One of the common mistakes I think a lot of coaches make is letting their ego get involved in the way they coach. So often when you watch the way coaches react with so much emotion on the sideline, it looks like they are taking it personally. When a player screws up the execution on offense and a coach immediately pulls him out of the game, it screams of “How dare you ruin my play.” The kid may have screwed up, but it’s not very likely that his motivation was to make the head coach look bad.
I see a lot of “coaching” where, when a kid makes a mistake, it’s pretty clear the coach wants to let everyone know that he’s the one in charge. It’s the “I’m in charge of you” approach. The coach makes a big deal out of whatever just happened, yells and screams about it, and makes sure that everyone in the gym sees him. To me it’s just a sign of insecurity. It’s ego. It’s about how the head coach is feeling – pissed off – rather than about trying to coach the player.
It happens at every level. I recently spoke with a friend of mine who’s been in the NBA as an assistant for the last 20 years, and he told me a story about a head coach in the league that he used to work with, who asked him to evaluate him as a head coach (this is a guy who has won NBA titles as a head coach). So they filmed him on the sideline and went over the way he delivers the message to his players.
At one point on the film, he could be seen screaming at one of his players while he was taking him out of the game. So the assistant asked him “What are you saying to him right here?” And the head coaches response was “I was telling him to make a fucking shot!”
So they talked about the value of that message at that point in time. What are you trying to teach him? What is your expected goal when you deliver that message that way? Do you really think he’s just going to start making more shots because you yelled at him to do so?
A message like that isn’t really a message. It isn’t really coaching. It’s about what the coach is feeling, and his ego.
The emotion involved with being a head coach isn’t easy to deal with. That is your team, and everything that happens on the floor is a reflection of you. So it is hard not to take it personally.
I’ve spent this year as the Technical Director at IMG Academy in Florida where I work with all of our 13 teams. With some of them I’ve been on the bench as an assistant coach. And I haven’t been an assistant coach in 13 years.
The emotion of being an assistant is different. I’ve noticed it very clearly. You spend so much of your time trying to balance the emotions of the players and the head coach, to keep the team in the best mental frame of mind to be successful. You don’t really think every time a kid turns the ball over that he’s doing it to you – he just made a bad play. It’s been a great learning experience for me as a coach, because once you are a head coach and it’s your team, the emotion is different. And it can be hard to handle.
Coaching without ego is a challenge. But it gives your players the most room to grow. There is really no reason to prove to everyone who is in charge. The guy that’s in charge to me is the guy who gets his kids to respond to his message, whether they are playing well or playing poorly. When your ego is involved the kids aren’t usually responding, they are just sitting there taking it. Take your ego out of the equation and teach the kids what they need to get better.