaching job openings start to come around on every level and throughout the country. Whatever the reason may be, there is a change taking place. Sometimes a basketball coach has done an excellent job and decides to move up a level, or sometimes a coach retires.

In many situations, the coach has not lived up to the standards set forth by the athletic department and has been relieved of his or her duties. Each situation presents different challenges for the incoming basketball coach on how to approach building the program moving forward.



Taking Over a Successful Basketball Program

In some cases, new basketball coaches will walk into a situation where the program was left in good health.  The previous coach had the opportunity to move on to a new job, which they felt was a better opportunity. It is imperative to assess the remaining talent within the basketball program as soon as possible. This step will allow you to decide how quickly you can reach the goals you set with your staff.

Keep in mind that most of these athletes have enjoyed success and believe in the type of coaching that was set forth with the previous staff. It may take a while for the players to open up to you and really let you coach them. In my opinion, this can be just as difficult as taking over a basketball program that has struggled to win. Taking over a program like this, is it important to ask yourself the following questions.


  1. Who are the best players on the team?
  2. How do you connect with them?
  3. What was the previous system that they were in?
  4. What are your beliefs as a coach?
  5. Can you consolidate the two coaching styles?
  6. What is the ceiling of this team?
  7. How will all the above affect your basketball program in years two, three, four, and five?



Taking Over an Unsuccessful Basketball Program

In almost all situations, new basketball coaching staff comes in when the program has not been having success. Although each situation will be different, there are often common themes leading to a lack of success. Some of these reasons might be a lack of talent, lack of character, lack of administrative support, or a combination of the three.

As a basketball coach coming into this situation, you have to quickly evaluate the remaining talent and character. Take those two factors into effect and figure out the landscape of your conference, division, district, or state. Like the basketball coach taking over a competitive program, you have to know your administration’s expectations and then figure out a plan.

This last part applies to all coaches at any level regardless of the situation. Whenever you take over a basketball program, it is important to begin by laying down the foundation for how you want the program to function. Here are some great questions that you can ask yourself.


  1. What do you stand for, and what will be allowed in your program?
  2. What won’t be allowed in your program?
  3. Can athletes show up late to class or practice?
  4. Will there be consequences for the first, second, or third time?
  5. What about missing class?
  6. Is there a team GPA that each player must meet?

Regardless, your standards must be met in this first year when taking over a new basketball program, even at the expense of losing a player or two. Each situation will help determine this, but problems cannot persist when looking to move forward and achieve the goals you have set forth.



Accountability in your Basketball Program


Accountability in your Basketball Program

Brandon Rosenthal contributed to this portion of the article. 


It’s no secret the best teams in the world, in athletics or business, have a culture of accountability. For numerous reasons, you could argue that accountability is the most important ingredient for a team’s success.

I’ve heard one of the best sayings from a discussion between ESPN’s Jay Bilas and NASA-leading engineer Daryl Woods. Bilas was curious about how Woods was able to get a group of some of the most successful scientists and engineers to work together for one common goal.  Woods summed it up by saying, “Responsible to the element, accountable to the mission.”

That saying packs a strong punch and couldn’t be more accurate because of how it perfectly depicts what every team must do to meet their goal. In basketball, it quickly becomes apparent when a team has accountability intertwined into their program’s culture.



Willing to Compete

To the naked eye, how do you know if a basketball team has accountability? First, watch how a team competes. It’s a powerful thing. Competing on every possession of every game demonstrates a winner’s identity. This doesn’t happen overnight. Developing a basketball team that competes on every possession can take years and extends beyond the basketball court. The teams that have IT, though, often have a long list of other similarities.



Handling Adversity

Second, watch how a basketball team responds to adversity over the course of a game and season. Being able to respond to adversity as a team starts with trust. Players must develop trust amongst their teammates, with their coaches, and with those that impact the basketball program. Players trust that they can compete, make mistakes, and grow with the help of the people around them.

This type of trust within a basketball program fuels confidence. Have you noticed that accountable players don’t waste time saying “my bad” or show any negative body language after a little adversity? They move onto the next play because they are confident they’ll make up for the mistake, or better, a teammate will help them.



Team Growth

Next, watch how a basketball team grows throughout the season. Teams must fall in love with the process at hand and know that they’ll fulfill their potential with continued hard work and experience. Each member of the team “picks up the pennies.” Time after time, doing the small things equals big things.

