Making the Most of High School Basketball

In High School Basketball, Teaching by Brock Bourgase

As September approaches, student-athlete and teacher-coaches are returning school and a new basketball season is upon us. Here are some little changes that coaches can make in order to develop players into responsible people. Coach the entire student-athlete so that they can make the most of their high school experience.

It is unfair to expect teenagers to devote all their free time to a sport or one particular interest. Sports offer physical fitness, social interactions and fun and are a healthy part of the school experience, although levels of commitment will vary.

Build Personal Connections with Players

  • Get to know the interests of the players on the team and work together to make time for school, basketball, and other interests.
  • Negotiation and compromise are key life skills for young people to learn. It may be necessary to intervene and provide time management counselling.
  • If a student-athlete is struggling, they may need to give up sport for a time.
  • Flexibility and compromise are critical.
    • Athletes – like students – are not identical so they should not be coached exactly the same way.

Suggestions: Allow players to use basketball and leadership to achieve their academic and personal tasks (such as a project or community hours. Watch the players when they play for their club, AAU or provincial teams. Talk about subjects aside from basketball at the start and end of practices or team meetings.

Engage Students, Don’t Compel Them

  • Athletes who commit by choice are much more intrinsically motivated than those who feel forced to participate.
  • Intrinsic motivation makes dedicated practice challenging and enjoyable.
  • Basketball players face a range of choices – some of which are emotionally enticing (travel, opportunity to be seen) – so high school coaches must make varsity basketball fun.
  • Teenagers need chances to display their creativity, critical thinking and leadership skills.
    • Practice should stimulate the mind and the body.

Suggestions: Make training sessions optional; it will sort itself on the court. Teach players why they are doing something, not just what and how. Make drills competitive with small token rewards. Use small-sided games to teach decision-making. Keep an open door for players to bring forward their ideas and use their input when feasible.

Provide Choice and Autonomy

  • The most fulfilling activities for teenagers are those where they have control over the environment.
    • Low organizational games in an elementary school yard or social media have used independence from adults and structure as a major drawing factor.
  • A coach should not cede authority but work together with players.
    • Choice increases opportunities to find flow in the sport.
  • Players must be responsible for themselves, not in a punitive sense but a constructive one.
    • Help players think through their actions and understand the consequences that they may entail.
  • Allow for messy practices: when players are free to make errors, they can truly master and expand their skills.

Suggestions: Create a basketball club for all students who enjoy the game (watching,
playing, talking about the sport). Let senior players take a leadership roll in picking and choosing club activities (pick-up games, fantasy basketball). Relinquish control to players for minor issues (such as electronic devices rules, warm ups/cool dows) when they have demonstrated responsibility. Survey everyone’s goals and ideas at the beginning of the season.

Understand the Lives of Teenagers

  • Provide players with a chance to mentally park whatever happened during the day before they start practicing.
    • Never start a practice immediately after school ends; give players time to take care of their academic and personal lives.
  • Teach larger topics over the course of a few practices and workouts.
    • Repeat and reinforce the same fundamentals, review what was explained the previous day and keep lessons relatively simple and interchangeable.
  • Build confidence in the sport of basketball and other aspects of players’ lives.
  • Coaching is a long-term process; you won’t know that you’ve succeeded until many years down the road.

Suggestions: Assist student-athletes with study hall and proctor tests so that they can stay ahead in the classroom. Acknowledge efforts in the training and on the court so friends and families can share in their joy.

Coach Players who Want to Be Coached

  • At the youth level, the best planned practice can disintegrate when players do not attend because of other choices.
  • Do your best with those who are there and help them reach their potential.
    • Give every player something meaningful to take away every time that you see them.

Suggestions: Provide opportunities for players of all skill levels (they can be managers, statisticians, scorekeepers) so that they can enjoy the game. Select players who buy into the team culture and work ethic, not simply the most skilled. Every practice activity should have significance for the participants.


  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow. New York City: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
  • Josephson Institute of Ethics [Character Counts]. (2009, September 29). Coach John Wooden: Pursuing Victory With Honor and the Teacher-Coach. Retrieved from
  • Syed, M. (2010). Bounce. New York City: Harper.