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Developing and Strengthening Relationships with Players

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I'll be the first to admit that I've been extremely fortunate over the span of my coaching career. My teams have won multiple conference, state, and region championships and my career winning percentage is over 80%. Our trophy case in our gym foyer is so full that we removed every trophy and plaque that had a 2nd or a 3rd on it in order to create more space.

However, whenever I am asked about my career or about some of the great teams I've been fortunate to coach, I never think in terms of trophies, banners, or even championships. Instead whenever I reflect back on my career I think of all the great relationships that I've developed with my players and I marvel at how many of those friendships are still intact years later.

Regardless of what the scoreboard says, if you want to feel like a true winner then make a conscious effort to develop strong relationships with each and every one of your players. Here are a few suggestions to help you do just that:

Be Respectful of Every Player

At first you may not love every one of your players and you might not even like some of them but it is imperative that you treat every player with respect from the very first minute you meet him. So many of these young players are talked down to by every adult they know and so if you treat them like an equal they will appreciate you forever. Of course when you are on the court you should be in complete control but off the court it can be a different story. Ask them about their classes, their friends, the music they listen to, and about other things that are important to them. Really listen to their answers and don't be judgmental, no matter how much their answers and opinions differ from your own.

Stay Poised and in Control of your Emotions

Let's face it - your players are occasionally going to make mistakes and bad decisions. It's a given and it's going to happen. How you react to those mistakes can very well set the tone for your entire relationship so make sure you react appropriately. Remember, if you want to get rid of a fly you use a flyswatter not a bazooka.

When a player comes to you to explain a mistake he has made or a situation he has gotten himself in to your first reaction should not and cannot be to yell and scream and cuss at him. Help him solve the problem first - there will be plenty of time to be mad later!

Inspire Instead of Motivate

External motivation is always temporary and so the only lasting motivation must come from within. Instead, inspire your players by helping them see the big picture and by creating a standard of excellence for them to live up to and to use to measure their performance. Help them want to be better players, better students, and better people.

Consistently Walk the Walk

The life of a young athlete is full of ups and downs and changes and contradictions. Even their best friends are fickle and borderline bipolar. You must be a rock; the anchor that they can always count on when everything else around them seems to be different every day. If you want your players to work hard then you work hard. If you want them to be friendly and personable then you be friendly and personable. If you want them to take school seriously then you take your job seriously (especially if you work at the school). In other words, you be what you want your players to become!

Treat Your Players like Family

Let everyone on the team know that you care about them as people and not just as basketball players. Take them to watch college or professional games. Go bowling. Play whiffle ball. Invite two players over to your house for dinner every Sunday and let them get to know you and your family while you get to know them. Of course, once in a while families disagree with each other and at other times some discipline is necessary but at the end of the day everyone still loves each other and has each other's backs.

Remember It's all about the Players

This might be the most important part of establishing strong and lasting relationships with your players. The players are not there for you - you are there for your players. You are to coach them, teach them, mentor them, guide them, and strive to give them the best experience possible. Years from now they're not going to remember many specifics but they will remember you and they will remember if their experience was a good one or not. As long as you remember that it's not about you but about the players everything will work out fine and you will be a successful coach.

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