Basketball teams that are accountable make the extra pass, rotate to the next man defensively, dive for a loose ball. It’s always five guys working together in a pack to make a mission. They learn as a unit; there are no shortcuts to success. Thus, they never stop working, and they never stop trusting and enjoying the process.

It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. There is one goal in mind. Win and win big while having fun! Accountable basketball teams can feel fear. They can sense a wounded opponent, and they know when it’s their time to strike and make a big push! To opponents, it always seems like luck is on their side.

After being down ten points with three minutes to go, the accountable basketball team always seems to hit the shot at the buzzer for the win on the road in a hostile environment. They always seem to avoid injury. They almost always advance deep into the NCAA tournament. Consistently, the “next guy” is ready to step in and keep the bus moving forward.



Great Leaders

Great leaders fuel accountable teams. Sometimes it’s one leader, often it’s a small collective group. Who wants the ball at the end of the game on the biggest stage? Who always seems to come up with the big defensive rebound at the end of the shot clock? Who gets into their teammate’s faces and inspires them to play at a greater level than they’ve ever expected of themselves? Accountable leaders do those things, and they do them all the time! Accountable basketball programs seem to have inspirational leaders year after year.

Look for inspirational leaders that help create a mature team. Basketball teams with accountability demonstrate a high level of maturity few teams have. They never get too high or too low. Winning and losing does not define them. They prepare and attack the next day just like they did the day before. They learn from their mistakes and grow from them. Accountable basketball teams carry themselves like men on and off the court. They communicate, show character, and prepare for success. Winning basketball teams know that there is an easy decision and the right decision available to them with every decision they make. They always seem to pick the right one.




When basketball teams are accountable, they are always prepared. They fall in love with the process; they’re hungry to compete and mature. Accountable basketball teams prepare for every film session, lift, practice, and game the same way. There is no rock left unturned. They respect the game of basketball, their opponent, and most importantly, the culture and University they represent. They do right by the players that wore the same jersey before them.

Coaches who are fortunate enough to lead accountable basketball teams know that game day is about the players. They know they’ve prepared together with the team, and if they were not on the sideline to help coach the team, the team would follow the same preparation and execute the same game plan to perfection.

Accountable basketball teams win championships and help sustain a culture that is difficult to break for opponents. Watch how this year’s NCAA National Champion demonstrates accountability within their program.



Teams that have accountability in their basketball program show:

  1. They compete on every possession.
  2. They respond to adversity.
  3. They fall in love with the process.
  4. They are hungry to improve every day and never take shortcuts.
  5. They pick up the pennies.
  6. They are mature.
  7. They choose to make the right decision instead of the easy decision.
  8. They have inspirational leaders.



The Pulse of Your Basketball Team



The Pulse of Your Basketball Team

Brian Benator contributed to this portion of the article.


It’s past mid season and your regular season is almost through. With post-season play rapidly approaching, your team probably falls into one of three categories.


Category #1

The first category, which most teams hope they are in, is where you are having a fantastic season. Wins are constant, and losses are few and far between, and practice is a blast every day. The team chemistry is on point, and your players enjoy competing every night. You can see yourself cutting that net down, celebrating in the locker room, and sizing up for championship rings.


Category #2

The second category is the middle ground. Consistency is likely an issue. Win one, lose two. Win three, lose two. There might be some days where you play like you can beat anyone in your league. Then there are some nights when you probably feel like you may never win another game. Your record is around the .500 mark. Now is the time of the year where you hope to play consistently better as you enter the home stretch.


Category #3

The last category is where nobody wants to land. You rank toward the bottom of the league, or you are having a tough season. If you coach basketball long enough, you’ll probably go through this once or twice in your career. Hopefully not, but it is likely to happen. Here, you are just trying to find positive moments for your team. A spirited practice. Two good practices in a row. Maybe you start playing some younger players and preparing them for next season. Perhaps you knocked off one of the top teams in the league, propelling you to finish the season on a winning streak.



The Importance of Finding Your Team’s Pulse

Regardless of which category your basketball team falls in, I believe there is one key component you need to have with your team and players. You have to know the pulse of your team and the pulse of each individual player.

