How to Improve Team Bonding and Teach an Important Lesson

We suggest that all coaches (especially youth coaches) incorporate "life lessons" into their basketball practices.

Ironically, the "life lesson" we'd like to share with you today also helps improve team bonding! So it's a win - win for everyone involved.

Before getting into the specifics, I'd first like to explain what we mean by "life lessons" and why you should use them in your practices...

We believe it's important to consciously teach "life lessons" because not only will this help you win more games -- but more importantly this sets a good example for your players and helps them develop into happy and successful people.

Whether you realize it or not, basketball coaches have a HUGE influence on their players. You have an opportunity to have a very positive impact on something much bigger and more important than basketball.

By teaching these "life lessons" you also improve your basketball team and win more games. But that's not the intent. The intent is just to do the "right thing" as a basketball coach. Winning is simply a pleasant by-product of doing the "right thing".

In this article, we'll be discussing one specific "life lesson" that is very important and also improves team bonding!

But before we get into that, let's further explain what exactly we mean by "life lessons".

What is a life lesson?

You can actually call it whatever you want - laws of life, truths of life, keys to success, or whatever you prefer.

But when we say "life lessons", we are referring to ideals to live by. These are the things that are truly important in life. These are the things that make people truly successful and happy.

For example, some of the following ideals and concepts are traits you'll find in truly happy and highly successful people:

  • Honesty - always tell the truth
  • Be proactive (life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it)
  • Work hard
  • Dedication
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  • Getting your priorities straight (family, school, etc)
  • Don't complain; focus your energy on the positive things.
Of course, there are more but this gives you the idea.

Now let's get into a specific lesson you can teach that helps improve your team bonding.

The core of the lesson is to simply teach your players the joy of giving and serving others. This is a very simple thing.

One of the truths in life is that great happiness and success comes from giving and serving others. You'll rarely find a genuinely happy person that doesn't give out to others and provides a positive to impact in other people's lives.

You can easily help your players discover this joy by arranging a team project. You simply organize an event where your team provides a service to others.

There are thousands of ways that your team can provide a great service to the community and humanity.

You could raise money for sick kids. You could volunteer to serve food to homeless people. You could have your team visit a children's hospital. You could even have your players teach a group of less privileged kids the joy of basketball. Provide a camp for young kids that can't afford to pay.

Let me tell you a story about my daughter that illustrated how this concept can have a profound effect....

One day after work, I asked my three year old daughter if she wanted to do something nice for mom. She said yes! So without my wife knowing, we went to the flower shop and picked out some flowers. We then went home and with a big smile on her face, my daughter carried in the flowers and gave them to her mother. It was big a surprise. They both had HUGE smiles on their faces. It was such a small thing but I think my daughter is getting hooked on the idea of doing something nice to make others happy. It was a big hit!

This is the same concept for your team. You just need to figure out a way to put your players in a genuine situation to make someone else happy. It's contagious.

There are tons of websites out there to give you ideas. Here are just a few websites but you should also submit your ideas at the end of this article too.

The key to make this work is to put your players in a situation where they can help someone and then see the look on the other persons face. If you get a genuine smile going both directions, it was successful. But in order for it to be genuine, your players need to believe and buy into the cause.

For some players, this small experience can stimulate them to continue helping others on their own. For other players, this won't sink in until they are adults and mature enough to understand the joy of giving.

Either way, almost all players will remember the event because it's such a unique and positive thing.

They feel good about it and since everyone on your team was involved they develop an unspoken bond.

The type of team bonding this can potentially produce is priceless!

Give it a shot and don't procrastinate. All coaches should teach the joy of giving.

It might sound cheesy, but it works. You have the opportunity to do something positive. So do it!

Please submit your ideas on positive services that your team can provide. The more ideas the better...


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Deidra says:
1/30/2008 at 8:24:49 AM

This year I contacted the principal at the grade school (K-4) and asked if there were some children that could benefit from a few gifts during the holiday? It so happened that a new child had just entered the school from Florida (we are in Maine!) who, with her mom, had packed a single back pack and left an abusive situation. They had essentially nothing! We decided to forgo our team exchange and instead buy gifts for this girl. It turnd out awesome! The kids and parents got into it and we ended up with over 25 gifts! The young girl remains anonymous to us, for obvious reasons, but the girls felt great about it! It was a tremendous experience for them!


Ivan says:
2/12/2008 at 7:59:22 AM

Dear Mr. Jeff & Joe,

I just wanna thank you for all the articles you are sending me. It is realy helpfull! The reason I subscribed is because I'm planning to start working as a basketball coach.

Thanks a lot, again!!

Best regards!

