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How to Keep a Strong Player-Coach Relationship

  • Author:
    By Alan Stein, CCS, CSCS
  • Date:
    Jan 8, 2018

I truly believe that everything in life comes down to relationships. Everything. To be successful in any walk of life, from basketball to business, you have to know how to build and maintain solid relationships. As author Jeffrey Gitomer said, "Quality relationships lead to success, wealth, and fulfillment." On some level, isn't that what we all want out of life?

Sometimes I think basketball players and coaches take this for granted and forget how important it is to have a sound relationship with each other, both on and off the court.

While there are numerous relationships that directly affect and impact basketball players and coaches, I will focus more specifically on their relationship with each other. The player to coach (and coach to player) relationship is fundamental for ultimate success on the court. There are several components to any quality relationship, but the characteristics I am going to focus on between coaches and players are respect, trust, communication, and compromise.

The Player's Role

How many times have you heard a player use their coach as a scapegoat for why they aren't successful? "I would play more but the coach doesn't like me" or "My coach is an idiot, I am a shooting guard and he is making me run the point."

These are just excuses. As a player, whether in high school, college, or the NBA, your coach is your boss. Your coach is the CEO of your team and program. And as the old saying goes, "the boss signs the paychecks." That means the coach is in charge, period. The sooner you acknowledge that the better.

With that said, as a player, if you truly want to maximize your ability and development, increase your playing time, and increase your chance to play at the next level, it is in your best interest to have a superb relationship with your coach. That doesn't mean you have to agree with everything they do, but you have to do your part to contribute to the relationship.

Do you ask your coach if you can stay after practice so you can get up more shots? Do you thank him if he says yes? If you aren't playing a lot, do you ask your coach what you need to work on to get more minutes? Do you show your coach the same respect you show your parents or the principal of your school? Do you listen with your eyes and your ears when the coach is speaking at practice or team meetings? Have you earned your coach's trust and respect?

Do you know much about your coach outside of basketball? Does he/she have any kids? What do they like to do aside from basketball? If you are currently a basketball player, at any level, and feel there is some strain in your relationship with your head coach, I challenge you to take the first step in mending things. Trust me; it will go a long way and ultimately, will help you in the end. And if you feel as though your coach is unapproachable, or you are really in the dog house, is there an assistant coach you can speak with to help mediate things? If you currently have a great relationship with your coach, congratulations, make sure you thank them and let them know how much you appreciate them.

The Coach's Role

Most coaches have noble intentions. I have never met a basketball coach, at any level, who does it solely for the money. They coach because they love basketball and enjoy working with young people.

But times have changed with today's technology, even in the 15 years since I was in high school. While many coaches have sincere intentions, I know plenty that don't make the effort necessary to really understand the youth of today.

I think a coach's primary job description should be to be an exemplary role model and provide an atmosphere for the student-athlete to take full advantage of their basketball potential. A coach should be a teacher of the game. A coach should be a motivator. A coach should be a mentor. And while it is not the coach's job to be "friends" with his players, I do think coaches should make every attempt to show his players he cares about them as people; not just as basketball players.

As a coach, whether at a small high school or a major university, you should get to know your players, know what is going on in their life, find out what makes them tick, and do your best to stay up with the times. How well do you know your players' families or girlfriends? Do you know how to text message or what Facebook even is? Do you know what kind of music your players listen to? Do you know what their goals and dreams are?

And while I will reiterate, it is not the coach's job to be friends with his players nor try to emulate them in how they dress or speak, but a coach should make every attempt to be likeable and show that he cares. Kids will always play harder for someone they like as well as someone they know cares about them.

If you get on your kids really hard when they don't play well, do you balance that out with encouragement and praise when they do? It has been my experience that kids crave discipline as long as it comes from someone they care about. It is important for a coach to understand, especially when dealing with today's kids, that respect and trust have to be earned, they aren't automatic like they were 15 years ago. A player is not going to respect you just because you are the coach; you have to earn their respect through the way you carry yourself and the way you treat them.

Even though it might not be your taste, respect the way the way they walk, talk, and dress. And if you truly want your players to work hard for you every day, then you need to work just as hard for them. Put effort into your practice plans, scouting reports, and team functions. Come in early and stay late. The more you do for your players, the more they will do for you.

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