What do I mean by that? You need to know how each player is doing mentally and how they are preparing for each day. It’s the home stretch, and the margin for error gets smaller with each day. Maybe some players’ bodies are starting to give in. Maybe not. Something may be going on outside of basketball that might be impacting their mind. School might be stressing out some of your players, particularly the seniors.

Whatever the case may be, it’s our job as their basketball coach to do everything in our power to give them the best opportunities for success individually and collectively.

Knowing the pulse of your basketball team can have a major impact on how the rest of your season finishes. Sometimes players need that extra push to stay focused or to re-focus on the goals that were set at the beginning of the year. Sometimes you might need to pull back for a second and give your team a mental break. Either way, don’t change who you are as a coach, motivator, or leader. You still need to be yourself, with the understanding that you might need to adapt to whatever the situation calls for.



How Can You Find the Pulse of Your Basketball Team?

So how can you get to know the pulse of your team and its players? More importantly than anything else, the relationships with your players have to be authentic and not transactional. If those relationships are genuine, then understanding their pulse becomes much easier. I wrote an article a year ago about building relationships with your players. One of the components that I wrote about was having daily communication with your players. Whether it’s for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, daily communication with your players gives you the best chance to know their pulse.

Another crucial element is having an open line of communication with your team captains. They are going to have the ear of everyone on the team. Sometimes, players might open up to their team leader more intimately than they might in a closed-door office setting. If you’ve got that open line of communication with your captains, they might be able to relay something to you that will help your daily interaction with a certain player or the team as a whole.



The Pulse of Your Basketball Team Conclusion

I’ve been fortunate to be in this profession for 12 years and have been on teams that have fallen into all three categories. Most of the teams that I’ve been a part of have been in the first two categories. However, I have experienced the last category. No matter which group your team
falls into, it’s our job to make sure we know how our team is doing — and sometimes it’s not easy. Whether you’re trying to lock up a championship, make your conference tournament, or finish on a strong note to prepare for the following season, we as basketball coaches have to make a concentrated effort to know our players and how to coach them during the home stretch.


Hopefully, this outlook can aid your team as post-season play approaches. As always, our games and practices at West Florida are always open to anyone. I’ll leave my contact information for you as well. My office phone is (850) 474-3342, and my email is Again, I hope this was helpful and good luck down the home stretch.



Preparing for Late Game Situations in Basketball


Preparing for Late Game Situations in Basketball

Russ Willemsen contributed to this portion of the article. 

The difference between having a good basketball season and having a great season often comes down to 5-7 games that are either won or lost by less than 3 points. Two years ago, we had a player named Zac Swansey that hit six game-winning shots for us at Tennessee Tech that season. That year we won 20 games. If he had missed those shots, we would have only won 14 games. That is a huge difference!

Some would say six game-winners in one year is pretty lucky. I would tend to agree, but I would also tell you we spent 15-20 minutes a day in practice on these scenarios, giving our players confidence to execute them during the game. This is the first of two articles I will share on late-game situations.

This basketball coaching article focuses on the offensive side, and the next will focus on the defensive side. Below are a few of my philosophies and some things to consider to increase chances of success for late-game heroics. I believe the keys to success in late-game situations comes down to daily repetition in practice, getting a good shot, and having some luck on your side.

Here are some things to consider in late-game offensive situations:

  1. Can you run the baseline?
  2. Who is your team’s best full-court passer?
  3. Keep a running Excel sheet of different late-game scenarios that come up during the season from games you play, games you watch, etc. This will give you a variety of different late-game situations to practice with your team daily.
  4. If you score with less than 10 seconds to play, I like to call a timeout to get our defense set. Sometimes players will get caught celebrating and not get back on defense, giving the opposing team a transition break. Calling a timeout allows the other team to draw up a set basketball play, but I still like that it allows our team defense to get set and ensure playing 5-on-5 rather than giving up a 3-on-2 numbered break.
  5. If coming out of a timeout for the last possession, have your team prepared to run a play versus man to man and for zone in case the opposing team changes defenses.
  6. If you have the ball for the last possession in a tie game, hold for the last shot. The worst thing that can happen is overtime. If your team shoots too soon, make or miss, the other team will have a chance to win the game.
  7. Your team needs a basketball play for 0-3 seconds, 4-8 seconds, and 9+ seconds for each of the following inbound positions, and each play should have different options depending on if you need a 2FG or 3FG:
    1. Full Court (can run baseline)
    2. Full Court (cannot run baseline)
    3. 3/4 Court Side Out
    4. Side-Out of Bounds
    5. Baseline Out of Bounds



An Open Letter to Basketball Coaches


An Open Letter to Basketball Coaches

Kyle Ohman contributed to this portion of the article.


