A big part of being a successful coach is developing strong relationships with our players, and getting to know their personalities. Every kid we coach is different, and a big part of leadership success is to know who we are coaching and what buttons to push. We want to understand the personality of everyone we coach.
But as we get to know our kids really well – and we should – we can easily put them in a box. We get to know the characteristics of our players very well, but when we do we rarely allow for the fact that those characteristics can change. If a kid is lazy, he’s always going to be lazy to us. If he is always joking around, we are going to think he doesn’t take it seriously enough. And if he’s a really hard worker, we are going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Our impression of who our kid are can easily affect the way we coach them. There is such a thing called confirmation bias, which speaks to the way the mind works. When we are evaluating players we think we know really well, we look for behavior that confirms what we already think. And this absolutely comes through in the way we coach our players. As I’ve grown as a coach I’ve noticed plenty of scenarios where I was coaching a kid a certain way based on what I thought of him, as opposed to what they actually did.
Say you’ve got a tough guard who starts for you and is known as your best defender. And his back-up is a kid who is talented, but not very tough and you really don’t think he’s a great defender. I’ve noticed myself doing this. When the bad defender goes for a steal and doesn’t get it, he gets hammered for being a bad defender. But when the tough defender makes the exact same play – he goes for a steal and doesn’t get it – I justify it, saying he was just trying to make a play. The same play was made with the same result, but they were perceived – and coached – differently.
“Coach the behavior, not the personality,” is something our athletic director Bob Driscoll said to me in a conversation we had during the season. It’s such a great way to put it. Think about the way you’ve coached different players and different teams over the years. I’ll bet the kids you maybe don’t like as much, or don’t believe have the right work ethic or approach, got a little bit of a different tone than the kids you held in higher regard. That kid who you believe is all-in and competes his ass off every day, he’s probably getting the benefit of the doubt.
It’s so easy – and almost natural – to coach the personality. That’s why I think it’s so common, but you have to be willing to look at your own behavior through a clear lens. The kids that get on our nerves a little bit or don’t always do things the right way, their mistakes get treated differently. Their behavior isn’t looked at in an unbiased fashion, it is looked at as an extension of their personality. The kids we love will always get the benefit of the doubt, and their mistakes won’t get as magnified.
To get the most out of your players and your team, you have to get to know them as individuals. But be careful not to let what you think of them as people to affect the way you coach them. Take an unbiased look at what they do on the court, regardless of what you now about who they are. Coach the behavior, not the personality.