Ivan, Serbia


Virgil Linebrink says:
2/12/2008 at 8:31:45 AM

WOW-Life's lessons is really awesome. I ref at our church "upward basketball" held each Sat. from 9 AM until 12:00 PM! If you're familiar with up-ward basketball we don't keep score it's all about the kids and learning about Christ. What an asset this article could become with upward basketball. Thanks!!! We have 3 weeks left in this season.


alex says:
2/13/2008 at 12:20:40 PM

you are truly great.


Steve says:
2/13/2008 at 2:46:20 PM

I coached horribly at my last game. I complained about an illegal defense early in the game, which angered the opposing coach, the referees, and the fans. After that, I had a hard time concentrating on the game, and I blew a lot of chances to help my players succeed. An article about life lessons is just what I need to read, and I'll be sure and share how my complaints altered our fate. The moral of this story is: When you're given a problem, solve it. Don't complain. You'll only frustrate yourself.


Mitch Goodwin says:
2/13/2008 at 7:54:07 PM

Why do we let our kids play competitive sports? They are often dissappointed with losing, and frusterated with team mates and coaches. Dealing with other people and making mistakes are part of team sports and are a very big part of life.
Opportunities for life lessons and encouraging life long fitness are the most important things kids will take with them after the season.
My team is 23-2 this season. We could Have won both games that we lost, but my team needed to learn humility and to support all team members. Each child's expierience on the team is equally important to your top players and more important than winnig.


michael says:
12/2/2008 at 8:53:02 AM

I understand we want our kids to have fun. I agree. I will say however, that at some point in their life they will fail and lose at something. I actually think if we give them competition when they are you then they can learn to lose with dignity and not complain their whole life. We cannot protect them from everything as they grow. Its not staying away from bad situations it is how you respond in those situations that matters.


Nathan says:
12/4/2008 at 3:37:05 PM

We have done this in our program where we contact the local Child Advocacy Center who gives us a few names of children who will not get Christmas gifts and I ask each player to bring in at least $5 or more (preferabally their own allowance money but does not have to be) and we take some of our fundraising money and head out to Toys R Us to buy these children gifts before giving them back to the Advocacy Center before Christmas.
I coach Junior High girls and they not only love shopping for the gifts but they feel good about themselves for doing something for someone even though they know they will get no recognition for this.
This stuff works, I highly suggest something similar if your looking at teaching your kids some life lessons.
Thanks for the article


Rebecca L says:
3/6/2009 at 11:11:10 AM

This goes out to Mitch Goodwin. This past basketball season I asked myself that question several times. My daughter which is in 6th grade played on the 5th & 6th grade traveling team. A group of ten girls. You know on every team there is one that thinks she is all that( with 4 of her friends on the team). Well, she must not have liked my daughter. She would push and tell other team mates not to pass to her, make comments about her being slower than others, laugh during practices. Eventually, it ended up that my daughter was never in the game. But when she was in she did exactly was she was taught. Got the rebounds and shot at the hoop, making most of them. But this group of girls always had something fresh to say. The coach just let is kept happening. Eventually, my daughter, just got discouraged, the coach even went as far as saying for her not even to try the traveling team next year because she will not make it. What would you say to this?


Zachary C. says:
7/21/2009 at 12:47:54 PM

This is a response to Rebecca L. This problem IS the responsibility of the Coach, the players and the program. The Coach should have the insight to diffuse such dissension because by letting that situation get out of hand, it is reflecting his or her priorities to outsiders like yourself. The Players should have learned about considerateness and expressed appropriate values that a person learns in the very early stages of life. The Program should have addressed the Coach and the Players about how their actions reflect the values of the program. Not only does it create lower consideration for parents and other players but could also miss a valuable time in a players development.


Mitch Goodwin says:
12/11/2009 at 8:00:14 PM

Rebecca L.
This sounds like a very negative experience for your daughter. I know this is too late, but if it continues this season, set up a meeting with the coach. It is best to do this away from the gym in a neutral setting rather than at the end of a practice / game. Sometimes coaches only see a small part of what is going on. From what your last posts states you may wish to talk to the athletic director about this instead of the coach. I have observed similar issues with teams, usually it is with a parent coach. The parent coach sometimes serves the best interest of their daughter/ son and friends, but not always. I also have known some excellent parent coaches who look out for the team first. At U14 ages and younger many sport organizations demand equal playing time and educate coaches on creating a positive experience for all players. That little uncoordinated 12 year old that nobody passes to may be the 6'8" team stud at age 18!


marvin l. says:
3/9/2010 at 1:46:46 PM

great article having won a state titile last year the lessons we teach our players are so vauble. I had three off that team that is playing college ball and they call me every week to say coach you was right!! i didnt realize it then but Thanks for teaching me that lesson. That thanks from our players is what keeps us coaching year after year.


carly says:
11/24/2011 at 8:06:34 PM

what should i tell my 13 yr old middle schooler from missouri that made the team some were cut, but is always on the bench and even at practice in drills but not the 5 on 5 scrimmages. She wants to play and practices alot at home and always wanting to practice and work on drills, but feels like she must not be good enough and should just quit the team.