Dear Coaches,

I wrote an article a little while ago directed to basketball players from the point of a coach as an ex-player. So I thought that it would be beneficial for coaches to receive a letter from the side of an ex-player. There has always been a natural gap between coaches and players. However, it seems like the best coaches in the game have narrowed that gap as much as possible.

As much as it is great to know X’s and O’s and every different basketball drill in the book, this article will not touch on any of that. It will focus solely on the coach to player dynamic and hopefully help you as a coach to better understand your players and where they are coming from. Because better understanding your players equals better relationships (which is what coaching is really about), better performance on the court, and ultimately a chance to do something special as a team.

When I played basketball in college, you could say I had a little bit of coaching turnover with three different head coaches in the four years that I played. Along with every head coaching change came pretty much a whole new staff of assistants, grad assistants, and directors. It was not very much fun rebuilding every year and learning a new system, but looking back now, it really helped me with my current basketball coaching and training career.

I was able to be around multiple coaches with varying philosophies, strategies, communication tools, systems, etc. It was great to see what worked and what really didn’t go over very well within the basketball program.

Along with being on the player side of things, I have also been able to be a part of several different high school programs and have done basketball skill development training with a good amount of players over the years.

I say all this not to promote myself but to help give some credibility to my following words, which will, hopefully, help you better understand and communicate with your players to build lasting relationships and teams that are remembered for a lifetime.



One of the first ways to lose your team’s respect as a basketball coach is to be inconsistent. This applies to practices, how you handle punishment, and so many other things, but it especially applies to how you handle situations from player to player. I am not trying to sell blanket punishments by any means because that usually paints you into a corner and doesn’t work out the way you want.

Many times, though, coaches allow themselves to fall into the trap of judging and punishing players based on their value to the team. A coach might look the other way if their best players are doing something they shouldn’t and then make an example of a player that doesn’t have as big of a role.

Once you start allowing yourself to look the other way for certain players, you will lose the rest of the basketball team. You need to deal fairly with every player based on their actions, not on what they bring to the team skill-wise.

Don’t get me wrong; some players will deserve leniency while others may need to be suspended or even cut for the betterment of the team. Players aren’t dumb. They understand the difference between the players on the team that continually push the limits and are purposely being difficult and a player who is a good teammate but may have made a poor choice.

In my first year as a head basketball coach, I chose to cut our two most skilled players (both players ended up playing at high-level Division 1 Schools) because I thought they were taking away from the team with their continued poor actions. Even though we took a serious hit on talent, it really helped bring the rest of the basketball team together. The other players on the team recognized that it was about putting the team first, and everyone would be treated the same way.

We beat the 12th ranked team in the nation that year and ended up losing by a couple of points in the state semifinals. It doesn’t always work out this way, but if you aren’t going to stay consistent with your convictions, nothing will work for you.


Be Real

You would think that this would be a no brainer, but unfortunately, it is not for some basketball coaches. The most significant area that this shows up in is coaches talking poorly about one player to another player. As a coach, you should never negatively speak about one player to another. Even if you are just talking to another coach and there are players around, don’t do it.

It is a coach’s job to continually evaluate their players and talk it over with the other coaches on the staff, but that is a closed-door conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a coach building a player up to their face, but then overhear them say that same player is soft, lazy, can’t execute, or whatever else behind their back to other coaches are players.

It may all be true what you are saying, but other players should not be a part of these conversations. As a basketball coach, your job is to help make this player tougher, a harder worker, and someone who can execute, not tell everyone in earshot how they are not performing.

Would you want to give your best to someone talking about your faults to other people behind your back? I wouldn’t want to.


Why? I Just Want to Know Why?

One of the best tools I have picked up in my basketball training is simply explaining why a player should be doing something. I know, I know, this is mind-blowing, cutting edge stuff right here. But seriously, the simple idea of explaining why a player should do something a specific way gives so much added value to my words. It allows them to understand why it is so important that they do it the way that I want it done and not the way that they have been doing it (i.e., their way).

