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Communication vital for team success

By Jill Prudden

Communication seems to be a lost art. Yet, for any relationship to be successful, good communication is essential. Ironically, we live in an age in which avenues of communication are limitless. But our increased resources are not leading to more efficient and productive communication. As a high school coach, you need to be an effective communicator to many people, including players, assistant coaches, school personnel, parents, and other community members.

Personal communication within a basketball family allows a bond of family care and concern to develop. Direct one-on-one communication helps prevent misunderstanding and gives meaning and importance both to the topic and to the individual you’re talking to.


Being an effective communicator entails speaking clearly, yes, but it also involves nonverbal cues, written words, and listening skills. Communication is a two-way street; part of your job as a coach is to teach players communication skills and how to use them appropriately.

Early in my coaching career, I assumed players knew how to communicate. It didn’t take me long to realize that assumption was wrong. Now I realize the importance of teaching players not only the “hows” of communication but also the “whys.” Players need to know that what they have to say is important to their coach; they need to understand that not only the coach communicates. Sometimes they need to be taught how and when to express their thoughts.

I tell players from the start that I might not always agree with them but that I’ll always listen to what they have to say, provided they communicate in an appropriate way and under appropriate circumstances. For your team to run smoothly, you want your players to talk to you and express their thoughts. I recommend keeping an open-door policy in which players are encouraged to express themselves at their convenience. They might request a meeting before practice, after practice, in the evenings, or over lunch. Face-to-face discussions, although difficult for some players at first, are usually the most productive.

Sometimes to become a better communicator you need to adjust your coaching style and personality. This was true in my case. I am an intense competitor and very active in practices and games. In addition, my practices are extremely structured. Drills are timed, and we waste little time between drills. My players kid me that I practice at “Yankee speed,” which means at a fast pace.

Intense. Highly structured. Inflexible. Fast paced. These terms don’t bring to mind a person who is effective at communication. Knowing this, I really try to put myself into another gear when I talk one on one with my players. I consciously try to relax and create a calm and nonthreatening atmosphere. For many players, one-on-one conversations are intimidating. With this in mind, I try to slow down my pace to give players ample time to express themselves. One of the first things I do when I talk with a player is to thank her for taking time to meet with me. I let her know how much I appreciate her willingness to communicate. I want from the start to create a positive atmosphere because this usually leads to the best results.

Direct communication keeps everyone in your program informed and on the same page. Players, assistant coaches, and parents should not have to wonder what you are thinking or where you stand on a particular issue. That type of atmosphere can promote gossip, which is detrimental to your program.

Head Coach’s Role

It’s a good idea to provide plenty of feedback during both practices and games, both in the preseason and the postseason. I recommend starting each practice and every game with a team meeting to set a positive tone and give your players direction. I encourage players to initiate coach-player conferences with me as I will with them. During the season, try to arrive at practice just before your players so you can greet each one. You don’t have to say much, maybe just hello, but try to personally connect with every player. This will help you get a pulse on your players’ moods. If a player has had a bad day, she might have little to say, but she will appreciate your concern and attention.

Loyalty is extremely important to a team’s success. In terms of communication with players, this is displayed in our confidentiality policy. For instance, I won’t talk to a player about another player’s playing time. If a player entrusts me with confidential information, she needs to know she can trust me to make the best decision on her behalf. The only breech of this confidentiality is when I believe the player is in danger or is a danger to others.

I love coaching. I especially love teaching the game. I hope I communicate this to my players through my enthusiastic approach. I believe in high energy, as a coach and a player. Enthusiasm is contagious. I tell my players I want to coach them, not cheerlead them. I won’t coach effort. If players are excited about what they’re doing, you’ll see it in their results. My goal is for enthusiasm to be a shared experience for coaches and players. I believe it starts with the coaching staff.

