Most teams develop their own personality as the season progresses. Once you identify your team’s personality, you have an easier time finding ways to motivate them. As I’ve said, all players are not motivated in the same way. So, how do you motivate a team full of different players? You have to try many different things and discover what works best with your team. It might be helpful to identify key players or leaders on your team and zero in on what motivates them. If you can motivate your leaders, others will likely follow.
Setting team goals can be helpful in building team motivation. Instead of telling your players what their goals are, try having them come up with their own goals as a team. Let them come to a consensus about what they want and think they can accomplish together. I usually give my team guidelines to help them in goal setting. I tell them not to make their list of goals so long or so difficult that it’s unrealistic they will accomplish their goals. Most important, I ask players not to list a team goal that they are not willing to work for, each and every player. I use the example of a state championship. Almost every player across the state wants to win a state championship. But how many players are willing to do the work it takes to accomplish such a lofty goal? Establishing team goals can be the driving force to help motivate the team through a difficult practice or game.
Setting game goals is another method to motivate your team. Again, you can ask your team for their input, but you and your staff might know best what’s realistic for your team to accomplish during a game. Game goals will likely depend on the opponent and time of season. You might need to stress an area of deficiency or challenge your team in an area of strength. Rewarding game goal accomplishments often helps motivate players. Rewards can be tangible or intangible, such as a shortened practice the next day. Goals that are not achieved might be altered, if they seem inappropriate, or players might be highly challenged to meet them the next day in practice.
In our program, we have offensive and defensive game goals. We give individual and team rewards and punishments, depending on the results of our play. Punishments usually include some type of running, but the running is also considered part of conditioning. For every offensive goal not met, players run a 10-second sprint. They run a 30-second sprint for every defensive goal not met. However, outstanding individual performances are also awarded, and players can minimize team runs if they have great individual statistics. Players are rewarded for excellent stats such as double figure rebounds, taking a charge, or double figure assists. In addition, we have challenges in practice in which players can earn themselves out of a sprint. Running, or lack of running, has been an excellent motivator for many of my teams.
Motivational speakers are another way to get your team fired up. If you don’t consider yourself a good speaker, ask an assistant or perhaps a fellow teacher or coach. There are also many terrific motivational movies that might boost your team’s morale.
Team outings away from the basketball court can bond your team and increase motivation. Outings might include team meals, motivational movies, outdoor adventure settings, or just a gathering at a church or a park. Low levels of motivation are sometimes the result of players feeling they are in a rut. A new experience together might refresh a team that’s feeling a little stale.
Players need to know your on-court expectations from the moment they step onto the court until the horn sounds. Most of your expectations will involve attitude, effort, and execution. Help your players know there’s a right way and a wrong way to practice and to play the game. As you set your expectations, be careful not to fence yourself in with too many rules. Teach your team how to practice and play the game, and let them know you tolerate nothing less than full commitment. As their coach, be their example. If being on time is important, make sure you’re not late. If you want them to be respectful to coaches and fellow players, treat them with respect. Try not to make a major deal out of a minor issue. Let your players know the consequences of their mistakes and for a poor attitude or a lazy effort. If their mistake can be addressed quickly, do it and move on. Major infractions typically require tougher penalties. If all expectations, responsibilities, and consequences are spelled out clearly on the front end, unpleasant incidents are minimized.
In my 25 years of coaching, I have tried many ways to deal with a poor performance or a poor attitude. Some ways were effective, and some were not. However, I’ve found that the two greatest motivators have not changed over the years--sitting and running. The punishment does not have to be extreme to get a player’s attention. Most players don’t want to lose playing or practice time, nor do they revel at the thought of additional conditioning. When I have asked my players the best way to get their attention the quickest, they most often say, “Run me or sit me down.”
Coaches often wear many hats. We can be our players’ coach, teacher, mentor, friend, and counselor. As you wear these hats, you find yourself involved in your players’ lives both on and off the court. In my program, I address this by explaining to my players the “three Cs.” Players are expected to be their best on the court, in the classroom, and in the community. Basketball players are often referred to as “student athletes.” Players need to know academics are a high priority. Good grades are necessary to be eligible to play basketball, but, more importantly, they are the ticket to their success after high school.
It might be helpful to assign an assistant coach to monitor your team’s academic progress. Teachers will appreciate your staff’s involvement in your players’ classroom performance, both in academics and in behavior. Let players know what you expect from them in the classroom. If they need academic assistance, tutoring might be helpful. If you preach the importance of academics, make sure you back it up with your actions. If a player needs to miss part of your practice for academic support, make sure you have a plan to address this situation. Actions and words need to be aligned. At some point, you might need to involve parents or guardians.
If a player misbehaves in the classroom, a school-sanctioned disciplinary action might be issued. If the discipline is up to you as a coach, have a plan for this. Players need to be aware of your discipline steps on the front end. If they can be respectful of you, they can be respectful of other adults, including their teachers.
Players should know what you expect from them while they’re not under your supervision but out in the community. Remind them that they are role models. If a player misbehaves in the community, and you feel you need to take action, be sure to match the punishment to the crime. For example, if a player manages her free time poorly, you might place her on a time-management program in which she is accountable to you for each minute of her day. I have used this type of plan with several players and seen positive results.
Some behaviors are nonnegotiable by school and team rules. Players are not allowed to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or take nonprescription drugs. These behaviors can lead to serious school discipline procedures and might result in dismissal from the team. These rules and their consequences need to be explained to your players at the outset of your relationship with them.
When rules are broken, different players require different kinds of discipline. You should treat players fairly, but not necessarily equally. An exception to this might be if a player violates a school rule and a predetermined punishment has been set. But as a coach you might need to flex your discipline procedures if a player has an extenuating circumstance. You need to make a call that suits the situation. One player might love running whereas another hates it. One player might have a terrific support system at home whereas another often fends for herself. In any case, it’s most important that players are treated fairly and with respect.
There are many ways to reward players for positive off-court behaviors. Catch players doing the right thing and let them know you’re proud of them. Encourage teachers to e-mail you regarding your players. Let them know you want to hear the good and the bad. At Oak Ridge, we have an academic honor roll each nine-week grading period. If a player makes the A-B honor roll, her name is posted in our team room and displayed all season.
Many schools have work programs through which students attend classes part of the day and then work in the community another part of the day. If this is the case for one of your players, try to keep in touch with their employers. Let them know you’re there for support and that you appreciate the opportunity they’re giving your player. Often, employers will share positive interactions they have with players. Communicate these to your players, perhaps at a team meeting. Let them know you’re proud of the example they’re setting in the community.
There are many ways in which players might be involved in their community. They might be active in their church or work with local youths. Encourage your players to find a niche and give back to their community. This is terrific PR for your program and often a positive experience for your team. Let your players know you’re proud that they’re positive ambassadors for your program.
This is an excerpt from Coaching Girls’ Basketball Successfully.