5 Instincts Student-Athletes Detect from their Head Coach

Kids want to be successful. I know heading to college I aspired and dreamed of what I wanted to accomplish in my four years. These kids will also put in the work required to be successful. This generation of kids are eager to learn and driven to accomplish great things. I do believe how coaches contribute to that success can elevate or denounce a kid and their confidence. They want to trust their coaches are going to put in the work to help them achieve success. I was blessed with coaches that helped me grow in all areas of life. I credit them for giving me better ways to think and analyze while setting the blocks for me to pursue the goals I wanted to accomplish as a player and now as a coach.  In my experience as a player, my short time as a graduate assistant, talking with other student-athletes and through my in-depth observations, I have witnessed and experienced first-hand what players sense from their coaches. Below I write about 5 instincts–athletes intuition–that athletes detect from their coaches that can help or hurt the culture of your program and undermine trust. Understand that all five of these can also be viewed the other way around which, in return, are positive.

 1. Being Shady

The first instinct I will dive into that players can detect from their coaches is the act of being shady. In other words, they know when a coach is telling the truth or not. Kids want communication but they want the RIGHT communication. These days with kids it is not what you say but how you say it or not saying anything at all.  You almost cannot win with them because if you do not say something they get angry but if you say it at the wrong time or with the wrong tone they also get upset. Timing is key. Players want feedback but that’s all part of getting to know them and how they respond.  Females tend to be a little more on the sensitive side so deliverance is a crucial component. I am very guilty of being sensitive at times. If I would have just taken the tone out, and heard the actual message, I know I would have grown up a lot quicker and would have been able to respond faster to what I was being told to be to. Once that is established – you know how to approach situations with them and are upfront – that is when you gain their trust.

2. Lack of TRUST/Confidence

This is probably the biggest detection players have on coaches that has the longest and most negative effect on them. This comes with a better understanding when you know your players and how receptive they are to what you are saying and how you are coming across. Some are very good at taking hard criticism and others are the total opposite. This is really important to when coaching young women. To reiterate, women are more likely to be sensitive and you must be very aware in their constant changing of emotions.

Players can sense when you lack confidence in them which can be shown in many ways. One way is simply the words that you choose to use with your players. Degrading athletes in practice, in front of their teammates, is a fast way to lose respect from that individual as well as other players. Trust within the program will also start to deplete. Another way is how you react to things and your expressions to them. If a kid shoots a shot but you didn’t want them shooting, a simple hand gesture that gives the “why did you shoot that” expression becomes evident. It is important to trust your players before you have to or may want to, but also assist them in earning that trust. This helps the athletes grow and understand that it is a big responsibility to gain trust and an even bigger one to keep it, but it is also ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

3. Intentions

Players want their coaches to have the best intentions for them, whether that is reflected in playing time or not. Sometimes playing a kid for your benefit can end up backfiring on you. While the kid still had a great career, they felt used and did not feel like you cared about them. I like to believe its well known that with great players and wins on the right side of the column, coaches can benefit and are often offered better jobs. Players seek pure intentions. What does that mean? From my perspective, it means being there for them when they might be going through adversity. Kids are resilient but also stubborn and sometimes think they can get though a rough time all on their own. It helps to know a coach is aware of it and is willing to be there to help them through it. This also means being honest regardless of the circumstances. If the kids aren’t good enough to get minutes on the floor, then let them know. Some kids may contribute to your team in ways they do not fully understand, but must not measure their value based solely off minutes played. Just make sure you let them know what they can do to get better and make sure you are noticing their improvement because they just want to be the best they can be.

4. Favoritism

This one is BIG. One thing that players hate to hear from their coaches is that they do not have favorites. One, it’s a lie, and two, it takes away credibility from you as a coach. It is crucial as a coach to not even bring up favoritism for multiple reasons. It can negatively affect team chemistry. Kids can get jealous and girls in particular don’t talk through stuff very well. They get mad and talk to others but don’t address the issue they have with the person they are mad at. This result can backfire and become a bigger issue than it needs to be. It is important to do your best to equally love and care for your players and find similar interests with them individually. Finding off court connections with your athletes will help with bonding and understanding players off the court, which is often positively reflected on the court. For example, I was and still am close to my college assistants so there is a couple I can talk to about anything, but it took a couple years for me and my head coach to really get an understanding of each other. I am reserved and don’t talk very much to people I don’t know very well. I observe and sit back and it takes a while for me to get comfortable. After a couple years, my coach and I finally found something we both shared an interest in: Reading. We started sharing books we read and would give each other recommendations. I truly believe that was the stepping stone in our relationship which helped elevate our trust for each other on the court. The point is, even if you do have favorites, which everyone does, do your best not to show it.

5. BS (Bullshitting)

First of all, excuse my language. (I started this blog to be as open and honest as possible and that may include some explicit language from time to time so I apologize in advance). This area encompasses all the previous points I have discussed. Players can see right through a coach that lies to them or only tells them what they WANT to hear, while avoiding what they NEED to hear. As a player, I would always say stuff under my breath if I thought something was not true and now as a coach, I totally see players’ faces change when they know a coach is undeniably lying to them.  This is rule 101 in coaching. Being authentic and vulnerable shows your kids that not only do you care but you are willing to be human and understand that you aren’t perfect and make mistakes. Telling players you don’t have favorites, your intention not being pure, lacking trust and confidence in your kids, and being shady all attribute to one category… BS. At the end of the day do not bullshit your players. They are smarter than you think.