Youth basketball coaching done well depends significantly on the relationship the coach has with the players. If a young team is firmly behind its coach, players will play their hearts out and that coach will get their best efforts. So, how does a volunteer youth basketball coach build trust with players?
At a very high level, trust building comes down to credibility and how one treats people. It’s wise to always keep that in mind. How did Abraham Lincoln build trust with his advisors? Many of his closest advisors started out as enemies. But, Honest Abe was patient, treated people well and slowly built their trust. So, what are some concrete things one can do as a coach to build that trust? Here are some ideas.
Youth Basketball Coaching: 7 Tips to Build Players’ Trust
1.) Compliment often.
For young players, playing their best basketball comes from being confident. Compliments go a long way to building confidence. Be sincere, but keep the kind comments flowing. Address the team as a whole and players individually. Find players doing something well, and let them know you noticed.
2.) Use players’ first names.
Learn first names quickly and use them frequently. I think it was Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People who wrote that hearing our first names is like music to our ears.
3.) Come prepared.
If you come to too many practices disorganized, your players will know. Being prepared shows you care about the players to come ready to give your best. Avoid long monologues when addressing the team. Keep your comments short in length, but frequent. With a plan of attack in hand, it will enable you to coach in the present, and not worry about what you’re going to have the team do next.
When teaching a new skill, whether it be a technique for boxing out for rebounds or executing a reverse layup, demonstrate it and then let your players have a try at it. After observing several efforts, pick out a player or two who do it well, and ask the whole team to watch them, because they’re doing it well. What a boost for the player who is asked to demonstrate the skill! Throughout the course of a few practices, try to make sure all the players are called out for something.
5.) One minute player pep talks.
Don’t forget the power of one-to-one communication. More often than not, you’re addressing the team as a whole or a group of players. But, a well-timed message delivered to an individual player before a game or practice can do wonders. Highlight some skill that they’re doing well and challenge a player to try something they haven’t demonstrated before, e.g. dribble driving with their off-hand to the basket. After the first couple of weekends of games, I always found it effective to meet with players individually for just a couple minutes to let them know how good a job they were doing. At every age, you’ll likely have players at different skill levels with different strengths and weaknesses. Use the sandwich approach of combining things they’re doing very well at the beginning and end of the conversation, and challenge players with an opportunity to improve in the middle of the conversation.
6.) Reduce whistle use.
Save your whistle for when you’re scrimmaging. Try to get through a practice without using it at all. I always found it easier to form a tighter grouping and talk softly vs. have the team dispersed and needing to shout so they could hear. Your vocal chords will thank you.
7.) Plan fun.
The #1 reason players play youth sports is to have fun according to every report and post-season survey I’ve ever read. While basketball is inherently a fun sport, show players that your agenda addresses some of the components of their agenda. Plan fun into each practice. If you can’t figure out what your team considers fun, ask them. Start with one of the team leaders.
–Michael O’Halloran is the author of the Well Prepared Coach Youth Basketball Practice Plans and Layups and Life Lessons: 101 Coaching Tips for Youth Basketball.