Coaching Basketball: Establishing Discipline and Getting More Out of Your Players

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Consider this thought...

Don't punish, discipline with the intent to teach. Punishment for poor or inappropriate behavior only serves to fragment the teams focus and hinder their motivation. Not only that, it can cause kids to quit the team.

Instead, discipline with the intent to teach your players how to conduct themselves appropriately.

Rather than yell or punish players that aren't living up to their potential, ask them, "Is that the best you can do? Are you trying your hardest?" Often simply by acknowledging to you or to themselves that they're not trying their hardest, players will try harder, particularly if they know that you notice.

You'll find one of the toughest things as a coach (especially with young players) is keeping their attention and still keep things fun.

Most coaches really struggle with this and I'll tell you that most of them go about it all wrong.

Let me ask you a question.

Do you want your players to have fun and really enjoy themselves?

I would hope so. I certainly do.

Well, unbelievably, one of the best ways to get you players to enjoy themselves and get the most from this experience is by establishing the right kind of discipline.

That's right. Discipline, structure, accountability, and follow-through. Mean what you say!

Kids actually have more fun if they have some good discipline in place. They actually like the structure because it makes them feel more secure. They know what to expect and how to perform.

True, some will test you. Expect it! Be consistent and always mean what you say. If you tell your team that talking during a team meeting means a lap around the gym, then enforce it. Always and for everyone.

Have you ever watched the TV show Super Nanny?

It's funny because her teachings are really effective and reinforce many of the things I incorporate into basketball practices.

I recommend watching her TV show to help with your practices. But in the meantime, here are the things you need to do...

  1. Set rules

  2. Communicate those rules both verbally and in writing.

  3. Have a written schedule

  4. Have a written practice plan

  5. Follow through with your rules

It's actually quite simple but hardly anybody does it right.

Kids are smart. They know what they can get away with.

You must establish some very basic rules and expectations. You owe it to your players, their parents and especially to yourself. Do you really want to coach 20 kids without any discipline or structure in place?

When those rules are broken or expectations are not met, then there are consequences, every time. Not some of the time. Every time!

The behavior of your players will very quickly change if you are consistent with your discipline.

However, this is where most coaches screw up!

They let things slide here and there. They are not consistent in handing out discipline.

Most coaches (and parents for that matter) are continually giving our verbal threats to discipline. But there's rarely action behind their words.

Kids quickly pick up on this and will not listen to you. That's why there must be disciplinary action every time.

Don't be wishy-washy. And very soon, you won't even have to give out discipline because your players learned they can't get away with it.

To give you an idea, I like setting a precedent on the first day of practice. This works awesome!

When you're ready to start practice, you blow the whistle and tell the kids to bring it in.

It never fails. A few kids will hustle in and several others will mill around and slowly walk to you. And some might not even listen at all.

At this point, you immediately discipline them. I generally have them all get on the line and start running sprints. I run them pretty hard.

Then I blow the whistle and call them in again. Trust me, they sprint to me this time.

This is usually the last time I need to make them run for a long time. I might need to give them reminders on occasion. But they generally know I mean business and they learn what they can get away with.

I simply don't let them get away with things that are detrimental to themselves or our practice. And we still have tons of fun! Because that's what it's all about!

Now you might be worried about setting some discipline because you don't want to be the bad guy. And you want them to have fun.

I don't blame you.

Well, don't worry. They will actually like you even more after you get the discipline established.

Trust me. I've been there!

Here are some basic rules and disciplinary actions that have worked for me.

  • No talking when a coach is talking.

  • No lying. Period. There are very severe consequences for this.

  • Always be on time.

  • If you can't make practice always call.

  • Unsportsmanlike behavior is never acceptable.

It's also important to have a written schedule and some type of consistency. Kids enjoy the structure and it helps keep them in line.

You can also structure your practices with some regularity so that your players will know what to expect.

For example, if they know practice will probably start with some hard defense drills and then after 30 minutes they get 15 minutes of fun games that they really love.

The point is that it's important for you to get things under control, preferably right away.

If you're in the middle of your season, you can still have a "transition day" where you start fresh and give your players a brief surprise. Then stay consistent with your discipline from there on out.

Without the discipline, you'll be cutting your players short and struggling to reach your goals.


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Emily says:
3/2/2019 at 4:38:02 PM

Looking for some advice - my 11 year old son has had a coach this year without a plan, set discipline, respect for himself or others. It's been a frustrating and not so fun year as expected.

The coach yells at the boys often and is easily frustrated, but today during a game it was taken a bit too far - in my opinion. After getting frustrated with my son for "taking it to the corner", which I never saw and neither did my 15 year old son who played traveling A team in middle school, the coach took a time out and yelled at my son. The first half finished and my son was sitting on the bench getting a drink of water trying not to cry because he said he was truly trying his best and not taking it to the corner but he wasn't going to argue with the coach. The coach proceeded to come over to the bench, knelt down, placed both his hands on each side of my sons head and was in his face telling my son not to be disrespectful and asked my son if he understood. Of course by this time my son was crying as this is also taking place in front of the bleacher section and once he was crying the coach proceeded to hold on to his head speaking in his face that he was fine...

As a parent I don't feel comfortable with this type of adult behavior, especially because the coach has never established clear expectations but gets extremely frustrated when things are going the way he thinks they should be going. If my son is being that disrespectful I would appreciate a conversation because respect if very important in our family. If my son truly isn't being that disrespectful and hence that is why my I haven't been approached by the coach, I feel it's his behavior that is in question.

