Stop Yelling and Start Coaching

By JimBado

Do you like getting yelled at? I bet you don’t whether it’s at work, home or on the basketball court. But, if you’re like many youth coaches, you yell at your players and criticize their performance. And here’s why: they play better after you do that, don’t they?

Let me share a not so secret “secret” with you: when you yell at your players after a really bad game, their improvement in the next one isn’t due to your screams. In fact, your criticism may hurt more than help; it can turn your kids off from playing the sport. If a player or team does poorly – and most do from time to time — the next game, inevitably, they will be better because of a simple statistical phenomenon: regression to the mean.

Why should you care about a somewhat obscure statistical concept as a youth basketball coach? Because, in short, regression to the mean means your performance — in anything you do — will tend to be close to the same most times. If you have an outstandingly good performance or an outstandingly poor one, your next will not be nearly as good or bad, you will move back toward your average performance (or regress to the mean). This phenomenon is important because of how you perceive the impact of your yelling and screaming.

In a famous example, Psychologist and Noble Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, interviewed Israeli flight instructors – a critical job if one ever existed – about the feedback they gave the pilots they trained. Instructors told Kahneman they stopped giving the pilots positive feedback because whenever a pilot did an outstanding job and they praised him, he flew worse on the next flight. And, on the other hand, when the pilot performed poorly and the instructor read him the riot act, he did better the next time.

The instructors, like many of us, saw their words as having more influence that they, in reality, actually had. An outstanding performance, due to regression to the mean, will be followed by one not as outstanding. Conversely, a terrible one will be followed by a better one. What goes up, must come down and vice versa. The instructors made the same mistake we make as youth coaches: a team who plays terribly will, in all likelihood, play better the next game whether or not you yell at them.

Does this mean you shouldn’t say anything because your words have no impact? That you can’t hold your players accountable for their performance? Absolutely not! Instead of yelling, you can:

1) Show your team what to do (not tell them what not to do)
2) Tell them, they can do better (because they can be)
3) Focus on a few, specific fundamentals to improve and
4) Practice, practice, practice those skills, remembering to have fun
5) Track, reward and recognize progress, no matter how slow

Earlier this season, one of my youth teams got drilled 33-1 (we only scored due league rules requiring a point be awarded when a player gets fouled while shooting). Believe me, at numerous times, I wanted to yell at various players, but stopped myself. Yelling would have made me feel better, but wouldn’t have made much sense: as a coach, you do your work at practices, not during games.

Although I really – really – wanted to tear into them after the contest – some players seemed to not put in much effort during the game — I backed off and focused on the five above at the next practice. Reminding myself my job was showing them how to play better and encouraging them – they are eleven and twelve year olds playing in a YMCA rec league — we practiced specific fundamentals we failed to execute during the game, believing those would help us do better in the next one.

The next week, my squad won 16-14 in overtime. What happened the week after that? Well, you know that concept of regression to the mean….

You can find more articles from Jim Bado that are usually non-basketball related at the LOSER Report.

For more youth coaching tips, drills, plays, offense tips, defense tips, and much more, visit our Youth Basketball Coaching Home Page.

15 Comments

  1. Mike Colucci — May 25, 2011 @ 11:05 am

    Terrific article. I have been coaching youth sports for 20+ years, and the older I get (and, in theory, the wiser) the more I realize that yelling negative comments at young players is completely counter-productive. I liken it to when your boss calls an employee meeting and then rips into one of those present. Do you walk out of the meeting feeling better about your self and your job? Does a rip job make you think, “i’ll do better next time”?. Of course not, so why should 11-15 year old players be any different?

  2. Bruce Aulabaugh — June 3, 2011 @ 12:58 am

    Great article. I tend to yell at players during practice after I get frustrated with players not paying attention or not putting in full effort. I’m taking steps to reduce/stop the yelling simply because I feel bad after yelling. I know I shouldn’t do it, that it doesn’t do any good, and that I need to find ways to communicate and motivate my players without resorting to yelling.

  3. Eri Setiawan — June 3, 2011 @ 1:50 am

    nice article..
    its better w encourage them rather, yelling some negative words…
    Thanks.

  4. Sane — June 3, 2011 @ 8:38 am

    There is a difference between yelling to berate and loudly emphasizeing what needs to happen. You don’t want to chastize for failure to produce, but I think it is o.k. add volume when emphasizing certain points. Especially in practice. Some player may feel that if you emphasize then it must not be important. So how do you put the empphasis on something so that your team knows this is important.

  5. Mark — June 3, 2011 @ 10:14 am

    Absolutely spot on! I see it all the time – I am involved in youth baseball and when a coach yells it is more about them venting than the actual play. Do you ever see a manager in professional sports dress down a player- not in public – You see kids shut down when they are being yelled at.

  6. ariel rabe — June 17, 2011 @ 11:32 pm

    My players could not score, although they passed the ball well. I called for a time-out and told my players “I don’t cate about the score, just execute the play properly”. They did, executing the motion offense twice and scoring twice. Their ages are 17 below and we stick to that requirement. I don’t know about our opponents’ ages, but my focus is for my players to belleve that they can and learn early on how to do or execute a play properly, if not perfectly, and be able to score. I have only 5 players who can really be relied on out of 11. Player rotation is a big problem on defense, thus we ended up winless out of seven games. It’s an opportunity for the best performer. For my best 5 on court there were set plays(motion offense and simple variations), but for the rest I used free-wheeling with the point guard in control of the offense and even initiate to go all the way if open.

