Teacher-coaches work constantly to keep student-athletes engaged during the entire season and school year. The lives of teenagers are very complicated and sometimes basketball and studying pale in comparison to other obligations. When attendance falters, intensity suffers, or mental training wanes, coaches should not hesitate to affect a change.

In order to maximize Intensity and Quality in their daily work, players should be consistently motivated. The extrinsic motivation of a coach’s words only burns so long but a player’s intrinsic motivation can be an eternal flame. When the flame flickers, coaches can use these strategies to keep the fire going.

Meet Players’ Needs

Significant Activities

Practice activities need to be relevant to the demands of competition, dynamic in order to engage diverse learners and appeal to the needs of adolescents and their egos.

Players may play ball for exercise, fun, competition, prestige, socialization, parental or peer pressure, or because the gym is a safer place than home. Whatever the reason, a coach should be aware of what the team must provide for each player. If the team meets a positive need (i.e. competition), players will keep coming to practice. If the coach addresses a negative reason (i.e. parental pressure) and replaces it with a positive one, practice effort will skyrocket.

Make Practices Matter

Practice ethic should determine playing time. Every game is different and that playing time may vary but hard work should always be rewarded. Players need to know that practice counts. Coaches must publicly acknowledge positive contributions, in practice and afterwards to parents and teachers. A Player Reward Board is a public way of tracking the “little things” throughout the season. Competitions with consequences raise the energy level in the gym and develop team fitness.

Use Relevant Statistics

Players won’t care about in-depth statistics if they aren’t made public. I’ve always tracked every free throw shot in practice and publicly announced that the best shooter will handled the Ts during games. I believe in making every drill competitive and tracking a player’s record in each contest because it shows toughness and focus in pressure situations. Obviously, you want to know who is the best shooter so coaching decisions are made by fact, not a bias like personal feelings or first impressions. After all, the managers need to feel needed too.

Practice Like Professionals

When young people dress like adults, their self-esteem and productivity grows by leaps and bounds. Run the scoreboard (or at least purchase a table-top clock) to keep score of drills. Use reversible pinnies (or have each player bring light and dark shirts). Enforce uniform, food, and spectator policies in the gym. An untidy gym, dirty floor, or frayed equipment detracts from practice. Plan practices in detail and name each drill to reduce explanation and delay between activities. Watching the students in Monarch Park’s Cooking specialist program enjoy catering a simple breakfast recently illustrated the importance of looking good in order to play well.

Keep an Open Mind

Teenagers face a roller coaster of emotions and coaches need to understand their perspective. A coach should not lower team standards but still see the player’s perspective. Players may miss practice because of:

  • academics
  • socialization
  • work
  • relationships
  • school discipline
  • the criminal justice system
  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • fear for personal safety
  • family issues
  • lack of housing
  • another extracurricular activity
  • a combination of the above or a problem outside this list.

In the grand scheme of things, some of these items have a much higher relative importance than sport.

Coaches may observe some clues or obtain information by speaking to teachers and administrators but some issues may be very complex to identify. During good times, coaches should express a personal interest in each player to show that they care and keep tabs on them. If a coach is tolerant, players are more likely to approach them in times of trouble. Coaches should also stay in touch with parents, siblings, and guardians. Often, an alumnus of the team can be an excellent role model or confidant.

Coaches should not make exceptions to team policies. If a player is facing a drastic situation, they should step away from team commitments until the problem is resolved. Coaches should continue to support them during this time but make them earn their role back when they return.

Teach Planning Skills

A player may fall behind on schoolwork or mismanage work obligations due to poor organization. Team study halls or personal tutoring can help players plan their day. Coaches may be called upon to provide other support so that team members can attain their Ideal Performance State for practices and workouts. Players must understand the importance of good nutrition and getting enough sleep during the season. This may be tough for at-risk youth but coaches can suggest low-cost alternatives to eat well at school or seek funding from supporters.

Peak Multiple Times

Practices are only meaningful if they are correlated to a meaningful event. The team schedule should build towards a few key points (such as rivalry games, a big tournament, or the playoffs) that are spread throughout the season. In October, the playoffs seem far away so the team should focus on an intermediate goal. The short-term success can also boost the confidence of a team and increase the fun of the season.

Make It Fun

If practices are fun, coaches and players feel better about themselves. Use a variety of drills, make players push themselves and each other, and use part-method game situations to instruct skills. Keep everyone moving in order to take advantage of endorphins. Ensure the gym is properly ventilated. Recover properly after each drill to prevent soreness and injuries. Challenge yourself as a coach and set personal goals to stay focused and attentive.

Punish Sparingly

Extrinsic consequences such as suspensions from practices or games, attendance contracts, or verbal tirades are not as affective as developing a relationship with a player and convincing them to your point of view. Don’t be afraid to punish but use positive encouragement whenever possible because it will boost intrinsic motivation. Coaches must always punish consistently and explain their reasons for doing so.

Don’t Hesitate to Resolve Conflict

Address conflicts between players immediately. Use a private forum where both team members can state their case and settle their issue respectfully. A coach’s priority is to save players from embarrassment, stop the incident from poisoning the team, and maintain a positive team atmosphere.

If the team has rules, stick to them at all times. If there is a cancer on the team, the coach should cut it away as soon as it is diagnosed. If it is necessary to enforce a number of negative decisions, these should be made at once in order to reduce their impact on the team. Coaches should always gather the remaining team members afterwards in order to encourage them and bring the team closer together.


Each case will be different and require a unique response. Often, mixing and matching strategies creates the best resolution. Coaches should never be afraid to ask for advice, from a peer, a coaching mentor, or a school administrator.

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