Not only will this give your basketball players more reason to do what you say, but it will also allow them to become better students of the game. We live in a culture where value must be explained before someone is willing to buy into something. So the better you explain why a player should space on a drive, shouldn’t catch and hold the ball, needs to cut hard, communicate on defense, have active hands, and so on, the more they are likely going to do it. Take the time to explain why.



If you don’t think this key is important, I want you to take a break from reading the rest of this basketball coaching article and research a basketball coach named John Wooden. If he can’t persuade you of the importance of relationship-building with your players, I definitely cannot.

However, if you do agree with me that this is pretty important when it comes to coaching, I have a couple of ways that you can use to help develop relationships with your team and players.

One really great way is to spend time with your players outside of basketball doing something fun. Most of the time, it is all about business regarding practice, weights, conditioning, meetings, games, etc. So it is essential that you create times outside of taking care of business where you can really get to know your players and their personalities. This is key for developing coach to player relationships, but also for developing player to player relationships.

Another way to get to know your basketball players is to schedule weekly small group and individual meetings with them. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out meeting. 10-15 minutes of checking in with your players on their family, school, etc., goes a long way. If players have questions about earning more playing time or questions about their role on the team, this is also a great time to clearly explain what you are looking for from them and how they can add more value to the team.

There are plenty of other ideas for spending time with your players, and it is up to you to find something that fits your personality as a head basketball coach. The key is to make sure that it is an intentional time to get to know your players on a level that they know you care about them outside of basketball.


Player Leaders

Every great team has quality player leadership. The player leaders of the team are naturally established from the rest of the players on the team and also decided upon as a coaching staff. There are always going to be leaders that naturally separate themselves in pretty much any group. However, it is vital that as a coach, you help to grow and develop this player leadership into something of value.

Just because a player is a natural leader among their teammates doesn’t mean that they know what they should be doing or that they are even a good leader. It is essential that you, as the coach, are steering and helping to grow the player leadership of your team.

One of my coaches in college would have a captain’s meeting regularly where we would talk about different things that the coaches were looking for and where the captains of the team were able to have a voice. As a basketball coach, you must keep your fingers on the team’s pulse, and one of the best ways to do this is by listening to the leaders on your team.

This does not mean that you will automatically do everything that your players ask or want, but there are always areas that allow for wiggle room, and making some very minor adjustments can really help with player buy-in sometimes.

Along with the communication coming up to you through the player leaders, it also goes back down from you through the player leaders. Your player leaders can help reemphasize what you are looking for from the team in practice and even better yet when there aren’t any coaches around. This only works, though, if you spend the needed time cultivating your player leadership.


Ask your Players

One of my favorite basketball coaches of all time was an assistant coach at Liberty University named Jason Eaker. One of the biggest reasons was simply because he asked me regularly if I wanted to spend time working on my game with him. I could always count on getting this question in practice or through a text, “you want to get some shots up later?”

The answer wouldn’t always be a yes, but it was most of the time, which meant that I was in the gym working on my game. I know that he was the same way with a lot of other players on the team as well. Some of us most likely would have gotten in the gym on our own regardless, but not nearly as much as we did with him simply asking us if we wanted to spend some time working on our game and getting better.

If you are willing to put in the time, this is one of the best ways to develop your basketball players and develop genuine relationships with your players.


Know What Motivates Specific Players

One of the biggest jobs a basketball coach has is maximizing player talent. A great coach will look to squeeze every last drop of talent out of a player and make them into the best possible player that they can be. The only way this works, though, is understanding what motivates a player.

Basketball players learn in all different ways, so a coverall approach will not get the job done. If you choose to handle every player the same way, there will be a lot of players that fall to the wayside. This doesn’t mean that you play favorites and don’t get on some players because you are afraid to “hurt their feelings,” but it does mean that you are conscious of what motivates a specific player.

There will be players who are there because they want to be the best and are willing to put in the work to try and get there. There will be players that are naturally skilled but don’t have the best work ethic. Some players are there because they enjoy being part of a team. The list goes on and on.

You will find that some players respond to being called out in front of everyone, and some shut down. Other players respond better to a quiet word on the side, saying that the team needs you and is counting on you. Neither is better or worse than the other; it is just finding what will help get a specific player going.

