There is no one way to coach a basketball team. From the fiery passion and controversial antics of Bob Knight to the straight laced, no-nonsense attitude of Mike Krzyzewski, great coaches all have their own unique style. Despite these differences, there are many similarities between effective basketball coaches which have stood the test of time.

Today, we will discuss what makes an effective basketball coach, and how coaches can use this information to improve themselves and their team.

Effective Basketball Coaches Understand the Game

Perhaps the most obvious trait which all successful coaches share is a deep understanding of the game of basketball. There is simply no way to lead a group of players without great knowledge of the sport. Specific tasks can be delegated to assistant coaches, but ultimately the buck stops with the head coach. Improving one’s basketball expertise can be accomplished a number of ways:

  • Learn from coaches you respect - with resources like YouTube and blogs (much like this one), basketball enthusiasts have never had more access to respected basketball minds.
  • Study the rules of the game - the NBA actually has an official rulebook available to the public. This is a must-read for students of the game.
  • Watch plenty of basketball with an analytical eye - do what the pros do and watch film. Again, watching teams and coaches you respect can be greatly beneficial to understanding the sport.

Always keep an eye out for new information - even the most experienced coaches know that they always have something to learn. At the end of the day, this attitude may be the most important aspect of developing as a coach.

Coaching Basketball with Empathy and Understanding

Of course, coaching isn’t just x’s and o’s on a whiteboard. If a coach cannot empathize with his or her players, they aren’t doing their job. Even the most hard nosed basketball coaches understand the importance of relating to their players. Spending the time to let players know that their coach supports them is not only beneficial on a personal level, but on a practical teaching level as well.

How coaches achieve this level of coach-player relationship is highly individual. This is where personality and style comes into play. Former players may rely on relaying relevant stories from their playing days. Other coaches may be more comfortable relying on their assistant coaches to work directly with players and give the one-on-one attention they need.

However a coach chooses to relate to their players, effective basketball coaching often relies on developing meaningful relationships with players.

Basketball Practice Planning with Attention to Detail

Planning a basketball practice or coming up with a game plan requires a fair amount of forethought. Failure to effectively plan out a full practice can run the risk of losing the interest of younger basketball players. When it comes to developing a practice plan, there are two primary areas to consider:

Individual Work - each player will have his or her strengths and weaknesses which must be improved. Basketball is a game of fundamentals. Consider all aspects of player development including dribbling, footwork, ball movement, shooting, defense, rebounding, and more. The difficulty and nature of these drills is heavily dependent on the athlete’s age and ability. Consider your team’s make-up and develop a practice plan around your squad.

Team Work - as great as individual work can be, basketball is a team sport. Small scrimmages, three-on-three work, and cooperative drills are all effective ways to improve players’ skills and bring them together as a unit.

Hone in on a Basketball Coaching Philosophy

As mentioned previously, there is no shortage of differing basketball coaching philosophies. The one constant amongst all great coaches is that they possess a strong philosophy which is transferable to teaching moments with their players. Coaches don’t necessarily need to fit into a neat box like Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. However, it is important that players understand what their coach expects from them as a player and as a team.

This concept goes hand in hand with the idea of establishing goals for a basketball team. Players of all ages respond to well-established goals. It is up to the coach to determine what those goals should be and communicate that information to his or her players. Coaching philosophy can be implemented in many ways.

Communicating Coaching Ideas to a Basketball Team

As a coach, establish what you value. Values can include topics such as good sportsmanship, teamwork, respecting teammates and opponents, and so forth. Basketball players, especially youth players, benefit greatly from reminders on what matters most.

Work with your players to set finite goals. These goals don’t have to be wins, or even any measurable statistics. Again, what matters most is that the team is on board with whatever these goals may be.

Understand your team dynamic and adapt. Unless you are the aforementioned Phil Jackson coaching in the NBA Finals, schemes and philosophy will likely be taking a backseat to keeping practices and games fun while developing players. Just as no two coaches are alike, neither are any two teams. Work with your basketball squad to establish a successful coaching philosophy for them.