Motivating Players

Dear Shooting Enthusiasts,

Three keys to being a successful coach on the court is scheming (having plays and sets that can work), motivation and skill development. Recently we focused on scheming and today we want to look at motivating players.

Motivation is a crucial component for a team’s success. Let’s simplify even more regrading motivation. It is the ability to make players and teams play with intensity in practice and in games. That’s basically it in a nut shell. How “hard” does your team play?

When I attend high school games I am really amazed at the lack of intensity that some teams have. They come out and warm up lethargic. I call this the “cool” attitude. Many players want to look cool. When tip-off comes along, little changes.

There is no excuse for not playing with intensity and this starts with the coach. The best compliment an opposing coach can give another coach is, “Your kids play their butts off!”

We have never understood how a team can’t play with intensity. Same thing applies with players. Recently I was watching TNT Basketball and Kenny Smith was talking about attending one of his son’s high school games. “They were telling me about these kids i was going to see. And I’m like ‘He doesn’t play hard enough.’ These plays are supposed to be the number 4, 3, 2 kid in the county and my first impression is he doesn’t play hard enough.”

A high percentage of today’s players believe playing hard is uncool. I actually once was talking to a high school player who said, “I don’t play hard. It might hurt my reputation. I go with the flo.” For many players they believe that playing hard is old school. Something they probably did back in the 70’s.

The key to motivating your players is to get them to play with intensity for 32 minutes (college will be 40 minutes). From day one it is imperative that the coach sells this to his or her team. I always told my players, “No team will out work us and out hustle us in practice and games.” That was our goal every time we stepped foot on the floor.

Some players will “buy in” immediately to hard work and play with intensity. Unfortunately, many will not. I would tell my players, “You do not have to buy in and play hard. That is on you. But I don’t have to play you either. I need eight players that will buy in to win a championship. If you don’t buy in, you will sit on the bench and rot.That is up to you.”

This year I attended quite a few high school games and was amazed at how many teams did not play hard for one minute. NOT ONE MINUTE. They just seemed to go through the motions. What amazes me even more are teams with little or no talent that play with no intensity. If you lack players with skills or athleticism, your players better leave their spleen out on the hardwood every night.

As a coach ask your players, “Have you ever had one practice that you practiced as hard as you can? Have you ever played in a game that you played as hard as you can for the entire game?” You might be surprised that most will say, “No.”

One other thing I have noticed is how many high school players can play an entire game without coming out. Players have learned to pace themselves and play hard in short spurts. I coached 400 high school games and I never had one player play an entire game. If you are playing hard and with intensity, it is almost impossible to play without coming out for a breather. Could you imagine a hockey player not coming out? Why would a basketball player be any different?

Motivation from a coach is not always about screaming at a player. Coach K always says that the greatest words a coach can say to a player is, “I believe in you.” Rather than tell a player how he screwed up the play and how he “can’t do anything right”, also use the words, “You know you’re better than that.”

As a coach you have to use constructive criticism at some point. It is how you say it that often determines how well the player remembers it.

Lastly, practices don’t have to as serious as a heart attack or a war zone. We are amazed at how many practices we attend where the coach never cracks a smile or a joke. I asked former UCLA Coach, Craig Impleman last night about Coach Wooden’s practices. He remarked, “Those players loved attending practice. They worked hard, but they had fun.”

Remember why we play sports. It is supposed to be fun. Can you motivate if you have fun? Of course. Can your players have fun and play hard? Of course. Can you crack a joke here and there and not have your players lose faith in you as a coach? They will probably respect you more. Ask yourself this: If you were a player who would you have rather played for–Former Rutgers Head Coach, Mike Rice (you remember the video) or the late, Jim Valvano? It should be a no brainer that you go with Jimmy V. He made basketball fun and he could motivate. Its truly a great combination