I’m not sure we have the right approach to body language. I just don’t know that we should be making a big deal out of it. I get it, it doesn’t look good, it’s not a positive thing and you don’t want to show any sign of frustration or weakness. I just don’t know if we should really be making that big of a deal out of it. I’ve always been more concerned with the response to the negative action that caused the body language, and not the body language itself.
I’ve coached some great players who exhibited bad body language. They were great competitors and they got frustrated when things didn’t go their way. I’m not saying this is how I wanted them to respond. Sure, I’d love it if everyone was always calm and composed and never showed any sign of frustration. But not everyone has that kind of make-up. If they then respond with a bad play due to frustration, that is what I have a problem with. It’s the next action I’m concerned with, and I’m not sure the body language really dictates that.
One reason I’m not that concerned with body language is I find the way we regulate it to be selective. I know when I was a young head coach I was a lot more vocal about a young, immature back-up who exhibited bad body language than if one of my best players did it. If one of my best players showed bad body language we would say he’s just really competitive, whereas when someone else did it we’d say it was unacceptable. When a great player reacts poorly we tend to make excuses so that the body language doesn’t have to be addressed.
I also feel there is a hypocritical element to this as coaches. If you filmed the head coach during a close game and examined his body language, I’m pretty sure he’d have the worst body language of anyone in the gym. Most coaches react emotionally to negative things that happen in the games. Would the body language you exhibit during a game be acceptable to you if a player did the same thing? If body language really matters to you and you are going to police it, you have to start with yourself. A lot of coaches hate the “palms up” reaction from their players when something doesn’t go their way, but don’t the coaches do the exact same thing all the time?
There’s actually one thing I like about body language. At least I know what I’m dealing with. Body language is a great cue as to what your team needs. Sure, you don’t want to see a lot of frustration, but when your kids react negatively you know you’ve got to bring them back. Just like when your kids get a little too excited and you want to calm them down. I’d prefer the kid who gets a little emotional on the court than the one who is completely flatlined. Sometimes those kids are hard to coach because you aren’t sure what they need or how to get them going. It takes me a little longer to learn how to coach the kid who never shows any signs of emotion.
I’ve had this conversation with friends about great players in any sport. Tiger Woods sometimes slams his club and curses. Manny Ramirez looks like he doesn’t care. Lebron James complains about fouls and is very visible with his displeasure. To me, that is part of who they are, part of their personalities. Would they be the same player if their coaches were so focused on toning that body language down? I’m not sure that they would be.
I’m not saying I’m a fan of bad body language. It’s not like I enjoy seeing it. But I do think as coaches we make too big of a deal out of it. I’m much more concerned with the physical and mental response on the next play than I am any outward sign of emotion. If a kid reacts a certain way and needs a little time to shake it off, I’m okay with that, as long as he’s ready to go on the next play. If he can’t respond correctly on the next play we have to correct his behavior, not his body language.