By: Jeff Haefner

As a coach, it’s easy to lose sight of what is truly important. It’s not about the X’s and O’s. It’s not about winning. It’s not even about putting the ball in the basket or teaching fundamentals.

The most important thing is to teach players about life. Teach them how to be happy and successful. Teach them how to be a good friend and teammate. Teach them how to live with integrity and confidence.

All coaches have a tremendous impact and influence on their players (whether they know it or not). Some of these players will remember what you do and what you tell them for the REST OF THEIR LIVES. I will never forget my playing experiences and things that my coach told me.  You have an amazing opportunity to have a positive influence on the lives of your players. You have an opportunity to improve their lives and their future.

The Ultimate Compliment for a Coach

John Wooden is arguably the best coach and most influential man in the history of basketball. He won 10 college national championships, yet he is said to be no different now than before he won a single game. Personal integrity is Coach Wooden’s highest goal!

Bill Walton said, “To play for John Wooden was the greatest thrill of my life. In four years, Wooden taught us everything we’d ever need to know. Not about basketball, about life.”
To me, that’s the true indication of a great coach and the ultimate compliment. This is what all coaches should strive for and what all coaches would hope players say about them.

So How Do You Teach Players About Life?

The place to begin (because it’s the most effective method) is by setting a good example and being a good role model. This is the most important aspect of coaching. There’s no question that the absolute best way to influence players is by setting a good example.

But what kind of example are you setting each day in your actions and words?

I GUARANTEE the example you set is different than you think!!!  How do you handle adversity and difficult situations? (Your players are watching you.) Do you yell at the refs? Do your actions contradict the words that come out of your mouth? How do your players really see you as a coach?

I can’t tell you how many coaches (myself included) will say one thing and then contradict themselves with their actions. For example, a coach might say, “Teamwork is what this team needs to be successful! Trust your teammates. Pass them the ball. Move the ball around.”

Then no more than two minutes later, the coach will run a drill and correct every thing the player does wrong. The coach will also step in front of the assistant, while the assistant stands on the sideline watching.

What do these actions tell your players? It tells them that you don’t trust your players to figure things out on their own. And you don’t trust your assistant coaches to help you. You try to do everything yourself instead of giving your assistant specific responsibilities and trusting them to do their job right and figure things out.

John Wooden has been quoted to say, “Be slow to correct and quick to commend.”
This is a profound statement in so many ways. It’s important to give your players an opportunity to learn on their own. Sure there are times when you need to correct. But doing so too often will hurt a player’s confidence and shows them that you don’t trust them to figure it out.

Here’s another common contradiction. A coach will tell their players that rebounding is the most important thing. “Get on the boards. If you want to succeed, you need to WANT THE BALL. You need to rebound!”

We’ve all heard this before.

Then the coach starts practice and goes right into shooting drills and offensive plays. They might spend 5 minutes doing rebounding drills in the middle of practice. What does that tell your players? It tells them that shooting and offense is most the important thing. You spent the most time on it and that’s what you did at the beginning of practice. It must be the most important thing. You might not realize it, but players pick up on these things.

Your Take Aways and Next Steps

I urge you to take time to think about the example you set and how you can be a better role model. Make a list of your coaching priorities. Review those priorities each day. This will help you keep on track.

I also urge you to read inspirational books by coaches like John Wooden and Morgan Wootten. These books remind you of what is truly important. They also remind you about the integrity and morals that the greatest coaches in the world employ. These books will help you keep on track. In fact, I suggest that you pick a couple books that you find especially inspirational. Read those books twice each year. Once before the season starts and once mid way through the season.

Things change so quickly in the season and you get caught up in the moment. Reading these books will help you stay on track and I can’t tell you how much of a positive impact this will have with you. We all need reminders to stay on course.

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