  7. lakri — August 30, 2011 @ 7:38 am

    @Sane: how you can emphasize something that you think is important is by:

    1/ mentioning that you think this (e.g. rebounding) is important;
    2/ acknowledging it when a player puts in the effort to do the action that you think is important (e.g. gets the rebound);
    3/ execute drills in training (and not only just once a year but regularly) to learn the skill (e.g. from boxing out in defense to weak-side rebounding on offense).

  8. Coach P — September 7, 2012 @ 7:39 am

    I remember my senior year in high school, I got lit up like a Christmas tree pretty good on two separate occasions during a game by my coach. It did not feel good, but thankfully I was taught to listen on what’s being said and not how its being said. Now that I am a Varsity Head Coach, those moments are glaring in my mind every time I take the court. Kids today need constructive criticism not destructive. Have passion, teach the game, and let your players that its ok to make mistakes, just learn from them.

  9. CoachM — February 20, 2013 @ 10:57 am

    In general, I agree with most of what you said.
    How often do you see a coach yell at their team throughout the entire game? The bottom line is: Players stop listening to whatever coach tells them because it feels aggressive.

    Regardless, I feel there are certain phases in games where you need to increase your volume to be heard by your players – especially those periods when your team appears lethargic.

    For me, this happens probably two to three times per season. However, even at these times I consider it imperative to be constructive, which ties in with that you say. Do not tell a player that he does not box out properly – tell him to box out properly. If necessary show him – emphatically. It’s about making your players better, not about making yourself feel better by screaming out your frustration.

  10. Zeki Şeyhoğlu — February 20, 2013 @ 11:19 am

    Well, I read it for myself.Because I m king of yelling. First of my coaching years i was yelling just like a commander of 300 spartans.my friends were telling and warning my bad habbit.
    I just thought to losing gold medal game at olimpics.Nowadays i m trying to control myself and if i realise to yell i m trying to stop to do..yea at least trying :)
    By the way im living in istanbul/Turkey.I have U16 and U18 teams and working to be better.After that i will focus to working to yell less or not.
    Thank you

  11. jorge — February 21, 2013 @ 6:05 am

    I had 12 13-year-old boys training with me, and of 14-and 15. In any cases a shout at the moment of waking it up for a bad location in defense, or a shout in order that it is more combative in a party was not bad. Now, to shout badly and like I insult the person it if I see it badly. Sometimes there are players that a shout wakes them up, others react of different form and mental they fall. It is necessary to see well and have care. With 11-12 years the shouts do not go, more there of these ages I insist with what I said.

  12. Brian Sass — September 6, 2014 @ 10:40 am

    Great article.

    My only reason for being loud is to make myself heard during game situations. The content of what I am saying is the same as at practice.

    I would add:

    1). Simplify: use short, concise terms to describe actions
    2). Continue to use those terms every day to describe that action. Imprint an association between the words you use and the action you want in your players mind. Make the word association as positive as possible.

    Example: if I want only a lay-up in a game situation, I say ” Be patient”. I do NOT want to say “Don’t shoot”. It is a negatively connotated statement that would create hesitation in their normal routine. It starts in practice when I always use ” Be patient” to mean “lay-up only”.

    3). Encourage and correct positively.

    I stopped using the word ” but” to correct. “I like what you did there, but…” unfortunately is seen as a negative, meaning they made a mistake.

    Use “Now” instead. “I like what you did there, NOW do….”. I see what you were trying to do there, NOW…”.

    The word NOW won’t defeat your players the way BUT will.

    Language is the determinant factor in teaching, learning, and understanding. Repetitive use of simple terminology in practice cements it in your players minds so they will associate word with action.

    When they have association down, you can make corrections quickly in games using the terminology you have developed. The need to yell to make the point is significantly lessened.

    Just my two cents.

  13. Reece Spille — May 27, 2016 @ 7:38 am

    In what way do you think coaches can come across to their players without raising their voices? If you were a high school player with a coach who has this problem, how would you bring it up to the coach?

  14. Sam Piraro — August 22, 2016 @ 11:48 pm

    Some very worthwhile information presented. Youth groups do not benefit from post game tirades. The more experienced, competive athlete can get something out of a ” chewing out” as long as the coach is making sense….. being specific on adjustments to make. Nothing wrong with getting their attention before they leave the premises. The key is to make sense…. Explain the situation and relate it to something that is ” life like”. The good players actually thrive in that type of scenario. But not for the youngsters.

  15. Alkebulan — April 3, 2017 @ 9:27 am

    The coach is also to break dwn some of the kids bad habits and rebuild them in integrity. When dealing with some kids they can be stubborn and get in the way of their own success. Nuturing, teaching,motivating ,and critiquing. Without short cuts to build characters. A true coach knows its challenging due to multiple kids with diverse backgrounds. Some sort of (yes) Yelling will take place its part of the sports world.o( in moderation to motivate) Some parents on the other hand. Want some of the easiest treatment for their kids unfortunately thats not reality of learning life skills of the world when advers situations present themselves. With that being said dnt always look for the coaches to be perfect yet patient when you send a child who’s accustomed. To getting his way.( because sadly to say the parent nor are our kids perfect either) I’ve lived it and witness it. I know a coach that yells at the kids …not to destroy them yet to motivate and remove them from damaging their own success. They were dwn 30pts entering the 2nd half of the bsktball game with 3-5min left. What he had told them …yes with yelling made them believe in themselves and (not a video game)….they won by 15. Their self esteem was reformed. With an i can achieve attitude. To each its own about coaching. Because it goes far beyond the playing fields, arenas.etc

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