Know the game. Players can spot incompetence from a mile away. You don’t have to have Bobby Knight or Hubie Brown’s experience or acumen, but you certainly need to constantly hone your basketball IQ. If you are a young or inexperienced coach, you must become a student of the game and work on your craft every day. Only coach what you know and work hard to find out what you don’t know.
Discipline them. Players actually crave discipline because it shows you care. They also know, way down in their subconscious, that discipline is a key ingredient to success. They will lose respect for you if you don’t. No one is motivated by a person they don’t respect.
Show them why. Players need what’s called ‘perceived relevance.’ They need to know that what they are doing will help them become the best player they can be. They need to know that the drill they are doing today in practice will better prepare them to perform this Friday night when the lights come on and the cheerleaders start dancing.
Praise them. Players need to be caught doing something right! That which gets praised, gets repeated. Be as specific as you can in your praise. For example, “Joey, that was an excellent screen you set to get Johnny open. You took the perfect angle, kept a wide base, and held your ground. You were the reason we scored on that play.” Trust me, Joey will take pride in setting screens for the rest of the season after that type of praise.
Be honest. Players need to hear the truth. They might not want to hear what you have to say, but they will ultimately respect your for it. If a player isn’t going to see much playing time this season, let them know what their role will be. If your team is a 20+ point underdog in your game, let them team they need to play hard, play smart, and play together regardless of who they play, that they aren’t measuring themselves against their opponent, but rather measuring themselves against what they are capable of. But make sure they know that on any given night… they can beat anyone.
Bring ENERGY. Players respect coaches that work just as hard as they do. Make your enthusiasm and passion contagious. You don’t get what you know. You get what you bring. If you happen to be a younger, inexperienced coach (mentioned above in #1), your daily energy & enthusiasm can make up for your lack of acumen for the time being.
Use innovative drills. Gene Hackman’s famous line in Hoosiers (‘My practices aren’t designed for your enjoyment.’) doesn’t work with today’s player. Players have short attention spans. Boredom causes demotivation. It’s not your job to reinvent the wheel, but it is your job to constantly search for ways to get that wheel to run smoother and faster!
Be authentic. Players can spot a phony just as quickly as they can spot incompetence. Be true to yourself; don’t try to be someone else. If Brad Stevens tried to coach like Bobby Knight, it wouldn’t work. Coach to your strengths and create your own style, philosophy, and culture.
Love them. Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you truly care about your players, on and off the court, they will run through a brick wall for you. Literally.