How Do You Always Keep a Positive Attitude as a Coach?

By Joe Haefner

One of my weaknesses as a person is that I can be a perfectionist and be a little too critical sometimes. This is something I have to be very aware of as a coach, because if you are too critical and always pointing out your players’ mistakes, they are going to lose confidence and play scared. As Don Kelbick has told us over and over, you want to “reduce the fear of failure” in your players. That’s the best way to get them to play to their potential.

This point leads into a story from Thanksgiving Break this year. I made the drive up 35 North from Kansas City to Iowa this year to go home and visit the family. My dad told me my old high school coach Kevin Barnes, who is now coaching his son’s 8th grade boys basketball team, wanted me to stop in for a practice and help out. This really got me excited, because I hadn’t talked to Coach Barnes for awhile and I love coaching kids and just being around basketball. I hadn’t been around the coaching atmosphere for almost a year, because I took last year off of coaching in an effort to build this website with my brother. I also wanted to pick his brains about his experience coaching his son’s team.

Anyways, one of Coach Barnes’s greatest qualities is his ability to remain positive. Even when he corrects a player, he has an uncanny ability to make a joke about it and get a laugh out of the player. When you walk into his practices, you can just feel the excitement and the positive vibe.

One time during the scrimmage at practice, a boy led a 2 on 1 fast break and got a little too deep under the hoop. He stopped and attempted to pass the ball, but it was too late. Another defender had hustled back and stole the pass.

My initial thought was “You probably should have passed the ball earlier or just attacked the hoop. If you are going to stop like that, you need to be aware of your surroundings so you make a good pass.”

Coach Barnes’s reaction was “Great hustle, Bobby. Way to get down the court and break up the play.” He didn’t say one word to the boy who made the bad pass.

Now you may be thinking, “Well, how does the kid know what he did wrong?” or “You should correct that bad play right away.” I used to have the same mentality that you needed to correct every mistake the second it happens. What I learned relatively quickly is that if you correct every mistake, you get a player who is SCARED TO PLAY, and that’s the worst kind of mentality for your players to have. You want your players to be fearless. They also tend to think too much which causes them to freeze up instead of just reacting to the play. Not to mention, the player never learns how to think for himself if he is always corrected and misses out on self-discovery which can hurt the child from a development standpoint.

Most of the time, you’ll find that the player will make the mistake a few times and correct it himself without you even saying a word.

Now, I’m not saying that you should never correct the player. If the player consistently makes the same mistake, then you should correct him in a positive manner. I like to use the sandwich technique from Morgan Wooten. Which is positive statement, correction, positive statement.

Positive: “Hey Jimmy, way to hustle to start the break. You always do a great job of that.”

Correction: “But next time try to make the decision a little earlier.”

Positive: “Keep playing hard, buddy. Love the way you always seem to be there on the hustle plays.”

Remember, the younger they are, the more time you should give them to discover the mistakes that they are making.

Do you have other methods of staying positive? If so, what are they? What are your thoughts?

13 Comments

  1. Bob — December 15, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

    For what it is worth. The last couple of years I have done something more and more and I really like it. If I see a mistake, I stop play. I slowly walk toward the player I am going to coach, (giving him time to process what just happened) smile slightly, and say “Now what am I going to say to you or coach you on?”

    It is too the point now when I do it in practice, even my 8th graders will say what I am going to say before I can even ask.

    I like it because it makes them look good. At the same time, they are coaching themselves.

  2. Joe Haefner — December 16, 2008 @ 2:43 pm

    Great point!! That’s something I did not mention in the article.

    Instead of pointing out an error, use questions to help the child think about other possible alternatives that may have been better. “Guided Discovery” is great for teaching & learning in sports.

    I have also found it extremely effective when teaching shooting.

    How does that feel? What fingers did that roll off of? Which fingers should it roll off of?

    Are you gripping the ball with the thumb? What should you do instead?

