Before I really dive into this, I want to first say that I don’t coach in NCAA tournaments with thousands of people all over the country watching with millions of dollars on the line. I coach high school and youth basketball. The circumstances are much different, but many of the things I observed watching the NCAA tournament this past weekend I see at all levels of basketball and across many sports. I don’t for a second claim to have all the answers and everyone has their own philosophy, but I like to use this platform that I have to challenge standard thought processes.

As I was watching games this past weekend, I couldn’t help but do some critical questioning regarding the perceived role of a coach. In one particular game that I watched, the offensive team slowed the ball down and the players all looked over at the coach for a solid five seconds on almost EVERY possession as the coach joy-sticked each player into the spot he wanted them before running their set play that often led to an inefficient shot at the end of the shot clock (this team barely scored 50 points in a 40 minute game FYI). This was a common theme amongst several other games I watched too. The thoughts that kept coming into my head were, “What are these teams doing ALL season? What do teams do in their 100+ practices that amount to almost 20 hours a week? How do high-level college players not have a sense of how to play in the flow of a game?”

Unquestionably, coaches want to put their players in position to be their best in a game. Every possession counts in close games and coaches want to maximize each possession- I totally get that. I am not anti set-play, anti-coaching/ strategizing throughout the course of a game. However, I’m in absolute disagreement that players should have to look at their bench EVERY time down the court for direction on “what to do”.  They shouldn’t be so reliant on our direction that they can’t make any decisions for themselves. Outside of that, it is a limiting basketball philosophy. Players become robotic and don’t know how to make plays and decisions in the chaos of a game.

Where this ultimately leads us to is- what exactly is the role of a coach then?

As discussed, some perceive a coach as someone to control their players every movement and decision. Another common perception is that coaches are disciplinarians that need to yell and scream constantly. I try to be open to differing philosophies, but I don’t view coaching that way, especially at the developmental level. Many youth coaches subscribe to this philosophy because they see immediate result. To me, a coaches’ role is to teach and empower their players so that they rely less on the coach as a season goes on. This is not to say that we become invisible as a coach. Each day we are still responsible for creating the learning environment that enhances the learning process. We reinforce principles to help connect the individuals within the team.  Most importantly, we challenge players to be not only better athletes, but better people through the high standards we set. I would challenge coaches, parents, and leaders of any organization to reflect on these questions:

Do I ask questions to help guide self-discovery or do I automatically provide the answer and the quick-fix solution? Do I help people create their own understanding?

Do I trust those in whom I lead? If not, why? When things go wrong, do I analyze my own teaching, feedback, and message? Or do I quickly implement more rules and take away power from other individuals?

Do I allow creativity to flourish or is it “my way or the highway”?

Again, everyone has their own way of doing things, and nothing is cut and dry, but I think there is real power and potential when we view “coach” through the lens of an empowering leader.