The essence of coaching is not defined by the knowledge that the coach has. The essence of coaching is defined by how well the coach can cause a change in the behaviour of an athlete. In regards to skill learning, there are broadly two types of information a coach will impart:

  • New information: explanation of a concept;
  • Feedback: an evaluation of the athlete’s performance.

Positive and Constructive Attitude

In general, coaches should have a positive and constructive attitude. Their job is not to reprimand players when they do something wrong. Nor should the coach be in a bad mood, and they certainly should not insult players, make fun of them or ridicule them.

It can be difficult for a coach that has had a “bad day” to project a positive attitude when they really don’t feel positive. However, they must do it, just as they will equally demand that their players have a good attitude at training, even if they have had a bad day.

In most cases the attitude that you give to people is the attitude that you will receive – if the coach is positive, up-beat and enjoying themselves then it is likely their players will also have that attitude.

One practice that may assist coaches to always bring a positive attitude is to have a “worry tree”, which is a powerful visualization technique designed to allow them to focus on their team:

  • The coach chooses something that they will always walk past on the way to basketball (it could be a door, the car, a wall or a tree);
  • As they walk past they touch it. This is where the coach puts any “worries” that they have from outside of basketball;
  • As they leave practice or a game, the coach touches it again. This is where they “pick up” their outside worries again.

Whilst this may seem simplistic, it can be a very effective way to help to focus on the practice or game, without being distracted by other things that may be going on away from basketball.

During practice sessions, the coach´s job is to help the players achieve the established goals, and to do this, coaches must:

  • create a pleasant environment in which attractive and achievable challenges and positive comments predominate;
  • accept the fact that the players are not perfect and will therefore make mistakes. Indeed an important part of the learning process is to make mistakes;
  • realise that people learn differently. Some players can follow verbal instructions, others need to see it. A period of training will be necessary before the players assimilate and master the information they receive;
  • understand the impact of the stages of learning that everyone goes through as they learn new skills and use activities that are appropriate to the stage of learning of their players;
  • in regard to stages of learning, the coach must understand that the stages of learning are also contextual;
  • understand that each player learns at their own pace, and the coach must help each player. Sometimes this may require giving players different instructions within the same activity. For example, in a dribbling activity the coach may direct that the better players must dribble with their non-preferred hand whilst players less adept at the skill use their preferred hand;
  • always have a realistic perspective concerning what they can and should require of the players;
  • appreciate and emphasize the effort made by the players more than the results obtained;
  • notice and highlight improvements rather than defects. Use positive “action-oriented” language – tell the athletes what you want them to do, not what they have done wrong;
  • be patient when things do not turn out as expected and encourage the players to try again.

In regards to the stages of learning, coaches should be particularly aware that players may be at a reasonably advanced stage of learning of a skill in the context of training, but that they may be at an earlier stage of learning in the context of performing skills in the game. This can also change again when players move from one level of competition to another.

Players may lose confidence when they find they cannot perform skills in a game, which they felt they had “mastered” at training. In this situation, the coach may need to include activities at training that focus on that skill but in a more contested manner to attempt to simulate “game pressure”.