I’ve talked a lot about finding players who play without an ego. I love the guys who play with a chip on their shoulder, who have something to prove, but it shows up in how they compete and never crosses the line to selfish play. It’s a subtle difference, but playing without an ego is more about proving you can help your team rather than trying to look good.
I’ve learned it’s really important to coach without ego as well. It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into as a head coach, where I find myself coaching more in reaction to how I feel versus coaching what my team needs. As a coach you can’t worry about looking bad on a particular play because it can negatively affect the way you coach your team.
For example, coaches hate to give up a back door lay-up. It’s almost as if they feel it is worth more than two points when a team goes back door on them. As a pressure defensive team, we’ve always tried to get up and deny passing lanes and take teams out of their offense. I used to really hate getting back-doored, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I hated it just because I thought it made us look bad. It made me look unprepared. The reality is if we are putting great pressure on our opponent, we probably should give up a back door every now and then. But to coach against that, by trying to avoid a back door at all costs, I probably hurt my team by asking them not to apply too much pressure. That wasn’t what was best for our team, that was to avoid looking bad as a coach. That was coaching with an ego more than coaching my team.
The same goes for a lob dunk. Coaches hate to get lobbed on because they look unprepared, and coaches on offense – especially AAU and high school coaches – really love to run a successful lob set. The truth is the lob is a really hard play to compete – especially for high school kids or summer teams that don’t practice a lot. I see a lot of games where coaches are trying to run an unsuccessful lob set and getting upset when their kids don’t execute. Is that lob set really in the best interests of their team, or are they doing that to try and make themselves look good?
Another instance where your ego can get in the way is benching a certain player when you are mad at him. There are plenty of times where you have to use the bench to get a message across, and it’s the right thing to do. But can you think of times when you are mad at a certain player – he made one bad play that you can’t get over, or he wasn’t paying attention in a walk-through – when something small happened and you held it against him too long by keeping him on the bench? I’ve done that, especially when I was younger as a head coach. I was going to teach him a lesson and show him who was the boss, and I left him on the bench even though it was in the teams best interest to get him in the game. As I’ve coached more games, I’ve learned more to keep my ego and how I feel out of the way. He didn’t miss that wide open lay-up because he was trying to make me look bad – he just missed it. There’s no reason to keep him on the bench because I’m upset with him if his team needs him out there.
Another scenario where it’s easy to fall victim to your coaching ego is when it comes to changing defenses. I’ve always been a man to man coach and I’ve never really played much zone, and we take a lot of pride in our team defense. But there are times when the other team is just in a great rhythm and we need to mix it up. But sometimes I’m slow to make a change because “we are going to guard them dammit!” Then I look back and watch the film and realize we needed to switch defenses. But our man to man is our bread and butter, and it’s almost like admitting the other guy is better than me by switching to a zone. This is a trap that’s easy to fall into. Your coaching ego about your base defense gets in the way and keeps you from making the right decision for your team.
I love coaching players who play without an ego, but I’ve learned that I also have to work on coaching without an ego. When I look back and self-evaluate I realize I’ve made some decisions based on how I feel and not necessarily with my teams best interests in mind. If you want guys who are going to play without ego, you need to coach them without ego as well.