September 20, 2009 • FeaturesFrom the BenchWinning Hoops

Preparing to coach an inexperienced, bad team

If you’re coaching for very long, at some point you’ll probably coach an inexperienced, bad team.

One of your greatest challenges as a coach is to turn a losing season into a fun and enjoyable experience for all involved. I faced this situation as a high school coach, and after some self-reflection realized that I didn’t provide that particular team with an enjoyable experience.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of coaches who get burned-out and give up coaching after a few bad years because it isn’t enjoyable anymore. The following list offers coaches some valuable tips on dealing with a team that’s struggling.

1. Schedule light. Play teams you’ll have a chance of success against.

2. Lower expectations for the season. Don’t set unattainable goals based on the expectations of your past teams. Understand what your team is capable of, and set your sights accordingly.

3. Simplify. Run the flex instead of motion, or straight up man-to-man instead of pressure man-to-man. Keep things simple offensively and defensively. This allows players to improve throughout the season and make noticeable improvements.

4. Play a style that keeps you competitive. Select a style of play that best fits your team. This allows you to keep games close, and it gives your team a chance to win at the end.

5. Cut down on game goals. Make your team’s goals for each game attainable and based more on improvements and effort rather than winning.

6. Cut down on conditioning. Don’t run your players into the ground when it isn’t going to make a significant difference anyway.

7. Give more days off. In a losing season, more breaks are necessary than during a winning season — mentally more so than physically. Don’t allow your practices to become uninspired and mundane.

8. Remain positive. Don’t beat a dead horse. The losing is hard enough on the players, and they don’t need negative criticism on top of it. Find small successes and celebrate your improvements.

9. Do more fun things. Try movies, bowling or ice cream parties. It’s your job as coach to make basketball fun for your players. It’s a lot easier when you are winning championships, but a good coach finds other ways to make the season fun when necessary.

10. Talk less about history and tradition. Talk more about improving and having fun. Don’t put the pressure from past successes on your players’ shoulders. They’re already aware of the tradition and history of success in the program.

11. Make it a positive experience. Don’t let yourself or your players burn-out. Each season must be fun for the players and the coaches alike. Building a bad reputation for your program makes it difficult to recruit new players down the road.

12. Eliminate bad attitudes. A losing season certainly isn’t the time to allow “bad apples” on your team. Eliminate any discontented players early, or their attitudes become infectious as the season wears on.

13. Develop young player’s skills. While making the season a positive experience for all players, build for the future so you don’t have a similar season next year. Keep your eye on the long term.

14. Continue to learn and improve as a coach. Watch college practices, read books, scan articles, attend clinics and watch videos. This makes you feel better about yourself and allows you to grow as a coach instead of questioning your abilities.

15. Do more individual and family activities. In a winning season, basketball provides a great deal of fulfillment. In a losing season, you need to find that fulfillment at home and not in the gym.

16. Avoid negative feelings. You owe it to your players to remain upbeat. Being negative won’t lead to more wins.

17. Find personal balance in life outside of basketball. Take up another hobby, such as golfing, fishing or working out. Now, more than ever, you’ll need non-basketball releases to provide personal balance. Don’t dwell on this team and this season. Just do your best and realize that’s good enough.

18. Stay in shape. Work out all year and feel good about yourself. Exercise is one of the key factors for avoiding stress and burn-out. Maintain a balanced diet, and get plenty of sleep.

19. If burned out, take a break. You owe it to yourself and your players. If you’re not excited about the season, take a year off (if possible) and recharge your batteries. Move up an assistant coach who would probably be excited to be your team’s head coach for a year. Don’t coach a season when you’re burned out. It will more than likely be your last season if you do.