Jeff Haefner says:
11/27/2011 at 4:56:10 PM

If she enjoys basketball she should keep trying (show perseverance). Michael Jordan was cut from his team as a sophomore. 13 is a little young to throw in the towel but it's just a game, and regardless of quitting or not, she'll learn from the experience. I know countless players who were no good in middle school, then once they matured and practice, they became pretty good in high school (I was on of those late bloomers).


carla says:
12/3/2011 at 3:23:13 PM

so you were a late bloomer in basketball. why do coaches that coach kids at this young age 7th gr and dont cut them from the team, rrealize that they are causing these kids that they hardly ever play to lose self esteem and feel low self confidence and humiliated, even though they have not had the opportunity to prove or disprove this in a game.


Robert Owens says:
12/17/2011 at 12:26:02 PM

WOW! I am so very glad I found this website, the information is awesome to say the least. I am a first time Basketball Coach within the School system of Florida and I have fallen madly in love with the group of guys I am coaching and truly I want to impact there lives in a great way, that transends off the court as well and the information on life lessons was right on time. So thank you so very much!


Ken Sartini says:
12/17/2011 at 2:14:22 PM

There are a lot of great stories here regarding GIVING.... and thats just one BIG thing that kids in sports should be learning.... a great life lesson... think & care about others as much as you do yourself.
Joe said it all about NOT quitting.... I also was a late bloomer. As a coach, I had several kids come from the middle school that either didn't make their team or didn't play much.. at turned into pretty good high school players, some all conference.
Rebecca, Zachary said it very well too.... the COACH is the one that should control his players and their attitudes.. and especially how they treat others. How the players treat others is a direct reflection on the coach... I have a saying, whatever you allow them to do in practice, they will do in games... so for certain things, they need to be on a short leash. Call the coach and set up a meeting to discuss what is happening.... see if you can come to an aggreement on how to correct this.


Coach Kip says:
4/23/2012 at 7:01:05 PM

I was very blessing to have a well bonded team of 8-9 year old boys. At practices, they arealways encouraged each other to do drills to the best of their ability. During games, players coming out of the game slapped hands with the players going in. At tournaments, the boys all walked around in a big pack. These boys bonding so nicely with each other. As a coach, you love to see that and you try to foster it.


denise says:
6/21/2012 at 1:48:29 PM

my daughter is 14 and playing bb since she's been around 8 She just is starting high school and her new coach invited all the girls on the team to participate in her wedding. My daughter was unable to attend one tournament which her coach seemed to be upset about. At practice all the girls were talking about attending her wedding including my daughter when she got home to was looking for a dress and called one of her teammates who then informed her the coach had pulled her aside and said my daughter wasn't invited she told this to my daughter My daughter initiated a tex and directly asked her if she was invited or not as she thought she was the coach replied "I dont care"
Needless to say we are all upset about this she loves bb but for a coach to act this way I dont know how to deal with this or approach this situation


Ken says:
6/21/2012 at 7:23:54 PM

Denise -

Did your daughter let the coach know that she was going to miss that one tournament and why? That is something that most coaches are looking for, keeping them informed.

Your daughter should have a face to face meeting with her and get all this worked out..... she is just starting high school and she doesn't want to get off on the wrong foot. Your daughter could/should (?) apologize for missing the tourney and ask if she is still invited to the wedding because she would really like to go and celebrate your special day with you.

Just some rambling ideas here.... good luck with this.


Sideline Coach says:
12/21/2012 at 9:33:41 AM

This team was successful at the first few games of the season, but it appears they have lost respect for their coach and each other. It appears some of the players care only about their stats once they get in the game and it is having an adverse affect on the rest. They have now lost 3 games in a row and it appears they are spiraling downward to no return. Please help what do you do as a coach?


Ken says:
12/21/2012 at 12:00:03 PM

Coach -

This is difficult since we are not there to witness what they are doing all the time. My advice to you would be this..... DON'T allow them to do anything in practice that you don't want them to do in the games !!!!!
IF they CANT respect themselves, the coaches or the other players... let them sit a bit.... that usually works.

