Basketball season is upon us and I am signed up again to coach a young girls basketball team. The subject of “creating culture” has been buzzing as of late, so I thought I would share a couple notes on ways I have found to create a fun and successful culture. Over the next few weeks I will share strategies about setting expectations, handing out rewards for behavior and performance, and how to increase the level of effort your athletes put in at practice and at games. As always, I encourage your feedback and hope you will share with me strategies you have found to be successful.
Learning about your team.
Whether you are a seasoned coach or you just bought your first whistle on the way to practice, getting to know your players should be a very high priority. Don’t rush this experience. It may take 10 minutes; it may take 45 minutes of practice. Either way, let it happen. On the first or second practice, sit the team down in a circle and get to know them. The goal is to learn about your team and the individuals you will be serving over the next few months. The strategy is to ask a few simple questions from which you will be able to gather insight about your athletes. When you ask these questions on the first few days of practice, be warned, they may be shy. The secret is to make them feel like they are in a safe environment. As the coach, you set the tone for the team culture. If they are not ready, smile, let them know you will come back to them, and move to the next one. Have patience. Resist the urge to interrupt or lead them to answer a certain way. They need to know they are safe, then I promise, you won’t be able to keep them quiet!
What is your name?
Have them spell it and ask them what they would like to be called. If you want to shorten it (Jennifer to Jen, Courtney to Court, Shannon to Shay, etc) then ask them. They may like the idea of a different name they are used to, then again, they may not. But ask, first.
What is your athletic experience?
If they have played another sport, ask them if they can think of a way the skills they use in that other sport will help them in basketball. If they can make a connection between basketball and another sport they have played then you have begun to build their confidence, especially in an inexperienced player.
What is the one thing, above all else, you want to get better at throughout the season?
When they tell you how they want to improve, what they are really giving you is permission to push them in specific areas. One girl wants to get better at free throws because she got fouled a lot last season. Now that she has vocalized it, when you ask her to stay after practice and shoot 20 free throws she is happy to do it. Another girl wants to get better at dribbling, so you have her do some extra dribbling drills for 5 minutes before practice starts and she loves the idea.
What to do while they talk
Write down their answers. You now have three valuable bits of information. One, you know what to call your athlete. Honor the name they give you and use it often. Two, you know what skills each player has and that can give you an understanding of the player. For example, last year I had four athletes who had never played basketball before. However, they had years of soccer experience. I went online and looked for soccer drills I could turn into basketball drills. The girls saw the connection right away and it helped them feel more confident during those drills because they were familiar to them. I even told the girls what I had done and I could tell they appreciated the effort. And three, you know what you can keep them accountable for. When you set up a drill that hits one of the specific goals one of the girls wants to improve upon, spend a little extra time with her. Don’t make it a big deal, just quietly walk up to her…
“Hey, I remember this is one of the things you wanted to improve upon. How do you think you are doing?” Then wait for the response. Be patient.
Those simple, quiet moments you have with an athlete are the moments they will remember for the rest of their lives.