An effective coach checks for understanding, making certain that the message delivered was the message received. It is important to talk with all players, not just those who play significant roles. No matter how effective they are or how important their role is, every player must be treated with respect. Having occasional meetings with lower echelon players is helpful to them and the team. When there isn’t time to meet with them formally, a pleasant greeting and asking how they are doing is a good way to connect with them. The coach is responsible, at least in part, for the emotional condition of the players. And neglected players can cause disruptions within the team if they are perceived to be unimportant.
Pre-game meetings are also necessary for most games. They should be as brief as possible, preferably no more than ten minutes. Don’t allow players and assistant coaches to continue conversations once you begin talking. Making them take a knee is an effective way to get attention. And be careful not to talk too much about the opponent. What your team does is much more important that what the opposition does. Talk about the keys to victory-the three or four things that the team must focus on and achieve to succeed in the game. If the team appears to lack energy, that is the time to appeal to their emotions. Fiery pre-game speeches should be used when a team is about to play an opponent that they don’t respect or when in a game that is considered to be unimportant. When the opponent is of high quality or when the game is important, that is when the coach should seek to create confidence and calmness within players.
During games a coach’s demeanor affects players. The best thing a coach can do on the bench is encourage and exhort rather than criticize. The best time to be harsher or more demanding is when things are going well. Conversely, the best time to soften up is when things are going badly. During breaks, the first order of business is to make sure that players are settled, are trying to relax, and are hydrating. Next, the assistant coach(es) should be consulted about what has happened in the game. Big-picture items should be assessed followed by little-picture concerns. These questions should be answered:
- How hard is the team working?
- How well are players executing simple plays?
- Who’s playing well tonight?
- What is the other team doing that is creating difficulty for us or that we can take advantage of?
After answering these questions, the coach should choose one to three items to present, and should have a short talk with the team before play resumes.
After the game, praise should be given, if the team played well. Constructive criticism should be saved for the next practice. When in doubt, don’t spit it out. A coach shouldn’t say anything until (s)he has had a chance to analyze the team’s play.