Every player should feel good about her contribution to the team. Praise players for the positives they bring to the team and challenge them in their areas of weakness. At Oak Ridge, we’re trying a new way of communicating this fall that I hope will help players hear both the “good” and the “bad.” I got the idea from Coach Summitt. It seems so often when you talk to a player, she walks away from the conversation remembering only the negative things that were said. To help players hear better, we’re going to ask them to respond to a positive comment from a coach with the phrase “two points” and to a criticism with the word “rebound.” I think this verbal expression helps players realize that coaches praise them as well as critique areas that need improving.

We are fortunate to have all our games broadcast on radio as well as covered in the local newspaper. As a result, I have many opportunities to share my thoughts and opinions in a public forum. I tell my players I will never embarrass or humiliate them. I also remind them that I don’t write the articles. I might praise five players after a game, but the reporter might mention only one or two. I will single a player out for an outstanding performance, on or off the court. However, I will never single out a player for a poor performance, on or off the court. Don’t humiliate or embarrass your players. It only destroys their confidence and sense of self-worth. Sometimes you can’t build back up what you have torn down. Rarely have I seen a player perform well who has just been berated.

Players’ Roles

Our players are taught that they are leaders in the school and community as well as role models. We tell them they will be held to a higher standard by being a member of our team. Our coaching staff helps players learn the right ways and wrong ways to communicate. Players are asked to treat those they talk to with respect, the same way they can expect to be treated. Our players say, Yes ma’am, No ma’am, Yes sir, and No sir. Manners go a long way in opening doors for communication. One year my team gave me the book Ms. Manners as a gag gift. It was their way of letting me know they understood the importance of manners in our basketball program.

I try to help players learn to communicate with teammates, coaches, teachers, parents, and members of the community. From day one, I explain to players it is their responsibility to be the communicator of their thoughts, needs, questions, and concerns. They don’t send messages via their friends or their parents. This is quite an adjustment for some individuals.

Players are expected to communicate their concerns to the coaching staff. As mentioned earlier, I will try to arrange times to meet with players throughout the season. I realize that face-to-face discussions are difficult for some players. I encourage players to find additional ways to communicate with me. Some express themselves well in writing. I encourage them to write me a letter, drop me a note, or send me an e-mail. We’ll usually follow up with a face-to-face discussion. It’s a big waste when a player goes through a season upset about something but never shares this information with anyone on the coaching staff. What a sad and frustrating season for that player. If you help players learn how to communicate and then allow them opportunities to do so, this should never happen.

Throughout the season, we share information with players through handouts. If a handout is informational, I encourage players to share it with their parents or guardians. I want players to keep their parents informed. Yes, I do communicate with parents when necessary, but the majority of communication about our program comes from the player to the parent. I hope this helps keep lines of communication open between parent and child.

Players are encouraged to ask for feedback from their teachers, especially on ways to improve their academic performance. Most teachers are impressed by a student who takes the initiative and asks for ways to improve her classroom performance.

Our basketball program is located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a wonderful community that’s very supportive of their basketball team. We’re the only high school in town, so our players are highly visible in the community. Through various programs, our players are actively involved with youths and adults in Oak Ridge. Some players visit the elementary schools during their lunch hour to read with elementary students as part of a reading program. Others work in the youth basketball leagues officiating or keeping score. Many players are asked to speak to the hometown newspaper The Oak Ridger or do postgame talks on the radio. We want our basketball players to be positive ambassadors for our program, and one way they can do that is through positive communication with their community.

Assistant Coaches’ Roles

I view my coaching staff as a team, just as the players are a team. To get the most out of my coaching staff team, constant communication is invaluable. I don’t want my assistants to be “yes” people. They need to be able to voice their opinion, even if it challenges the status quo. Before a season begins, we spend many hours discussing the direction of the upcoming season. We outline our goals and define and discuss our coaching expectations and roles. Throughout the season, meetings, phone calls, e-mails, and coaching retreats promote constant communication within my staff. Communication with assistants is essential to keep all parties working together toward the same goals. I want my assistants to feel that we have a partnership in coaching the team. I want them to feel they have a voice that matters and that they have some ownership in the program.


This is an excerpt from Coaching Girls’ Basketball Successfully.

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