Today I want to focus on the English language and how words play an important part in today’s basketball game especially when it comes to teaching and coaching.

When I was coaching my teams, there were three phrases that players were not allowed to ever say in a practice. They were:
1) “I’m trying.” Five year olds try. Taking a quote from one of my favorite movie icons, Yoda in “Empire Strikes Back, “Do or do not. There is no try.” The little green guy is 100% correct. You either do it or you do’t do it. You don’t “try” to do it.

2) “I don’t know.” If you ever ask a four year old, “Why did you set fire to the house?” “Why did you kick the dog?” “Why did you pull your sister’s hair?” they will always respond, “I don’t know.” When I ask a question in practice, the last response I want to hear is, “I don’t know.” When a player uses this phrase a lot, he/she is either not willing to think or is not very smart.

3) “I can’t or “I won’t.” Easily the worst phrases for coaches to hear in the English dictionary. Both “Can’t” and “Won’t” is never acceptable for a player to utter.

Of course my favorite phrases are: “I can”, “I will” and “I did”. Think about the positive messages in the book, The Little Engine that Could. Despite having doubts at first, the Little Engine continued to say, “I think I can”, “I know I can” and “I did.” As coaches this is what we need to hear from our players.

Here are some common phrases from parents when speaking about their child. “My child is a defensive player.” What does this actually mean? When I hear this I always take it for, “My child can’t shoot or score.”

Another phrase parents say to me often is, “My child is a good player. Just needs a little more confidence.” I have heard this at least a thousand times and every time when I evaluate the player I notice the child has no basketball skills. It’s quite interesting but normally the more skilled the player is, the more confidence he or she possesses.

Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has always said that the most powerful phrase a coach can say to a player or team is “I believe in you.” I 100% agree.

I’m not a big word on the word, “Dream” as in “Johnny’s dream is to play college basketball.” A much better word is “goal” as in “Johnny’s goal is to play college basketball.” Too many kids dream. Not enough have goals and then stick to those goals each and every day.

Here’s a phrase I talk about to my players, “Do you play basketball OR are you a basketball player?” I’m always interested to see how each player responds. Everyone plays basketball. If you have ever “thrown” a ball into a basketball then you have played basketball. But a basketball player is almost like an occupation. It is a phrase that shows commitment.

Another question I ask players is “Are you an athlete?” The looks I get are priceless. It’s funny but many players look at Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant as an athlete, but strangely they have never looked upon themselves as an “athlete”. They probably look upon themselves as a person that just plays basketball.

The way we use words really often tells who we are as players and coaches. Are our words negative or positive? Words basically are the precursor to actions. If the words are negative, the actions will be negative. Hope everyone has a great day and focuses on what we say and how we say it . Words say a lot about us as coaches and our players.