4.1.4 Communication with Players During Games
During a game, the coach ́s behaviour can decisively influence the players’ performance, either positively or negatively. How should they behave so that their players do their best and make the game a beneficial experience?
Below are some suggestions for differentiating between active periods (when the game is playing) and pauses in the game (periods when play is stopped - after a personal foul, time- outs, half time, etc.).
Feedback during Play
During periods of active participation, the coach's behaviour can interfere negatively with the performance of the players.
For example, the coach who reprimands players from the sidelines or gives them instructions during active play, may make them more nervous or distract their attention from the game. Similarly, non-verbal behaviour can also profoundly affect the performance of players. In particular, players who are on the bench will be very conscious of the coach’s behaviour (even if the players on court are not as aware) and this can result in players entering the game scared of making mistakes.
For this reason, it is better for the coaches to talk to the players during pauses and not during periods of active participation.
Sometimes a coach will be very animated on the sideline, almost as if they are playing the game – calling out for where players should go, or when the ball should be passed etc. This behaviour can also be counter- productive, as players learn not to react to what is happening in the game, but to react to what the coach is calling out.
In any case, if the coach feels that they should speak to the players during the periods of active participation, they should refer to what the players should do at that moment, not to aspects that have already occurred. That maybe something important later on but at the moment “what happened” is not relevant, but rather “what you will do” is key.
For example, a player makes a mistake while playing defence, allowing the player they are guarding to score. The coach gets angry and gets up from the bench to reprimand the player for what has happened, warning them to pay attention next time.
While this is happening, the team is attacking. The players have rapidly taken the ball and they are now moving forward, looking to get a good shot. Hearing the coach, the player who made the mistake gets nervous and distracted; so on receiving the ball makes a wrong decision and loses it.
What happened? Although the coach was perhaps right in speaking to the player, by doing it at the wrong time, he has had a negative effect on the player's performance in the following play.
During Pauses in Play
There are many pauses during a game which provide a coach with the opportunity to provide some feedback. Whether this is an individual player having a pause (e.g. being substituted off) or whether it is a break in play (e.g. timeout). Coaches may even be able to speak to a player during a break such as during free throws.
The activities of both the coach and the players during pauses are essential.
If properly used, breaks in the game can be a great help for the players to recuperate physically (as far as possible) and prepare themselves to perform better during upcoming periods of play.
Coaches should always provide feedback to a player that is coming off the court. Whilst “good work” is better than nothing, it is most effective if the coach gives specific feedback. Whenever possible, positive feedback should always outweigh any correction or instruction. Many coaches provide feedback, using a “sandwich” approach (positive comment – correction – positive comment).
"I am really happy with how you are boxing out, you are doing that really well."
"When your player has the ball, you need to give them a little more space so you have time to react. Remember, arm’s length."
(Correction, using cue word – “arm’s length”)
"If you position yourself at arm’s length, you will be able to stop their dribble penetration, just like we practiced last Thursday."
(Positive, building perception of being in “control”)
The last comment is a positive one because it refers back to practice – giving the player confidence that they have done this before, and that they can do it now.
In basketball, pauses can be divided into three categories: during game time when the referee stops the game e.g. (when calling a personal foul, when the ball goes out, etc.), time-outs and half time.
During Time-Outs and other Breaks in Play
The behaviour of the coach during pauses in game time is important:
- comments to the players should be very clear, specific and concise. If giving feedback to a particular player, get their attention first and then provide the feedback;
- any feedback must be to get the players to focus on key aspects of the upcoming period of play, without stopping to analyse what has already occurred in previous plays. Before making the comment, the coach will have analysed a previous play, but their comments must be “action oriented” (“This is what we are going to do”);
- the coach should speak purposefully; if the coach is nervous or angry, they should first calm down, then speak to the players;
- pauses in play provide a good opportunity for the coach to reinforce efforts made by players on less showy tasks; for example defensive actions, helping teammates, running back, etc.;
- the coach can also use breaks to encourage the players after their errors, getting them to concentrate on tasks during the next period of active participation;
Coaches should adopt a routine for time outs , half time, and breaks between quarters. For example, during time-outs:
- teach the players to move quickly to the sidelines or the bench. This can be worked on in practice by using simulated time- outs to provide instruction (which is also good practice for the coach to keep their message short);
- allow fifteen seconds for the players to drink water, wipe off the sweat and relax a little while the coach determines what to say;
- establish that the only person to talk during the timeout is the coach; not the assistant coaches nor the players, only the coach. Otherwise, the players’ attention will wander and they will not be able to concentrate on the comments that the coach has decided to make;
- do not try to say too much, especially to younger players and do not speak too quickly;
- speak energetically but without getting wound up. Use full sentences, give clear and precise instructions; use words and phrases that are understandable to the players. Often the best words to use are the teaching points or cue words used in practice sessions;
- focus on what you want the team to do, not what they may have been doing wrong;
At Half Time BREAKS BETWEEN QUARTERS
Half time is the longest pause in the game and therefore the time when the coach can intervene directly to the greatest extent.
Half time should be used for the players to rest, go to the bathroom, drink water, etc., and for the coach to talk to them about improving their performance during the second half.
When addressing the players during half time, the main objective is to help them improve their performance during the second half, leaving for a later time any comments about what happened during the first half that are not relevant to achieving this objective.
The coach should establish a workable routine for half time, to ensure they make the best use of the time. Again, this may be something practiced in training sessions.
The most important thing is for the coach to THINK before they SPEAK. The coach should also leave some time for the players to have to themselves, so even in a 10 minute long half time, the coach may choose to only speak for two or three minutes.
The coach should also refer to the pre-game goals, particularly highlighting behaviours that they want repeated. Where correction is necessary, the focus should be on what to do, and referring to a pre-game goal can help to relay the urgency. For example,
“Our goal was to keep them to less than 10 offensive rebounds, and they have 9 already. We need to box-out. Remember, see your opponent, make contact and then look for the ball”.
Once the game is over, the coach should adopt a balanced attitude regardless of what has occurred. They should neither be euphoric when their team wins and/ or the players have played well nor be depressed when they lose and/or play badly.
A coach working with young players should remember that games are a unique educational experience, with the most important moment coming at the end of the game. It is then that young players have to learn to tolerate the frustration of defeat or of having played badly and also to place victory and a good game in the proper perspective.
The coach must lead their team in shaking hands with opponents and officials, thanking them for their participation in the game.
The game has finished and there will be time to analyse it later. What is important initially is that the coach show support to the players. It is not necessary to organise a talk or, for example, try to convince the ones who are sad that losing is not important. It ́s enough that the coach be there with them and say a few encouraging words.
Straight after the game is not the moment to analyse, explain or correct anything. The players need time to let their emotions, because this too is something they can learn from basketball. Too often after a game the immediate thoughts of players, spectators and coaches look at the closing minutes of the game. A player who missed the final shot may feel like they lost the game.
However, in reality the team will have missed many shots during the game and each of them contributed to the final result.