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“Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their players and motivate.” — Vince Lombardi
One of the biggest challenges that basketball coaches of all levels face is the challenge of keeping your players focused, motivated to play, and playing as hard as they can. The following are 10 tried and true tips to keep your team motivated.1. Set a precedent on the first day of practice. Establishing your expectations from the very beginning is the best way to not only establish your role within the team but to also let your players know what kind of coach you’re going to be.
For example: As your first practice starts and players are milling about blow your whistle and call them to the center of the gym. If they don’t sprint to you, they get to run right then and there. After they’ve run, blow the whistle again. This time all your players will enthusiastically sprint to you. And more importantly, you’ll have their full attention for the rest of the year.
2. Show your players that they matter. Probably the most effective method for getting your players to work hard for you, and for themselves, is to let them know that you care about them. Show interest in their lives outside of basketball. Get to know your players as individuals. Spend time talking to them one on one. It doesn’t have to be for hours; a couple minutes will do the trick. The point is to let them know that they’re important to you on and off the basketball court.
3. Model motivation in all of your actions. Have fun, remain positive, and let your players know what is expected of them immediately. Your players will pick up on everything that you say and do and they will respond accordingly. Verbalize your philosophy so your players know what to expect and to what to strive for.
For example: If you tell your players that the best rebounders will be starters, then players will all strive to be good rebounders. You’ve told them through your words and actions that rebounding is important to you.
It’s all about what you emphasize! If you’re constantly talking about rebounding, you’re players will pick up on that and become good rebounders.
4. Offer verbal rewards. Rewards grab attention – players and people love compliments. Whether you’re running beginner basketball drills or drills that require more skill, give praise for improvement and for working hard.
Occasionally, for significant effort, praise players in front of the team. Public praise is often well received and players will work hard to earn such praise. Remember that if negative feedback is required to sandwich it between positive feedback. For example: “You did a great job hustling down the court, next time wait for a better shot. Keep up the great hustle and the good shots will be there for you.”
5. Offer occasional non-verbal rewards. Players can be motivated to achieve goals by occasionally offering tangible rewards like a Gatorade or by utilizing a tactic of the great Morgan Wooten. Wooten offered “Permissions” to his players.
Permissions were rewards granted to players based on outstanding efforts or reaching set goals. The permissions are earned throughout the practice and then totaled up at the end. Each permission resulted in one less lap, suicide, or other conditioning drill.
You can also add laps to players for not meeting expectations. For example you can set up a basketball rebounding drill and players that get 5 or more rebounds pick up a permission and those that get less than 4 pick up a lap.
6. Coach the success of the team. When it comes down to it, it is more fun to win together than it is to win alone and basketball is a team sport. Your players are more likely to give greater effort if they know they team is counting on them. By reminding players, through your actions and words, that they are a team they’ll be motivated to work together to succeed.
Often this can be accomplished by verbally praising players that are working well together or by offering a non verbal reward for practices where they work together particularly well. Also, by knowing your players strengths and weaknesses you’ll be able to keep an eye out for potential conflicts and enforce a team attitude.
7. Add competition to your drills. A great way to spice things up and keep players working hard is to add competition to your drills.
As an example, you could establish teams for a shooting drill and reward the team or individual player that makes the most shots successfully. With a little imagination, you can come up with ways to make almost all your drills competitive.
Just remember that comparisons between teammates can make some players feel badly about themselves and can spur rivalries between teammates. In short, it can squash a player’s motivation. If you need to compare teammates, do so only to model a desired behavior or skill. For example, “Watch how Joe follows through with his free throw shot, try that next time you’re at the line and see how it feels.”
8. Teach visualization. Visualization is a valuable coaching tool and it is the one skill that all athletes can take away from their sport, no matter what level they perform at, and use the skill to attain success the rest of their lives.
Teach your players to visualize reaching their goals. Visualization teaches focus, it teaches planning, executing, and succeeding. Incorporate a few minutes of visualization in each practice by asking the team to visualize a play that they’re having difficulty perfecting, a shot that they need to work on, or executing the drill of their choice.
Teach them to utilize all their senses in the visualization so that they can hear the ball bouncing, see the ball bouncing, and feel their gym shoes squeak on the floor.
9. Don’t punish, discipline with the intent to teach. Punishment for poor or inappropriate behavior only serves to fragment the teams focus and hinder their motivation. Instead, discipline with the intent to teach your players how to conduct themselves appropriately.
Rather than yell or punish players that aren’t living up to their potential, ask them, “Is that the best you can do? Are you trying your hardest?” Often simply by acknowledging to you or to themselves that they’re not trying their hardest, players will try harder, particularly if they know that you notice.
Additionally, discipline with consistency. For example, if it is unacceptable to be late to practice then all who are late to practice receive the exact same consequences no matter what.
10. Set the right type of goals for your team and for your players. Players and teams need goals so that they know what to focus on and they know what to strive for. But the key is the “type” of goals you choose.
I’m a firm believer that you should NOT set goals for the prestigious statistics, like scoring the most points and even winning games. Players already want those things without setting goals. Not to mention, it gives them the wrong idea.
However, if you set goals for other critical aspects of the game you will see huge success!
You can set goals for a low number of turnovers, team shooting percentage, your opponents shooting percentage, team rebounds (not individual), defensive stats, and possessions per game. You always want more possessions that the other team and that comes from recounding and taking care of the basketball.
You could even have conditioning goals like 100 push-ups or run a mile in less than 5 minutes. Just be careful about the message you send your players when setting goals. When used properly, goals are a powerful motivator.
Don’t forget to reward players for achieving their goals.
Know that what motivates some players will not motivate others. It is important to get to know your players as individuals and to know how they will respond individually and as a team to motivational tactics. In the end, if you’re involved, excited, and willing to take the time to keep practices interesting, then your team will respond.
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