I was recently on a Zoom call with educator Jeff Duncan-Andrade, a former basketball coach and now a professor of education at San Francisco State University. He has written two books on education, and focuses on the education of underprivileged kids in disadvantaged areas. He has a great approach to teaching and education, so if you ever get the chance to connect with him take advantage of it.

One of the coaches on the call asked about dealing with outside influences in players lives, specifically how to deal with someone who was giving a message to the player that the coach disagreed with. Duncan-Andrade gave a really detailed answer with a really intelligent approach.

The first thing he said was that he always made sure to invest a lot of time in the player and learn as much as he could about the relationship. He never wanted to take it for granted. So he would ask the player what advice he was getting from the coach or family member, and why he thought they were giving that advice. He’d always ask the question, “Why do you think they are telling you that?”

He said he’d almost always get the same answer. “Because they care about me. They want was is best for me.” That, according to Duncan-Andrade, was the key.

He said “I never wanted to mess with a relationship like that.” Especially when dealing with kids from difficult backgrounds, he said, he always wanted to celebrate any relationship where they felt they were cared about. He talked about how so many kids don’t have a lot of people who genuinely care about them, so he didn’t want to minimize that. The first thing he wanted the player to know is that he appreciated the fact that someone truly cared about them. He knew how important that was.

I thought it was a really interesting and intelligent approach. So often when one of our players is getting advice we don’t like from someone outside of the program, it becomes a tug of war. We try and pull them away from that person and make sure they are listening to what we are telling them. It very often becomes adversarial.

Duncan-Andrade’s point was that regardless of the information you disagree about, you aren’t winning the battle trying to pull them away from someone who has cared about them all of their lives. You had better learn to embrace that relationship, and find a way to get on the same page about at least one thing – we both want what is best for you. We may disagree about the best way to get you there, but we are both trying to help you. The information you may disagree about isn’t nearly as important as the relationship.

It’s not something I often think about as a head coach, but it’s time I started to do so. Usually in those spots I think about the disagreement, and how to best resolve it. I don’t think about the relationship. If you don’t respect that relationship, even though you disagree with the message, it’s easy to lose the player for good.

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