Coaching Basketball: Establishing Your Philosophy and Priorities
– By Jeff Haefner

To be an effective basketball coach, the first thing you need to do is establish your philosophy and priorities.
This might sound silly. Nevertheless, this very important step allows you to apply very effective coaching techniques.
Here’s how it works…
You see, the most effective way to get the results you want is to emphasize the “right” things.
It’s all about what you emphasize!

Players really notice this.

If you consistently emphasize and talk about rebounding, passing the ball, and playing the right way, then
you’re players will pick up on those things.
For example: At the very first team meeting, you might want to tell your players that you already know who two of the starters will be. The first starter will be the best defensive player on the team. And the second starter will be the best rebounder on the team. (This will get their attention!)

It’s all about what you emphasize! If you’re constantly talking about rebounding, you’re players will pick up on that and become good rebounders.

You’ll notice that they start talking about it. They might say something to another teammate like, “Hey, make sure you block out and get the rebound!” Or you might hear, “Hey coach, how many rebounds did I get today?”

If you constantly emphasize rebounding and defense, then you will probably have a team that is really good at defense and rebounding.

This concept is very simple, yet extremely important and very powerful.

Most coaches make the mistake of emphasizing the wrong things or emphasizing too many things. They end up getting poor results.

I know everything seems important but you just can’t emphasize everything.

It’s much more effective if you pick a few important things and primarily focus on those things. Just ask any successful college or NBA coach. They’ll tell you the same thing because that’s where I learned the concept.

In the business world, we use a similar concept. We often talk about “Focusing on the critical few, versus the trivial many.” Whether it’s business or basketball, it’s an effective concept.

How Do You Decide What to Emphasize?
Here’s what you need to do…

First, ask your self a few questions.

  • What are your coaching goals?
  • What are the most important things for you to teach?
  • What do you really want your players to get out of this experience?
  • What does your team need to be really good at to be successful?
  • How will you define a successful season or team?

Write down whatever comes to mind.

It’s important to get this stuff on paper because you’ll ultimately need to document these things and give it to your players.

To give you some ideas, here are a few things you might want to emphasize…

Playing the right way.

Now let’s take things a step further.

What is your coaching philosophy?
In other words, what are your priorities in life?

This goes in line with what you emphasize to your team but it’s not about specific basketball skills, like rebounding. It’s about much more important things.

As a basketball coach, you have a VERY important responsibility.

You have a bunch of young players that look up to you. Believe it or not, they listen to you.

In addition, you have an opportunity to have an impact on their life!!

Think about it.

You’re in a very powerful position. Most teachers would do anything to have the power that you have. Many of their kids could care less about what they are teaching. Heck, many of the students don’t even want to come to class.

However, your players actually look forward to practice and games. These kids actually come to you and want to play basketball. They enjoy it. They are passionate about it.

Here is just a few of the things that players might be expecting from you:

Learn new or better skills.
Wins, yes, they want to win.

Notice that fun is on the list twice. Unless you’re a professional coach or a college coach with scholarships, your players certainly didn’t join the team to have a bad time. Honestly, they probably didn’t join to learn life lessons either but they will learn life lessons from you whether you intend to teach them or not.

Your choice is, what life lessons do you want them to learn and how.

Everything that you do and say will make an impression on them.

You have an unbelievable opportunity to teach them so much about life and basketball.

You probably don’t realize it, but the things you say without a second thought can stick with a kid for LIFE!

Think back to all of the coaches that you had in your life. You remember every one of them don’t you?

Of course you do.

I do too.

I remember so many little things about my basketball days. I remember the coach praising me. I remember the coach yelling at me. I can remember his exact words. I remember whether the coach had confidence in me or not. I remember believing everything that my coach told me, whether he was right or wrong.

Don’t overlook the power of your position.

Some of the things you say and do can have a positive effect on these kids for life!

So what can you do about that?

Decide how you want to affect them. What message do you want to communicate?

Consider this interesting coaching tactic…

I knew a truly successful coach whose number one goal was to communicate and emphasize teamwork.

He communicated it in practice verbally. He reinforced it with drills. Every single time someone passed the ball, he offered praise. In fact, it was the only time he offered praise.

Even more impressive to me as a parent was how he handled the games. Regardless of whether the kids won the game or not, he reacted exactly the same way — every time! He praised the teamwork efforts.

He didn’t criticize the players for not passing the ball but he didn’t praise them for single handedly scoring either. He only praised for teamwork. The players that showed more of an effort to work as a team played more during games.

When the kids lost a game, he wouldn’t say, “I’m sorry that you lost.” When they won a game, he wouldn’t say “Congratulations” or “Good Job.”

He only pointed out the teamwork efforts.

Now this team did manage to win a majority of their games. Do you know why? Because they worked together as a team. (And because he emphasized the fundamentals.)

How did the kids react? They strived to work together as a team. Even the showboats!

