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The Most Important Aspect of Coaching & Leadership - Being a Good Role Model

The legendary coach John Wooden says, "A leader's most powerful ally is his or her own example."

As a coach, it's easy to lose sight of what is truly important. It's not about the X's and O's. It's not about winning. It's not even about putting the ball in the basket or teaching fundamentals. 

The most important thing is to teach players about life. Teach them how to be happy and successful. Teach them how to be a good friend and teammate. Teach them how to live with integrity and confidence. 

All coaches have a tremendous impact and influence on their players (whether they know it or not). Some of these players will remember what you do and what you tell them for the REST OF THEIR LIVES. I will never forget my playing experiences and things that my coach told me. 

You have an amazing opportunity to have a positive influence on the lives of your players. You have an opportunity to improve their lives and their future. 

The Ultimate Compliment for a Coach 

John Wooden is arguably the best coach and most influential man in the history of basketball. He won 10 college national championships, yet he is said to be no different now than before he won a single game. Personal integrity is Coach Wooden's highest goal! 

Bill Walton said, "To play for John Wooden was the greatest thrill of my life. In four years, Wooden taught us everything we'd ever need to know. Not about basketball, about life." 

To me, that's the true indication of a great coach and the ultimate compliment. This is what all coaches should strive for and what all coaches would hope players say about them. 

So How Do You Teach Players About Life? 

The place to begin (because it's the most effective method) is by setting a good example and being a good role model. This is the most important aspect of coaching. There's no question that the absolute best way to influence players is by setting a good example. 

But what kind of example are you setting each day in your actions and words? 

I GUARANTEE the example you set is different than you think!!! 

How do you handle adversity and difficult situations? (Your players are watching you.) Do you yell at the refs? Do your actions contradict the words that come out of your mouth? How do your players really see you as a coach? 

I can't tell you how many coaches (myself included) will say one thing and then contradict themselves with their actions. For example, a coach might say, "Teamwork is what this team needs to be successful! Trust your teammates. Pass them the ball. Move the ball around." 

Then no more than two minutes later, the coach will run a drill and correct every thing the player does wrong. The coach will also step in front of the assistant, while the assistant stands on the sideline watching. 

What do these actions tell your players? It tells them that you don't trust your players to figure things out on their own. And you don't trust your assistant coaches to help you. You try to do everything yourself instead of giving your assistant specific responsibilitiesand trusting them to do their job right and figure things out. 

John Wooden has been quoted to say, "Be slow to correct and quick to commend." 

This is a profound statement in so many ways. It's important to give your players an opportunity to learn on their own. Sure there are times when you need to correct. But doing so too often will hurt a player's confidence and shows them that you don't trust them to figure it out. 

Here's another common contradiction. A coach will tell their players that rebounding is the most important thing. "Get on the boards. If you want to succeed, you need to WANT THE BALL. You need to rebound!" 

We've all heard this before. 

Then the coach starts practice and goes right into shooting drills and offensive plays. They might spend 5 minutes doing rebounding drills in the middle of practice. What does that tell your players? It tells them that shooting and offense is most the important thing. You spent the most time on it and that's what you did at the beginning of practice. It must be the most important thing. You might not realize it, but players pick up on these things. 

Your Take Aways and Next Steps 

I urge you to take time to think about the example you set and how you can be a better role model. Make a list of your coaching priorities. Review those priorities each day. This will help you keep on track. 

I also urge you to read inspirational books by coaches like John Wooden and Morgan Wootten. These books remind you of what is truly important. They also remind you about the integrity and morals that the greatest coaches in the world employ. These books will help you keep on track. In fact, I suggest that you pick a couple books that you find especially inspirational. Read those books twice each year. Once before the season starts and once mid way through the season.  

Author:  By Jeff Haefner

5 Keys to Being a Great Basketball Coach

If you want your youth basketball team to have an All-Star experience all season, there are a wide range of ideals you need to focus on to make the experience as positive as possible.

