Who Are You Coaching For?

By Don Kelbick

Coaching is teaching. New ideas, new thoughts, trying to find ways to improve your players is all a part of coaching.

Coaching is also about control. Many coaches have become so involved with “my way or the highway,” that they miss the overall objective.

The objective is to maximize the players’ ability, not to get them to do what you want. All players are different. The way they learn and perform is unique. Trying to fit a player into a preconceived notion of the way he plays will almost always produce the opposite of the intended effect.

There was a story in the Miami Herald newspaper, recently, that caught my eye. The story was about a freshman player at the University of Miami named Shane Larkin. The reason that it sparked my interest was not because of who he is or how good a player he is (which is pretty good), but rather why he turned to basketball.

When he was younger, Larkin was a pretty good multi sport athlete. In fact, according to the story, baseball was his favorite sport. At least it was, until he ran into a coach who, after watching him bang out hit after hit, said to him that his hitting technique was based on luck and his good fortune would not last. If he wanted to be a good hitter, he had to change the way he hits the ball. The story said, after that discussion, he quit baseball.

On its surface, you might say that Larkin lacked the ability to accept criticism, learn new ideas or adapt to situations. But, in learning about his decision, you have to look beneath the surface.

For those of you who are not familiar with American baseball or are too young to remember some names, Shane Larkin is the son of baseball royalty. His father Barry Larkin is one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game. For 19 years, Barry Larkin was the shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds. In those 19 years, Barry was an All-Star 12 times and won the Most Valuable Player award once. His fielding prowess was second to none and his hitting production compares favorably to the game’s all time greats. In 2012, he was the only player elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Growing up in that household would produce enough knowledge for any aspiring baseball player. But Shane went further than that. He lists his hitting instructors, in addition to his father, Tony Perez and Pete Rose. I would think that they would know a little bit about hitting. Perez is a Hall-Of-Famer who is one of the all time leaders in runs-batted-in and a number of other power hitting categories. Pete Rose is hitting. He simply has more hits than any other baseball player in history.

These are the players that taught Shane Larkin how to hit. I would think that the coach that recommended that Larkin change his hitting theories could probably learn from him.

My question is this; what was this coach trying to accomplish? Was he really trying to teach Larkin to be a better hitter? Or was the coach trying to get him to hit his way, whether it was good for him or not?

That really is something to think about. Coaching should be about teaching, adjusting and maximizing players. Unfortunately, for many coaches, it is about control. I read it in comments and hear it in conversations every day. I also see it in practice and it can be destructive. Too many times I see coaches try to work with absolutes, pass this way, shoot this way, etc. They lose sight of the fact that all players are different and they are unique.

I have learned that there is no “right” way to do things on the basketball court. What is right for Billy might not be right for Bobby. There is, however, effective. Method 1 might be effective for Billy and method 2 might be effective for Bobby. As a coach, we should be open to evaluating which method is best for which player. Allow them to explore what works for them.

More importantly, as a coach, evaluate yourself as to what you are teaching and why. Be honest, are you teaching to improve your players or are you teaching to soothe your own ego? Are the issues really that of deficiency in your player or your own control issues?

As coaches, these are things that we have to decide every day. Keep perspective, teach your players, allow them to learn.

To view coaching products from Don Kelbick, go to Don Kelbick Products.

For more information on Don Kelbick, go to www.DonKelbickBasketball.com.


  1. Paul — February 14, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

    I had a talk with the team the other day about why I coach. We are currently in control of last place in our conference which puts a lot of pressure on the players and the coach. I told the players that I strive to do three things when coaching:
    1) try to help each player become a better individual player by improving his basic skills; 2) try to help each player become a better team player in fulfilling a role on the team for the betterment of the team; 3) try to have the team as a whole improve from the beginning of the season to the end. I also explained to the team that those objectives would not be met unless coach and players worked together and had the same commitment.Finally, I explained that if the objectives were met it would be a successful season regardless of the team’s won – loss record.

  2. Tobe — February 14, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    We are not quite in last but we are in competition for said spot. My address to my team was very similar to Paul’s. I have seen tremendous improvement in all, given the knowledge,skill level and efforts of a new inexperience team. Yet I am very proud of our efforts, and accomplishments for the year. Our team has not bailed, pointed fingers, or neglected addittional practice and instruction. I am proud to be their coach. I only wish their parents would feel the same, and not berate their efforts, which tends to bring them down, and places added pressure when not needed.
    The parents, who come to every game, still tend to carry unrealistic expectations, which seems to be our greatest distraction from being all of what we could be.

  3. Russell — February 14, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

    I agree with Paul and Tobe. And my philosophy is in line with what Don is talking about. But, being new to coaching, I am not terribly confident. It can be hard for us newbs to see how the players feel when they lose game after game without feeling a bit useless.
    On the other hand, it is absolutely awesome to get that first win of a season. It is those moments when you get to say to your players: “Look, that’s what I’ve been talking about all along. Play to your strengths but only in so far as they fit into your team’s plan. Know each other and play to that. Don’t take the first option every time even if driving into the key is your strength. Get there and then pass off sometimes. Keep the oposition guessing as to where the next score is going to come from.”
    With my Under-14′s, getting everyone to defend and getting them competent at defending was my main challenge. They were fine in attack. Beyond that: set plays were a thing of the future. Enjoyment, to me, was the aim of the game.

