October 5, 2020 • From the BenchWinning Hoops

Five Keys To Enhancing Relationships Within the Team

by Kevin Weigand, contributing writer

I recently heard the quote “players will go to battle for one  another when they know there is love and mutual respect present.” As I reflected on this, I realized how true it is. I also thought about how this mutual respect and love is not something that develops during the heat of the moment in a close ball game. This takes time and effort to develop the same as it does in any quality interpersonal relationship.

My focus in this article is to show why it is important for players and coaches to get to know one another off the court, as well as strategies for developing these connections.

Why Players And Coaches Must Get To Know One Another        

Teams spend a lot of time together. Depending on the situation, the members of the team may spend more time with one another than they will spend with their families. I have noticed that with the growth of AAU and travel basketball programs, high school teams travel together quite often the way college teams do. Having harmony within the organization will make for greater enjoyment on and off the court.

Being exposed to a team is a great lesson for kids and teenagers because this notion of team does not apply to sports alone. Ultimately when players finish their playing careers they will work on teams and effective communication is important for all teams to shine. Coaches have a great opportunity to point this out to their players. Coaches can also create opportunities to enhance teamwork and communication.

Photo: Jill C. Carlson / Creative Commons

When teams get to truly know one another they learn how to bring out the best in one another. There are going to be moments when certain players will struggle and their teammates need to give them a hug or a high five and say, “I got you.” There will be other moments when team members may have to get on one another to say, “You are better than that. We need your best if we are going to be successful.” When team members get to know one another and care about each other it spreads a positive message too about the culture of the program. 

Strategies For Developing Connections

While I believe there are multiple ways to do this, I have outlined the ones I am most familiar with. I believe coaches need to know their players and understand how best to develop these relationships. I also believe coaches should be open to trying new things as this is an ongoing process.

1). Let the players get to know you: Coaches need to let the players know about who they are as a person off the court. This could involve sharing opportunities about their past playing experiences, telling them about past educational experiences, and other things they are interested in such as particular movies. I have found it valuable to share information about past experiences that I was able to learn from. When players see you as a person and know that you value them as a person they begin to look at the program as something that stands for more than just wins and losses. They identify you as a person that wants to make a profound impact on their lives. 

2). Talk time – Topics of Conversation: Set aside time for players to talk about topics that are important such as friendship. One time as an assistant coach the team I was working with was talking about this topic. We had a player on this team who had started as a freshman. Though she got along with everyone the previous season she hug her. From that moment on, we noticed increased interaction between her and her teammates who now made it a point to include her in activities off the court.  

3). Goal – Setting Sheets: Early in my coaching career I had the opportunity to meet with a coach who shared with me a goal setting sheet he created with his players. Not only did he use this with his players, he had one himself that he used. On this sheet he had players set specific goals that he wanted players to set in their personal lives, academic lives, and on the basketball court. He also spoke to them about strategies they could implement to bring about these changes. He met with the players individually before the season, during the season, and at the end of the season. He would frequently check in with them too to see how things were going. During the meetings, he also shared his progress concerning meeting his goals. He wanted his players to know that they were in this together and goal-setting was a lifelong process, not something reserved exclusively for ones academic and athletic careers.

4). Fundraising Opportunities: When I was an assistant girls basketball coach, we had to fundraise often to raise money for our high school and travel ball seasons. Our best fundraiser was when we waited outside of the local supermarket to collect donations. This was not always a favorite activity for our players due to the hot weather. However, they knew we needed to do it and always obliged. As a coaching staff, we tried to find ways to make this fun. We would sing songs as a team, ask the team to play a game called categories in which would say an item such as cars, and each team member would state the name of a car without repeating what was said. We also made it a point to take the team out for a meal at the nearby McDonald’s after their respective shifts. We let them lead the conversation and often it was about current events going on in their lives.     

5). Your Why Factor: I have heard of coaches who have given their players a writing assignment in which they were asked to comment on their “why factor.” This why factor could relate to basketball, but could also pertain to other academic and personal areas. Knowing the why factors of your players will help the coach to better understand, relate to, and motivate players. For example, a player may have had a death in the family and is playing the sport to honor this cherished relative. Perhaps the coach had a similar experience. Having such knowledge could enable the coach to better relate to the player through a shared experience. 

Though we as coaches do have to implement discipline and tough love as needed, we need to create an environment within our programs in which players get to know one another and in which interpersonal communication is a constant. I hope the ideas presented here will be beneficial to you and your program. I wish you all the best. Please contact me at [email protected] with any questions you may have. 

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