Here are two ideas:
1- play a no dribble game where everyone has to touch the ball before you can shoot.
2- play a 5on5
( you can play 3on3 or 4on4 also )
Play the game to one more point than the number of players playing... 5on5, game is to 6.... EVERYBODY must score before anyone can sink the final shot (or you can choose who makes the last shot)

I did this a lot, especially in camps and you will be amazed how hard they will work to get a lesser kid a shot... you will develop leaders too. NO negative comments allowed.


Rizgar says:
12/23/2012 at 4:45:06 PM

We are in Iraq-Kurdistan!!!!
It is hard for our kids to understand BUT any coach uses those principals as gifts NOT just to others lives but will help him too...God bless all the ones who uses basketball for fixing mistakes and faults in other people and himself too!


Neil says:
12/23/2012 at 8:49:46 PM

I coach a 7th grade travel team, and for the most part they get along, and try to do the right thing, but we Have one kid, and parent who have such a negative impact on the team, ( always goofing around during practice, always arguing with other teammates, and failing to be a team player, Now his attitude is effecting our team in a negative way, The father is always trying to create some sort of fight, or is only supposing his kids,
The other coach, and I have tried to explain to the other kids that the way to become a better team, Person is to commit to giving, and sacrificing their own game to improve others. Well after discussing this with some of the kids it has had a decent imp[act on us, but the one kid continues to act the same way, with all sorts of warnings, and talks. His father never tells him what he does is wrong, in fact he supports anything, he does!!
We are at our wits end with this kid, but we keep talking ourselves into keeping him, and trying to help him out, and make him understand the values of giving, and listening.
Are we just wasting time with this kid or is their a better approach to this??


Ken says:
12/24/2012 at 8:00:35 AM

Rizgar -

God Bless you for working with those kids... and yes, bball and life is a two way street... and we only get out of it, what we put into it. I hope that your holidays are good and have some fun with your kids.

Neil -

My only suggestion would be (since you have talked to him several times) start cutting his playing time until he gets the picture. Every time he acts out in games, take him and sit him along side of you.... a short explanation why and go on coaching the game. Ask HIM when he is ready to go back into the game and play like a team player and follow your rules, then let him back in. BUT, every time he crosses the line, take him out. Even a 12/13 year old will get the picture then.

Is the other coach this boy's father or just a fan/father? IF he isn't a coach, don't wait for him to tell the boy what he is doing wrong.... and if he is a coach and is condoning this behavior... then do it yourself anyway.

PLAYING TIME is a great motivator.


Dee says:
4/15/2013 at 8:56:58 AM

The Mbabane Raptors basketball team in SWaziland is planning on visiting a community school to play soccer with them and get to know them personaly. I know they would appreciate spending time with us..


Sean Glaze says:
9/19/2013 at 1:34:43 PM

Terrific Article, and absolutely an important part of building a team culture is establishing and emphasizing your core values - the virtues you want your team to display.
Take a look at this handout for implementing team virtues:


Curtis Smyers says:
12/6/2013 at 10:25:22 PM

We run a Rising Stars League for 4th -8th grade girls in Battle Creek, MI. This is our 17th year in action!
We run 2 free clinics for 3rd -6th graders and have the 7th and 8th grade girls run the stations with a coach or even with another peer. The clinics run for 4 weeks from 2:00 - 4:30 on Sunday's in the spring and in the fall we have another 4 week clinic just before the season starts to get the juices flowing.
The girls that help with the clinic explode with confidence their last two years on and off the court! Oh by the way, they have to be in the clinic for at least 2 years prior to running a station, so that they use the same techniques we do.


Coach Ali says:
7/8/2014 at 12:43:25 AM

I love that you wrote this. I've coached girls' basketball many years. I now have retired and I coach youth girls' basketball. I give homework assignments every practice. One week, their assignment is to make someone happy each day. Another assignments is to do something for someone without them asking. Another assignment is to do something for someone and not let that person know you did it. There are several like this. Another is, give your Mom, Dad, or sibling a hug goodnight, each night. At the practices after that particular assignment, we have a short discussion about how it made them feel. To me, as a coach, it's very moving.

  1 person liked this.  

Jeff Haefner says:
7/8/2014 at 8:50:14 AM

Good idea Coach Ali! I think I''ll try that with our youth team.


Ken Sartini says:
7/8/2014 at 9:32:26 AM

Ali -

Definately some great ideas ESPECIALLY for the younger kids.

Sorry I didn''t think of this.


R. Collie says:
10/17/2014 at 10:44:28 PM

Thank you for creating this resource. I am a mental health professional at a prison and am working to create a basketball group that teaches mental heath concepts and life lessons through the game. I am in the middle of creating the outline and what life lessons will be targeted but found your site to be a great resource! When you stop and think about the game itself it is amazing how much you can learn from it.

Thank you!


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