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Coaches Corner: Teaching Techniques

Coaches Corner: Teaching Techniques

  • Date:
    May 7, 2020

Among the wealth of information available online in the USA Basketball Youth Development Guidebook are five teaching techniques that can help you navigate your role as an effective coach and leader.


Behavior management is the focus on maintaining order and behavior with a group or an individual. As a basketball coach or administrator, you will find an infinite amount of personalities, behaviors, and mentalities on your team, in your camp or clinic and throughout your organization. Without effective behavior management techniques, it is impossible to keep athletes focused on training, practices, games or other team activities. By keeping athletes engaged, you will find that group activities can be effective and efficient.

The key to effective behavior management is to develop clear and concise expectations for each and every member of the group. Try to include your athletes and parents in this development process as much as possible while still maintaining your authority as the leader. It is very important that everyone in the program is involved in upholding the set expectations. Also, the group should discuss and agree upon the repercussions for not maintaining expectations.  Any player, coach, parent or staff member who fails to behave accordingly should be held accountable for their actions. The decided course of action must be performed by the coach as the leader, in order for the message to resonate throughout the program.

By establishing clear and concise expectations in your organization, and by following up with appropriate action when those expectations aren’t met, you will instill a sense of personal responsibility in others for their behavior. This will set a consistent tone and help alleviate challenges that arise within your program.


Having compassion for oneself is no different than having compassion for others. Just like recognizing and acknowledging when someone else is going through a difficult circumstance, self-compassion is the ability to recognize and accept your own difficult circumstances. As defined by researcher Kristen Neff, self-compassion is made up of three main components: mindfulness of your own thoughts, a sense of common humanity and treating yourself kindly. Applied to coaching, self-compassion involves giving young players opportunities to learn how to deal with their emotions.

Things will not always go the way your players would like them to. Use these five techniques to instill self-compassion in your players so that they can understand the good and bad moments in basketball, as well in life:

  • Take time to teach players the truth that, no matter what they try to control, life will always be made up of highs and lows. Getting them to accept this reality sets the foundation for dealing with issues that arise.
  • Listen to your players emphatically to help them label what they are feeling. For example: “It sounds like you are feeling aggravated.” “Did the situation make you angry?” Young people need to trust that you are hearing them.
  • Honestly critique the player’s behavior within a situation, but don’t criticize the player’s overall character. For example: “That situation caused us to lose possession of the ball, you can do better than that.” is far more effective than saying, “You never listen.”
  • Speak to a player’s past behavior but shape the future of the behavior with action. An example would be discussing the ramifications of a past turnover, and then next practice working extensively on technique to prevent future mistakes.
  • Model self-compassion by showing composure when you are faced with unfavorable situations. Coaches with self-compassion are better liked, have higher standards and present a greater work ethic to those that follow them.


It is important that all coaches understand the differences between the terms critique and criticism. A critique is an evaluation or an assessment of a particular skill. An example of a critique would be assessing how effectively a player can use their strong and weak hand during a lay-up drill. Criticism is expressing disapproval of someone based on a mistake that they have made. An example of criticism would be simply telling a right-handed player that they are awful at left-handed lay-ups. Knowing the difference in these terms is crucial in teaching and evaluating players in youth basketball.

While coaching young people, it is essential to consider the psyche of the players that you are coaching. It has been proven at all levels that players are more likely to build long-term confidence in their game after receiving positive feedback as opposed to negative feedback. For the sake of the lesson, let’s say that Michael just completed a basic lay-up drill session. During the drill, Michael makes 15 righthanded lay-ups and only 2 left-handed lay-ups.

An example of critiquing would be communicating to Michael that you have noticed he did extremely well on his right-handed lay-ups and that, with proper practice, his left-hand will perform just as well. The comment would confidently motivate Michael into training for the long-term on his left-hand lay-ups. An example of criticism would be telling Michael that his left-handed lay-ups are useless, and that he’s wasting his time in trying them. This comment can only produce poor results for Michael, his progress as a player, and for you as his coach.

It is important that, as coaches, we strive to critique athletes instead of criticizing them. The method used to provide feedback to players will instill long-term confidence to excel on and off the court and encourage them to stay active in the game.


One of the most difficult challenges coaches face is establishing positive behavior within the team. Whether it is personality conflicts, playing time, parental concerns or win/loss records, it is difficult for coaches to maintain a positive culture in the program. In order to establish a culture that promotes positive behavior, you must establish clear and concise expectations of behavior from day one. All coaches, players and personnel must be involved in the process of establishing guidelines for the team and help develop the repercussions if said rules were violated. It is important that you maintain a positive attitude with the team, and players should be recognized for demonstrating positive behavior. By having clear and concise expectations, involving the players in the process and commending positive behavior, you will produce a positive atmosphere for your team.


As a coach, it is important to require that each player set personal goals for themselves. The team or group also must establish a set of goals to accomplish throughout their time together. Goal setting is choosing the skills and concepts that a player or a team wishes to accomplish throughout a set period of time. By setting attainable goals, the team will have a focus and motivation on the areas in which they need to improve upon. This provides everyone with a series of finish lines to cross. Once the individual or team has achieved the goal, then they can build upon these skills to set more rigorous goals.

In order to implement goals, coaches must facilitate discussion with the team or group and the individual. There are three steps that should go into goal setting:

  • While it may seem obvious, insist that players discuss why they chose the established goal(s). For example, while watching film, a team realized that they do not rebound well. The team decides to focus on rebounding to improve on a deficiency. Remind players of the reasoning while working toward the goal.
  • The player or the team must identify the actions they will take to achieve this goal. For example, the team decides they will make a concentrated effort to box out an opponent on every shot attempt.
  • Focus players on what they would like to achieve in a specified amount of time. For example, during drill work, set a requirement that the team must secure 3 rebounds in a row before moving to the next drill.

By following each of the steps, players will grow, teams will grow and growth will take place in areas other than wins and losses. As coaches, we must continue to encourage all players and teams to set realistic goals and make constant plans to achieve those goals.

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