Defining the pieces in the puzzle

A program is like a jigsaw and the coach’s role is to communicate not only what the complete picture is but also what each of the pieces looks like. A coach is much more likely to garner support if they are specific about what they require. Having clarity about what a coach needs enables potential volunteers and helpers to evaluate whether or not they can commit the time and resources required and whether or not they have the right skills or experience.

It is also important that the coach understands the minimum level of support that they require and is clear about that. Accepting anything less than that can lead to more problems rather than providing the necessary support. For example, a coach may want an assistant coach, particularly to help at practice. This can be easily defined – e.g. two practices a week of two hours’ duration and 15 minutes before and after each practice. A total of 5 hours per week.

If someone offers support but can only attend one practice, the coach should not feel that they automatically have to accept and instead might explain that they need the help at both practices. Of course, in this example, they may still encourage that person to attend sessions whenever they can, whilst continuing to look for an assistant coach that can make the greater commitment.

Some things to consider in relation to how a coach demonstrates that they value a contribution:

Value Every Contribution

People perform best when they feel that their contribution is valued and they understand what it is that they are contributing towards. A simple “thank you” can be very motivating and coaches may do this verbally, by writing a short note or by acknowledging to the team a particular contribution that has been made.

Having a clear understanding of what support the coach wants will also help them to understand the importance of each contribution. Sometimes one task cannot be undertaken until an earlier task is completed and at other times something can be achieved more easily because of previous achievements.

  • Say please and thank you. Whenever you ask someone to undertake a task, you are asking them to prioritise your needs above everything else in their lives. The common courtesy of “please” and “thank you” is the least that you can do!
  • The more specific you can be about what you need, the more likely it is that you will get it.
  • Every volunteer deserves a “moment of your time”. Take time to speak to the people that support your program. When you truly don’t have time, explain this and ask if there is another time when you could talk?
  • Talk about them, not you! Ask if there is anything that you can do to help them? Ask what their goals from being involved in your program are and don’t assume that you know them. For example, a coach of a development program may want the local coaches to focus on something in particular. Simply asking “could you please make sure that you let Player X practice post moves” may not get a particularly supportive response. Instead, offer to run a clinic, or provide some information, about the teaching points you have for post players. Not only is this more likely to be effective, it is also more likely to have the local coaches implementing your teaching points.
  • Be aware of the effect that your program may have on another coach’s program. For example, you might only practice twice per week and want players to prioritise your practice over other programs, however if those practices are at the same time as games or practice the player has with another team, them always attending your practice would have a significant impact.

Who Can Help?

To help to identify possible sources of help, a coach should ask each player to provide an overview or summary of what other commitments they have not only to basketball but also any other sports and matters such as jobs, family and school.

Getting players to provide you with a simple diary of their activities can be a good way to get this information.

It can also help the coach to build their network. For example, one player on the team may also do athletics and by connecting with their athletics coach, the basketball coach may be able to provide some specific tuition in running for another player.

Coaches of young players should also not dismiss the role that parents can play in helping. Whether as an assistant coach at practice undertaking a simple role such as passing to shooters) or carrying out an administrative task (e.g. setting up a Facebook page for the team), parents are often the easiest people to recruit because they are already involved in the team through their child.

Some of the roles that a coach may need assistance with are:

  • Strength and conditioning – personal trainers, health clubs and other gyms may be able to assist.
  • Physiotherapy – whether for injury rehabilitation or prevention, a physiotherapist can help athletes to look after their bodies.
  • Team management – arranging uniforms, travel, pre/post game food and a host of other tasks
  • Stats – not official statistics (that may be provided by the league) but other statistics that mirror what the team has been practicing (for example, a team that has been working on help defence may want to keep track of how many times the opponent passed the ball from one side of the court to the other before shooting. The more times they passed the more pressure the defence has put on them).
  • Technical assistance – sometimes a coach may not be confident in teaching a particular topic. Asking another coach to come to their session and work on that topic not only helps the players to develop, it will also improve the ability of the coach to teach it next time.
The better people understand the aims of your program, the more likely it is that they will be willing to contribute to its success.