Communication between Athletes and Coaches

In Coaching by Brock Bourgase

Players are people. People should think because intelligent thinking optimizes performances. Therefore, players should think.

Young players are new to the game. They encounter multiple situations for the first time with which they must learn to cope. They must process what is happening is on the court, place it into context, and select a course of action. For inexperienced players, coaches are the primary source of cues on how to interpret information and make a good decision.

Sport is a vehicle to teach life skills, including how to make decisions under pressure. Basketball is inherently stressful – physical and mental pressures abound – and overcoming that stress is a metaphor for daily existence. Not only should players complete the season with better physical performance factors and superior sport-specific skills than when they began but they should have grown mentally. Coaches are responsible for planning and facilitating those achievements.

Practices should not solely pertain to what to do and how to do it but why to do it, when it is appropriate to do it, where to do it on the court, and who to do it with. Players should know how to read a situation and select an appropriate response. Telling a team to run a play, insisting a particular pattern is followed, does not engender enhanced decision-making skills. Reassuring the team that they should do it because “it works” is propaganda, not logic. Any game plan should include the rationale behind the systems to be implemented. If this instruction occurs in practice, it is easy to make adjustments in games with a few choice keywords.
Since Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development model emphasizes decision-making over play calling from the bench, it is imperative that coaches offer feedback so that young players can learn whether they have made the correct choice — or the best choice possible under the circumstances. Any comments should be based on process, not outcome.

Although feedback should be immediate, it should not be delivered in a way that makes a young player feel self-conscious. Although feedback should be clear and concise, it should not be communicated in a negative tone. Feedback should focus on what to do, not what not to do.

There is a danger of communicating too much information during the intensity of the game. Under stressful situations, peripheral vision shrinks and the athlete may not have perceived the actions that the coach is talking about. There may be several areas for improvement but providing one specific short-term point as a player leaves the court after a shift should suffice. Complicated coaches should be left to practices, workouts, and meetings so not to overwhelm the players. Some advice is best left for later, under calmer circumstances with the aid of video technology or statistics.

There is a spectrum of feedback and dramatic coaching strategies have a time and place at some age level. For the inexperienced player, communication should help them feel confident about themselves, enjoy the sport, and inform them about how they can further develop their game.