Trust is earned. It’s earned over time. It needs to be cultivated and developed every day. When you develop it within your program, it’s really powerful. I still remember clearly in February and March when I was coaching at Rhode Island College when you could see the trust on the court. I know that sounds funny, but you could really see a difference. All 5 guys competing at a high level, looking out for each other, responding to mistakes without drama but by simply working to overcome them. Trust is a powerful part of a championship basketball culture.
To think that trust is a natural part of a team is mistake. In any relationship it needs to be developed over time, and the coach-player relationship is no different. As a coach you have authority over your players and your program, and they will likely do what they are told. But that doesn’t mean they trust you. You need to earn it just like you do in any other relationship. The players need to develop it as well. To think that they all trust each other because they are teammates is naive. Just because you say “We are a team” and “I am the coach” doesn’t mean you have trust.
I’ve found the best way to develop trust is to listen. Most people look at the coach-player dynamic as the coach repeatedly telling the player what to do, but I haven’t found that to be the best way to get the most out of them. I think about the people I trust the most in my life – family, close friends, etc… One thing about my relationship with them is they are always willing to listen – the dynamic of our relationship is a two-way street. I don’t see why the coach-player relationship is any different when to comes to trust.
Developing trust among my team is the most important challenge facing me right now at the University of Maine. For me to walk in and think they will automatically trust the new head coach would not be smart. Our guys are all really excited to start fresh, but they are still interested in learning what I am all about. It’s not a fault of theirs if they don’t trust me right away, it’s natural. How many people who you don’t know that instantly come into your life do you trust right away?
So it’s a fun challenge for me, because obviously when you take over a new program you have all sorts of ideas of what you want to implement and how you want it to look. But it’s most important that I take my time and listen to my players – to get to know what’s really important to them and what motivates them. They have to know that what’s important to them is also important to me, and vice-versa. They also know more about the University of Maine and the basketball program right now than I do, so why wouldn’t I want to listen to what they have to say? Their investment in this relationship is really important, and I can’t expect that investment if I’m not willing to listen to them.
Listening is a crucial part of leadership, and that’s something I’ve learned over time as a coach. I always say I feel the best about my team and learn the most about what to do when I listen to my players. Whether or not we agree is not the point – ultimately I have to make the decisions that are best for the program. But learning what they are thinking about is important. And when they know their voice is going to be heard, and that their opinion is important, that’s when you start to develop a strong bond of trust.
Trust is more than just telling them what to do and then following through on it. Granted that is a part of it, you have to be consistent with your actions and how you operate. But to truly develop trust at a high level within your program you have to be willing to listen. The more your players know they are being heard, the stronger the bond of trust you will develop.