As you are getting to know your players by developing relationships with them, you will better understand what motivates specific players, allowing you to challenge them the correct way. If you have been following along, you will again see that it comes back to building real relationships with players.



One of the most underused tools is film. Part of it in high school might be not always having the best film to watch, but if you have film of your basketball games and practices, you should be spending time watching and breaking down film regularly. It might be in a team setting with everyone, it could be a position film session, or it might be a one on one session.

Not only will it help your basketball players better understand the overall game of basketball, but it will add a lot of credibility to your words later on when you are telling a player to do something because they will remember it from film.

Also, film does not lie. Most of the time, a player doesn’t do something specifically to counter what you want as a coach; they usually just think they are already doing it correctly. For example, a player may think they are in the correct position on the help side when you are yelling at them to be in the help, but if you show them on film how they aren’t where they are supposed to be, there is no arguing that, and hopefully, this will help them better understand where they should be.

Take advantage of film and start building a program of accountability filled players that understand the game.


Open Lines of Communication

As a basketball coach, you don’t want a program where players are challenging your authority, but on the flip side, you also don’t want a program where players don’t feel like they can approach you. There should be open communication lines where a player can come to you in the right setting and air out what they are feeling; in the right way.

This goes back to having player leaders representing the team and can help talk to the coach when something is going on with the team. It also means that individual players can stop by a coach’s office to talk and ask questions if needed.

Players should feel like they can talk to you about playing time and what they need to do to earn more minutes or a more significant role. And as a coach, you should be straight with them and let them know what you are looking for. This will give the player a purpose and an understanding of what they need to do to earn more minutes.

If handled the right way, this is a win-win. The player can start working towards something, and hopefully, as a  basketball coach, you pick up another player that adds value to the team. This doesn’t happen, though, if there is no communication.


Even Playing Field (Court)

One of the most frustrating things for a basketball player down towards the bottom of the rotation is a feeling that no matter what they do, they will not be able to improve their role on the team. Don’t get me wrong; I am completely fine with having a short rotation and only playing the players you believe will best help you win. However, nothing should ever be set in stone. Players towards the bottom of the rotation need to be able to earn the chance to break into the rotation.

If this is not the case, players begin to check out. Practices become slack, bench players stop competing, and players in the rotation become complacent. This spells disaster for the team. There needs to be an edge in every practice, and there needs to be the possibility of breaking into the rotation.

As a basketball coach, this is key, because unfortunately, injuries are part of the game sometimes. If a player or 2 in your eight-man rotation goes down, you need to have players that are confident, hungry, ready to step up. However, this only happens if players are consistently competing and being given a fair chance to play.



What Does Your Record Reflect?


What Does Your Record Reflect?

Frank Davis contributed to this portion of the article. 


I recently came away with a statement from a basketball coaching colleague; “Your team is really never as good or as bad as their record shows.” A group could be 15-0 and headed into conference play, which would qualify them as a successful group. Likewise, a different basketball team could be 0-15 going into the break, and you would say this team is looking at a losing season. The point is that either of these seasons is at the same turning point. Will they continue how they started? Or will they take a turn for the better?


As basketball coaches, how can we get our players to buy into this idea of a non-reflective record? They are a few possessions from turning a bad year into an average one, an average year into a good year, and a great year into a Championship year.


In 2008, Coppin State sat at a dismal 4-19 record. They were able to win 8 of their next 9 games, win 4 conference tournament games, and the MEAC Championship. This is a perfect example demonstrating the ability to switch gears in the second half of the season. It takes a group of guys who “buy-in” and realize that the season wasn’t over for them. They were not as bad as their record had shown.


They say the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line, but unfortunately, the basketball season is a long one that has highs and lows you must get through. Through injuries, close games lost, winning buzzer-beaters, and underdog wins, I found that my job as a coach is to keep a constant message for the team throughout the season, good or bad.

Example: Your basketball team is playing great and feeling very confident. You expect the team is prepared to take on the next opponent, but the mental mistakes are costing you the game. You come out with a loss on a Thursday night, only to turn around and play a better team on Saturday. How does your basketball team rebound from the loss? Are they still thinking of the last game going into the next one? It’s the coaches’ decisions to either address the mistakes in the loss and move on or continuously drag out voicing the mistakes for future games.