Here are five ways that you can be an All-Star basketball coach.

All-Star Qualities

  • Sportsmanship - Remember basic courtesy and good manners? Use your practices and games to reinforce these basic principles. Make sure your players can give a firm handshake with eye contact to officials and opposing coaches, as well as a high five to opposing players.
  • Teamwork - Teach your players that "we over me" is what most often leads to "us over them," in team sports competition. Encourage your players to be selfless and supportive teammates in both losing and winning efforts.
  • Positive Attitude - Life is not fair and basketball is worse. Help your players get over it and still do what they need to do to succeed. Playing sports is one the best ways to practice overcoming adversity and preparing to handle tough times in life. Humor helps!
  • Respect - Pay it forward and get it back. How a coach interacts with other adults--coaches, parents and officials--will naturally influence the behavior of your players. Be mindful that you are a role model and are always being watched. Insist that your players respect coaches, officials and opponents--like you do. Have the courage to enforce your rules with every player and parent involved with your team.


  • Philosophy - Want a surefire way to be a great youth coach? Lighten up! Here's a tip. Not one of your games will be Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Billions of people don't even know you exist, let alone feel that your practices and games are important. Recreational league and even elite travel team coaches should understand that kids want to play sports and to have FUN! Let your players figure things out. Ask questions, but don't give instruction or answers. Stop teaching so much and give your players a chance to learn. Watching them grow will be fun for you too!
  • Communication - Have a team meeting to start the first practice of the season, or as soon as possible thereafter. Limit your postgame analysis to positive things that occurred in the game and deal with what went wrong by establishing a specific goal to work on starting at the next practice. Ask parents to delay or even eliminate the dreaded postgame interview with their child. When you need to correct a player, use the "compliment sandwich" State something positive the player did well, give a very specific correction, then restate the first positive thing.
  • Continuing Education - All-star coaching requires continuing education. I have been privileged to learn the game of basketball from seven coaches who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Each one of them was always striving to learn more. In your efforts to learn, make sure the substance of the material is appropriate for the skill, age and maturity level of the players that you coach.
  • Use Resources - There are several organizations that offer assistance to youth coaches. Do an online search for youth coaching information sources. Read books, watch videos and attend coaching clinics in-person whenever possible. One hour online could make you a better coach.


Play to learn, play to practice, and you will win when you play in games. Remember how much fun you had growing up when you used to just go outside and play with your friends? We advocate using the "compete to learn" approach to practice--it lets kids play and have fun while competing. This type of practice, using competitive drills, does a better job of preparing players to compete in real games. Technically, this is called transference. What you do in practice carries over into what you do in games.

  • Individual Skills - Want to improve your team's ball handling? Games like dribble knockout are very popular. Every player must have his or her own basketball. Coach starts the game. Every player must dribble constantly, stay in-bounds and try to knock the ball away from all other players in the game. Lose control of your basketball or go out-of-bounds, and you're eliminated. Boundaries for 10-12 players could start as half the court. After several players are eliminated, the boundary is reduced to only inside the 3-point area. Boundary is reduced again to the free-throw lane. Finally, when there are just two players left, they play the "finals" in the free throw half circle.
  • Team Concepts - Run half your offense by playing 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 restricted to one side of the floor. For example, make even (by size/ability) teams and conduct a 10-minute tournament using an action like the pick and roll. Allow for 20-second timeouts and allow players teach themselves how to make the play work.