  4. Rick — February 14, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

    When I coached youth basketball, one of my earlier discussions with my teams was about “my” goals for the players and the team and they were very similar to Paul’s list – 1) for each player to be better at the end of the year than the beginning of the year; 2) for the team to be better at the end of the year than the beginning of the year; and 3) to have some fun and win some games, and I always told them that if we did 1, 2, and 3, that we would have a good year and the winning would take care of itself.

  5. CoachT — February 15, 2012 @ 2:28 am

    Paul I like your 3 things.But I add a 4th. I want them to be better men,human beings,productive citizens. I want them to play catch,basketball, or anything with their sons and daughters someday.For me it’s more than just winning and losing.And I want to win more than anyone else,but it’s more about the kids than anything.
    Just my 2 cents

  6. Jamie — February 16, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

    I coach 8th grade girls and our talent level has been average the last 3 years, but with my system we have averaged 22 wins a year. I tell them at the very first practice that my job is not to make you WNBA players, but to maximize your skill set, and tweak those skills to maximize your results. Like most of you, my objective is to make them great people, great students, and then great athletes. Without the first two, they are not allowed to play for me. I feel in 8th grade it is my job to prepare every player to play in high school. Will everyone be good enough? No. Will I push them to get there? Yes.

    Championships are built off of relentless effort, hard work, and great execution of fundamentals. Each shot is different, but as long as the ball goes in with consistency, and the shot will translate over to the next level, then i don’t mess with it. if it goes in, but it is a 2-handed shot or I can make a minor tweak to make it even better, it will get done. Passing and dribbling though must be done a specific way for each pass or dribble. Hand positioning on those passes and dribbles can differ, but the result must be the same.

    Bottom line is, for me, I have found that demanding perfect execution and not letting my players settle for 30% makes on shots gets them W’s and gets them to successful high school careers. I don’t know if that makes me the selfish coach or not, but I do know that the results are there for my players and their future coaches

  7. ariel rabe — February 18, 2012 @ 1:01 am

    Practice3. I tell the kids that it means,(Practice to the 3rd power) = Practice to learn the right fundamentals, practice to master the right fundamentals, practice to excel in the game. This is printed at the upper back of the free simple jerseys to kids that voluntarily participate in our free basketball cliniic.

  8. Pat Dotson — November 22, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

    Never began to coach looking to define myself ,but always strive to help my guys to define themselves. 29 years and counting. Challenge, Equip and Encourage.

  9. Eric — November 23, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

    I think that when you are coaching a team that has really struggled over the last few years. I think the important thing to remember is that they need to crawl before they can walk and walk before they can run.

    I took over a team that was 1-24 the previous year and very young. I did not realize how young until our second game that year.

    We won 2 last year.

    I spend the entire summer banging my head against the wall trying to figure out a way for them to be successful. I took them to a summer tournament against bigger schools. It was a good tournament. The kids got a lot out of it.

    I have been working them since August. We started official practices two weeks ago. We had a scrimmage date that first week. Then we played our first game last Saturday.

    We lost by 20. But there are a couple of plus’s, one they scored 50 points in their first game. Last year, we hit that mark only once and it took 14 games to do it. Two, the public opinion was that the game was a lot closer than the score. It truly was. I remember a 4 point game late in the 3rd only to have the kids run out of gas.

    Anyway, I have been wrecking my brains trying to figure out how my kids could have run out of gas? After all the conditioning we have done?

    So our break practices have been focused on conditioning, after the first practice I sat with my assistants and we discussed the situation.

    We reached a conclusion that we would grade the kids’ effort after each practice and find out who is working hard. Those that are working hard will start the next game. We told the kids the plan. That practice was great.

    I so much want to turn this program around and give it an identity. I am trying to coach for my players.

    That said, the only way I can see them turning things around is to actually win games. I know it is not about winning, but certainly coaches are not in it to just compete and have fun. We all want to win. the trick is doing it first of all. Then doing it while teaching them how to behave like gentlemen, that’s the challenge.

    Coach Kajca

  10. Coach Kip — May 19, 2013 @ 8:41 am

    I coach because I love teaching, not just basketball but life. There are so many lessons to teach about effort, cooperation, support, dealing with adversity, smiling with victory, the agony of defeat, etc. I was blessed to have wonderful coaches who taught me sports and life lessons. I’m just paying it forward with the hopes that they do the same as they get older. Coaching youth sports is the greatest job that you don’t get paid money for. You get paid in so many other ways that you can’t see, but only feel!!!

  11. David Ranney — June 6, 2014 @ 10:36 am

    A really good article. also think that many coaches are not open to new ideas or investigating better ways of teaching.

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