  3. Matt — January 22, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    Great article I have been using the “sandwich” method for some time now also.

    Sort of along the same lines as the first comment, I use what I call the “you blow it, you show it method. In practice I am constantly talking to my kids about raising their basketball IQ. I tell them my goal is to have what we call “smarter ballers.” If someone makes a mistake in practice and they know what they did wrong and how to fix it they simply put their hand up in the air signaling to me that they know whats wrong and how to go about correcting it. Thanks to this I am able to continue on with a drill rather than stopping to fix little things that the kids can fix on their own.

    I coach girls and they really seem to like and respond well to this. In fact the other night in a game I had a girl who did not rotate down in help defense at the end of a quarter. When they came over to the bench I started to say something to her about it when she promptly told me “I know coach dident you see my hand up? I’ll fix it”

  4. George Monroe — January 23, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    With young kids I focus on what concepts they understand and is demonstrated on a court and use that has positive feedback and be patient on the rest. Some of your efforts wont be seen until much later. In some cases after they have left your team and moved up. My goal is to give them an understanding of the game and improve there basketball skills.

  5. Dr. Rob Walsh — January 26, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

    Nice article: During the course of this season, we have found many ways of losing close games, and it is very frustrating, because it is usually due to one or two bad decisions at critical times. As of late I find myself “over correcting” to the point now where my team seems to be afraid to try and do something.

    Dr. Rob

  6. Dave Paul — January 26, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

    I use the same technique as Bob in games. I don’t talk to a player that just came off the floor other than saying good work as they come off
    . I let him think about it, get them to sit next to me. Lean over smile and ask “well?” They usually answer right away and more importantly correctly. If they don’t I draw the situation on the board, explain what happend and ask them if they could have done anything better, if they still dont know I provide the options better choices.

  7. ariel rabe — January 27, 2009 @ 1:12 am

    Just recently, in form shooting, starting with their left non-dominant hands, I reminded the kids to focus on the form, angles, feel the ball. Telling them, if you can make the shot it’s excellent. if it hits just the rim, it is very good. Most often than not after several repetitions, shots were perfect – 4 feet away spot shooting. Excitement was evident on their faces.

  8. Phil Gantt — January 28, 2009 @ 9:35 am

    Great article…
    In the many seasons that I have been a coach (39 @ 6th through varsity assistant) I’ve learned that too much correcting (over coaching) can be a setback.
    I do a lot of the same thing – asking questions instead of barking at the guys.

  9. jr cadigan — January 29, 2009 @ 9:49 am

    I went to DeMatha and had Morgan Wooten as my history teacher. A great man and a great coach

  10. Turner — March 4, 2010 @ 8:39 am

    This is a good point not to correct too much. However, if you don’t correct enough, they will end up getting wild on you. I was a little more lax this year with my 8th grade team. We ran a motion offense, and after going over the rules with them, I let them play and gave them more freedom in their offense. I soon discovered that without a lot of direction, they basically ended up playing street ball.
    What do you think is the right combination of correction and freedom?

  11. How Do You Always Keep a Positive Attitude as a Coach? | Steve Nash Youth Basketball Coaches' Blog — February 6, 2014 @ 10:19 am

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  12. Austin — January 4, 2017 @ 1:55 am

    Very insightful, Joe. As a maintenance supervisor, I was recently thinking about the best way to encourage improvement from one of my guys, and your article came up. I didn’t think it had what I was looking for, but gave it a read anyway. I was immediately impressed, and intend to give it a shot. Thank you for the share; there is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from this.

  13. Charlie Hantler — August 9, 2017 @ 10:37 pm

    Cheers for the article,
    I’ve been coaching for around 2 years and have recently been struggling with trying to remain positive at times. This article demonstrates the importance of remaining in a good head space with the team and thriving to get the W. Cheers Dr. Rob for your input, you are a true inspiration. Hope every team on this forum benefits from the knowledge that is being presented. UP THE SEAHAWKS

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