Game Strategy

  • Keep It Simple System (KISS) - Basketball is a simple game. Keep it simple! If you are a regular reader of instructional material, you might think that you need to have lots of practice drills and a complicated or intricate system to win games. No, you don't. Establish one or two alignments and three or four actions, and that's it. At the youth level or even in the NBA, most successful coaches try to have their team master a few simple things. 8-10 year olds can do this successfully. Try KISS at your next practice and even in your next game, your team will show instant improvement!
  • Simple Transition Offense (Fast break/press break) - Score a lay-up in less than five seconds without dribbling.
  • Simple Half-Court Offense (Ball movement/teamwork) - Everyone must catch and make a pass before anyone can shoot!
  • The Best Offense Ever Designed - Give the ball to Michael Jordan and get out of the way. You can't get much more simple than that! However, that is an actual "play," as it is part of the "complicated" triangle offense. The triangle is a patterned motion offense that has several basic actions such as give and go, pick and roll and give the ball to Michael and get out of the way -- otherwise known as a clearout. By the way, that offense has won nine NBA championships and you, even as a youth recreational league coach, can run some of its actions to win games in your league.                                           
Author:  By Tony Fryer

To be an effective basketball coach, the first thing you need to do is establish your philosophy and priorities.

Start Simple

  1. Lay ups - You should practice lots of lay ups with both hands. Your goal should be to get all players to make lay ups with their left and right hands equally well!! Teach them to jump off the proper foot. They should jump off the left leg when shooting a right hand lay up. They should shoot off their right leg when shooting a left hand lay up. It will be difficult but work on it. You'll probably need to start really close to the basket, with no dribble, and take just one step to practice the footwork. Once you add the dribble, they should dribble with their left hand when shooting left hand lay ups. And vice versa.

  2. Footwork - Teach them triple threat positioning, pivoting on their left and right foot without traveling, jump stops, and to square to the basket as soon as they catch the ball in a triple threat position. You should spend a lot of time on footwork!

  3. Shooting form - For this age group, we highly recommend using smaller balls and lower baskets. If that is not possible, allow the players to dip their elbows which will give them more strength. To learn more on shooting, we also have the Breakthrough Basketball Shooting Guide.

  4. Ball handling - You should teach your players to dribble with left and right hands equally. Basic dribble moves such as the speed dribble, crossover, protect-the-ball dribble, and back-up dribble.

    Resource: Progressive Youth Ball Handling & Footwork Workouts App - Players can do the workouts from anywhere. The coaching dashboard also allows you to monitor multiple players or your whole team.

  5. Athletic & movement skills - Teach them how to run, jump and land, skip, stop, move laterally, squat, lunge and any other basic movements. If you don't know how to teach these movements, ask a professional or PE teacher to show you how. 99% of the time they would be more than willing to help, and they may even come and show the kids themselves.

    Should We Teach Basketball Skills To Players Under the Age of 10? - Useful information for all levels of coaches, not just coaches who work with players under the age of 10.

  6. Basic passes - Teach and practice the basic chest, bounce, and overhead passes.

  7. Play plenty of 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 games to teach concepts (no dribble keep away). It gets the players more experience and allows them enough space to operate and use the new skills they have learned. Make sure to use plenty of age-appropriate drills & games.

  8. Offense - Do NOT use any structured or patterned offenses. First, get them comfortable on the court. They will start to figure things out on their own. Your main concern should be to have them move & not stand still.

    If you use a few basic cuts and maybe screens in your shooting drills at the beginning of practice, then your players will already know how to move in a motion offense. Then you don't have to waste time teaching offense. Just let them play.

    Once players feel comfortable on the court, show them proper spacing.

  9. Basic cuts & how to get open - If time permits, you can introduce the basket cut and straight cut. I would suggest that you just work these cuts into your shooting drills at the beginning of practice. This will save loads of time.

  10. Defense - Teach the basic stance, defensive slide, and basic off-ball principles. Don't worry about spending as much time on defense. As they get older, you'll gradually spend more time on defense. Focusing on it 5 to 10 minutes per practice would be more than sufficient.

    Basic Off Ball Principles:
    - Stay between man and the ball
    - Always stop the ball if it is in front of you! 

Coaching Quotes

“Champions play as they practice. Create a consistency of excellence in all your habits” – Mike Krzyzewski

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