Document Your Priorities

Decide how you want to affect your team, what message you want to communicate to them and write it down. Document your coaching philosophy, goals, and what you want to emphasize.

You need to get your priorities in order first if you want to be able to communicate them well. Once you’ve accomplished this, then you can get your players priorities in order.

To give you an idea, Morgan Wooten, the basketball coach with the most wins in high school history, had the following priorities:


He then made sure his players understand those priorities. He emphasized those priorities all year long.

I personally like to take things a little further. I have similar priorities but I write down the “life lessons” I want to teach the kids for that year.

For example, some of the things I often try to teach and emphasize are:

Playing the right way: playing fairly, playing hard, doing your best.
Telling the truth and being honest is more important than anything, including basketball.
How to take responsibility for their actions
Helping others – Get them to realize that just one person saying to you, “You’ve made my day!” makes your day too.
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% attitude – it’s what you make of it.

These are just a couple examples. I know I can’t teach everything, especially in one year, but if I can just teach a couple important “life lessons”, then I know that I’ve had a positive impact on this young persons life.

These are all things that will teach the kids how to be successful in life.

Now make sure you write down your coaching philosophy and the important things you want to emphasize. Keep those things with you at all times. Look at them before every practice.

This will help you stay focused and emphasize the right things.


How to Improve Team Bonding and Teach an Important Lesson

– By Jeff Haefner

We suggest that all coaches (especially youth coaches) incorporate “life lessons” into their basketball practices.

Ironically, the “life lesson” we’d like to share with you today also helps improve team bonding! So it’s a win – win for everyone involved.

Before getting into the specifics, I’d first like to explain what we mean by “life lessons” and why you should use them in your practices…

We believe it’s important to consciously teach “life lessons” because not only will this help you win more games — but more importantly this sets a good example for your players and helps them develop into happy and successful people.

Whether you realize it or not, basketball coaches have a HUGE influence on their players. You have an opportunity to have a very positive impact on something much bigger and more important than basketball.

By teaching these “life lessons” you also improve your basketball team and win more games. But that’s not the intent. The intent is just to do the “right thing” as a basketball coach. Winning is simply a pleasant by-product of doing the “right thing”.

In this article, we’ll be discussing one specific “life lesson” that is very important and also improves team bonding!

But before we get into that, let’s further explain what exactly we mean by “life lessons”.

What is a life lesson?

You can actually call it whatever you want – laws of life, truths of life, keys to success, or whatever you prefer.

But when we say “life lessons”, we are referring to ideals to live by. These are the things that are truly important in life. These are the things that make people truly successful and happy.

For example, some of the following ideals and concepts are traits you’ll find in truly happy and highly successful people:

  • Honesty – always tell the truth
  • Be proactive (life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it)
  • Work hard
  • Dedication
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  • Getting your priorities straight (family, school, etc)
  • Don’t complain; focus your energy on the positive things.

Of course, there are more but this gives you the idea.

Now let’s get into a specific lesson you can teach that helps improve your team bonding.

The core of the lesson is to simply teach your players the joy of giving and serving others. This is a very simple thing.

One of the truths in life is that great happiness and success comes from giving and serving others. You’ll rarely find a genuinely happy person that doesn’t give out to others and provides a positive to impact in other people’s lives.

You can easily help your players discover this joy by arranging a team project. You simply organize an event where your team provides a service to others.

There are thousands of ways that your team can provide a great service to the community and humanity.

You could raise money for sick kids. You could volunteer to serve food to homeless people. You could have your team visit a children’s hospital. You could even have your players teach a group of less privileged kids the joy of basketball. Provide a camp for young kids that can’t afford to pay.

Let me tell you a story about my daughter that illustrated how this concept can have a profound effect….

One day after work, I asked my three year old daughter if she wanted to do something nice for mom. She said yes! So without my wife knowing, we went to the flower shop and picked out some flowers. We then went home and with a big smile on her face, my daughter carried in the flowers and gave them to her mother. It was big a surprise. They both had HUGE smiles on their faces. It was such a small thing but I think my daughter is getting hooked on the idea of doing something nice to make others happy. It was a big hit!

This is the same concept for your team. You just need to figure out a way to put your players in a genuine situation to make someone else happy. It’s contagious.

There are tons of websites out there to give you ideas. Here are just a few websites but you should also submit your ideas at the end of this article too.

The key to make this work is to put your players in a situation where they can help someone and then see the look on the other persons face. If you get a genuine smile going both directions, it was successful. But in order for it to be genuine, your players need to believe and buy into the cause.

For some players, this small experience can stimulate them to continue helping others on their own. For other players, this won’t sink in until they are adults and mature enough to understand the joy of giving.

Either way, almost all players will remember the event because it’s such a unique and positive thing.

They feel good about it and since everyone on your team was involved they develop an unspoken bond.

The type of team bonding this can potentially produce is priceless!

Give it a shot and don’t procrastinate. All coaches should teach the joy of giving.

It might sound cheesy, but it works. You have the opportunity to do something positive. So do it!


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