Coaching requires a vast skill set. You need to be a good teacher but sometimes you need to apply some good parenting skills to your approach. You only have responsibility for one part of the child’s life - and for many of those kids it is the part that is their hobby, obsession, passion or spirit. Some kids are in basketball to have fun, some to blow off steam, some to escape, and others because they have a dream of going pro some day. Still others are there because their parents are making them participate. Chances are that unless you are coaching an elite youth team you will have a mixed group of kids with varying motivations and reasons for being there. As their coach, you have a responsibility to do the job with the best interest of each child in mind, because they all make up the team. If you want to be an exceptional coach you will find a way to reach each and every one of them, helping them be the very best they can be and meet their goals.
This is not a journey that you have to take alone. There are many youth basketball coaches that have come before you, and fortunately many of the greats have shared their wisdom with the world so that you can benefit from it. Here at Hustle Training we do this every day. We collect the best knowledge, tools, and tricks out there and hand them back to you in our blog, our website, and in our app. We hope this post inspires you on your coaching journey and we look forward to sharing so much more in the future.
Personalize It For The Kids
The NBA actually has a lot of great resources geared toward youth basketball. They put together a tip sheet that lists the 11 things that new coaches should know. From that tip sheet there is a particularly useful gem: “Welcome all kids to practice by name to make them feel important.” If you do nothing else as a coach, this will make a difference to each and every kid there - and especially to the introverted, shy, and quiet ones. There is a trick to this though: make sure that you pronounce it correctly. There is research that shows the positive psychological effects it has for kids to be recognized by those they look up to, and conversely, research that supports the long-term and potentially devastating consequences of getting this wrong. There are a number of little hacks that can be used to remember names and how to pronounce them. (Source):
While mispronouncing a student’s name may seem minor, it can have a significant impact on how they see themselves and their cultural background, causing feelings of anxiety, invisibility, shame, resentment and humiliation, all of which can lead to social and educational disengagement. Kohli documented these findings in a 2012 article she co-authored with UCLA professor Daniel Solórzano titled “Teachers, please learn our names!”
Aspirations and motivation can suffer from the cumulative effect of these “mini-disasters,” which also set the tone for how students treat each other. On the other side of the coin, correct pronunciation can help “develop trust and rapport,” according to Christine Yeh, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Education.
Use Positive Reinforcement
While this is borrowed from a football coach, The Art of Manliness, its lessons and applications are equally applied to basketball.
Positive reinforcement is key when working with kids. I have seen too many young athletes cower and wilt under the negativity they receive from exasperated coaches. Believe me, there are few things as frustrating as trying to teach 7-year-olds how to wrap up. But kids don’t respond well to negative criticism; it only makes them less confident and more hesitant — the complete opposite of what any coach wants. When you instead make positivity the primary driver of instruction, you reinforce the good, which makes the kid more receptive and open-minded to constructive feedback. This approach comes from research I’ve done in behaviorism and operant conditioning; positive reinforcement as a method of instruction has proven to be much more effective in helping students of all kinds adopt the right behaviors and skills.
While it sounds really soft, there is actually science behind the principle. “Positive reinforcement works by presenting a motivating/reinforcing stimulus to the person after the desired behavior is exhibited, making the behavior more likely to happen in the future.” (Source). As opposed to negative reinforcement or even punishment.
Teach The Fundamentals of the Game and Sportsmanship On and Off the Court
Even the most exceptionally talented young athletes on the team need to know the basics, the rules, and have their talents pointed in the right direction. Those that are not as natural can become exceptional by mastering the fundamentals. And every single kid on the team will succeed in life when they learn the art of sportsmanship. The website MoneyCrashers, an advice and lifestyle online magazine, covered this in a piece they wrote to inspire parent coaches to be better. Their advice is gold:
Every sport involves specific physical skills that can be learned and practiced, whether hitting a thrown ball, dribbling a basketball, or passing a soccer ball to an open teammate. Team games generally involve strategies, both offensive and defensive, and the coordination of multiple players to achieve a specific result. Virtually every sport is performed within the context of specific rules that define the field of play and how players act on the field. Knowing the fundamentals and the rules is essential to playing and enjoying the game.
Character development, specifically sportsmanship, is an intangible quality of sports, and one of the more important values a child should learn. Respect for one’s coaches, teammates, and opponents, as well as learning to win and lose gracefully on the athletic field, are lessons that will benefit a child throughout his or her life.
Jack Nicklaus, the most prolific winner in the history of the professional golf tour, said, “My father taught me the single hardest thing a professional athlete has to learn, which is how to lose gracefully…however much it hurts inside, you smile and keep a stiff upper lip; that you shake the hand of the man who’s beaten you, and tell him congratulations, and mean it.”