Now we all know some players have a difficult time getting over that mental hump. You jump on them during that game, and they can’t seem to get you out of their head, which causes them to make even more mental mistakes. The mental toughness aspect of our players comes with experience and maturity. My philosophy is to try and give them as many critical game situations as possible during practice. When the situation arises (which it will), we hope we have prepared them to conquer it.


So is it possible to tank in post-season play after you have dominated your league? YES. Is it just as possible to be the basketball team everyone knows they can beat preseason and take home a Championship? YES. The non-reflective record will catch up with all of us.


What does your record reflect?



Finishing the Basketball Season Strong


Finishing the Basketball Season Strong

Chris Capko contributed to this portion of the article.

With conference basketball tournaments ramping up across the country, many coaches try to figure out the right way to get their respective teams to finish the season as strong as possible.

This time of the year can be a grind, and every team is facing a different challenge. Some basketball teams are playing at a high level and will have to fight complacency as they compete for a championship or achieving their respective goals. Some basketball teams may have underachieved and are trying to find out a way to play their best ball as they hit their stretch run. Other basketball teams may be plagued by injuries or suspension and are adjusting the way they play to accommodate the available players and get them to play at the highest level possible.

While every team has different unique issues, there are some consistent trends that each program deals with when trying to finish a season strong.



Physical Well Being of Your Basketball Players

The basketball season is a grind. By the time you reach your conference tournament, some teams have played 30 games, along with practicing 6 times a week since October. Some players can become physically fatigued by playing a ton of minutes. Each basketball coach is faced with how long to practice, yet accomplishing whatever he or she feels their team still needs to improve upon or sharpen as they hit the stretch run.



Individual Basketball Instruction

Depending on how you orchestrate your basketball practice, this can become as tough as anything. How much time are you allocating to individual instruction in practice? Is shooting a deficiency for your team? How much shooting do they do within a practice? It is my experience that most basketball players, especially this time of the year, will not get enough shooting on their own. I also don’t believe most post players will come in on their own and practice their footwork and shots within the offense without the assistance of a coach. Some time should be allocated to this, especially at this time of the year. Your team’s character, work ethic, and internal leadership will determine how much you as a coach must mandate.



Watching Film

As the length of basketball practice starts to shorten, the mental aspect becomes even more important. As a coach, what is the mental acumen of your team? How much of their attention can you realistically keep in a film session? Again you must be realistic of your team and how much they can retain and be as efficient as possible. If you show 45 minutes of film, how much of that will be retained and comprehended by your basketball players?



Special Situations

With conference play, games become tighter and closer down the wire, and special situations become a vital part of a game. You must spend time on these situations. If you plan to win your conference or play in the postseason, special situations will play a part in your success or failure. How much time have you worked on these?



Free Throw Shooting

With tighter games being played all across the country at every level this time of the year, you must be able to make free throws to win games. There are many different opinions regarding free throwing shooting and how to prepare your players for these situations. One way or another, you must make them to win, so they need to be shot. As a basketball coach, you must always make sure the right guys are shooting them as well.



Breaking Up the Monotony

As I said previously, the basketball season is a grind. Your kids can become worn out by the process or even our voice at times. Through experience, I have found that having a day to break up the monotony of a season can be important. Something that can be fun for the guys. Taking them to a movie, playing a game (post vs. guards), or having some fun competitions. Don’t get me wrong; every basketball team needs repetition at whatever it is they do but make sure your team is enjoying themselves as well!



Finishing the Basketball Season Strong Conclusion

Every basketball team is different and is facing unique challenges this time of the year. We all have had ups and downs this season, which have helped us evaluate our team and figure out how to prioritize our time! Through it all, make sure your team is doing whatever they do at 100%, so you have no regrets of anything. Best of luck to everyone!




An Open Letter to Basketball Coaches Conclusion

I love this quote when it comes to coaching, “it isn’t always about the X’s and O’s, but usually about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s,” and that is precisely what this basketball article has tried to stress. If you create a culture where players feel valued through relationships and are competing their butts off because they want to give you their best, you have a chance to be special. Do yourself and your players a favor, and be this kind of basketball coach.




How to Coach Basketball Conclusion

Coaching basketball the right way is not always easy, but the coaches who have been able to figure it out are enjoying its benefits. Hopefully, this basketball article has given you some food for thought and will help you coach your team.

If you have any questions or need any further resources, please, feel free to comment below.





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