I've been at every game and practice but (2) and I haven't ever seen / heard my son be disrespectful. I'm certainly not saying that it isn't a possibility as he is an 11 year old boy, but I haven't ever witnessed it because if I had I would have dealt with it immediately.

What are your thoughts from a coaching perspective?

Thanks in advance


Mohammed Laribi says:
1/7/2018 at 7:24:07 PM


Due to limited resources, I have only one two hour session where it has 35+ people a week. In this session we have various levels of abilities, ages from 12-18 and both genders. This session also caters for our U14 Narional league team and our U18 Local league Boys and Girls

What would be the best way to break down a session to meet the needs for everyone with out having to change the level of coaching for the players at a higher level?

Also with my three teams they have been given their offencive sets and defencive sets. When asked they are able to run their defensive sets with ease but all three teams are hesitant of running their offensive sets during games . How can you make your team run their sets more often during games?

Coach Mohammed Laribi

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
1/9/2018 at 12:58:08 PM

You choose drills that anyone can do but the lower level players go slower and higher level players go faster or get an extra challenge.

As an example, if all 35 players have a ball and do the very basic stationary cross over drill... the lower level players might dribble slower and might struggle to lift eyes up. The high level players should have eyes up, keep the ball really low and wide, and dribble extremely fast. Even with the basic cross over if you go hard the best players can challenge themselves.

Everyone should practice dribbling, pivots, passing, shooting, finishing, etc. But when you practice those skills, the challenge is increased and higher level players just go faster and push themselves.

For offensive sets, we do not have any. We just run motion offense and there is almost nothing to memorize.


Pat Cutts says:
11/29/2016 at 2:42:50 PM

My Grandson, who is on the JV boys basketball team, missed 2 practices due to being out of state for Thanksgiving holiday, and was thrown off the team. He did notify the coach by text that he would not be there.
He comes from a divorced family, whose Mother made the arrangements to go. His father is extremely upset, but feels the coach is being to harsh. He should have a consequence, but not thrown off the team.


Sheila says:
11/9/2016 at 1:40:57 PM

Since we are a small school and have one gym our elementary teams have to share it with the high school so our time in the gym is limited. Our newly established rec basketball assoc has put in place some rules, one being players must meet 75% of practice attendance to be able to play in games. I am good with this rule and I understand why we have it but my dilemma is that since we are such a small school we have to pull up players and that sometimes occurs after we have began practice. I have girls that at this time will not meet the requirement so I have attempted to (when gym time outside factors allow) offer a bonus/make-up practice of either 30min shooting or now I want to offer extra running but I'm having trouble figuring out how many running laps around the gym would be appropriate for the girls to do right after practice. The girls range in age from 9-10. Thanks for your advice. Oh and no I was not going to have them run for 30 min just a set amount of laps that would justify an make-up practice.

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
11/11/2016 at 7:50:14 AM

For 9-10 year olds, I would not have them run many laps... if any. This is am age when they are learning to either like or dislike sports. You want to help foster a love for the sports. So if you feel laps are the right things to do, maybe 10 laps at most. Ideally you sit players out when they are late so you avoid making them think that "running" is a bad thing and a "punishment". But if time is limited, that is not ideal either. Playing time could be reduced too. Each situation is different. I would handle things much different but we have lots of kids that WANT to be there and it's just a different dynamic. Good luck!


RC says:
2/11/2015 at 1:32:35 PM

I am a parent of a 5th grade all-star player. She was doing great playing for her school as Forward. Her team got along great together. She was stealing balls left and right, rebounding, shooting. I was so proud of her. However, when she got on this All Star team she rapidly fell apart. It was so bad I had to take her off the team this weekend. She was on the bench most of the time and made so many mistakes I couldn't count. She had 4 games that day and every one I had to go outside and cry because this was not the same player I knew 6 weeks ago..... After I took her off the team because I thought she didn't belong, she then opened up and said there were two twins on her team that were bullying her to death about her playing, and the coach was doing nothing about it. He was punishing her instead of the twins. My daughter was intimidated so much by these twins that she couldn't play. It was sad, sad, sad!!!! After I told her it was over, she wrote on her hand with ink "I LOVE BASKETBALL!". She's gonna have to face these same girls next year in Middle School but she will have a different coach. How can I help her when there are players on her own team holding her back???

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
2/11/2015 at 3:40:50 PM

I would do some research.. maybe on google on how to handle bullying, as this doesn't sound like a basketball specific issue.

Regarding basketball, I think it's important for players to understand that mistakes are ok. Mistakes are part of the game. The best players in the world at the NBA and WNBA levels make dozens of mistakes every game. Missed shots, turnovers, misread defenses, etc are all part of the game. If Lebron James makes dozens of turnovers getting paid millions of dollars. I think it's ok for a 5th grader to make mistakes. Just play through them and have fun.

I think that ideally lessons start with the coach in practice and is reinforced at home by the parent. Just let them know you love watching them play. That's it.


Jim says:
2/1/2015 at 12:57:50 AM

I coach a recreation team ages 11/12, my star player is a poor teammate. He is a ball hog and thinks he is the best on the team and thinks he can do everything by himself and doesn't trust any of his team mates He talks down to the other players on the team when they make mistakes but when he misses a shot or makes a mistake nobody says nothing to him, he has a attitude with all coaches and is dogging it in practice. The other kids on the team are starting to resent him and dislike him and don't want to play with him and our team is falling apart. Remember he is a great player and in this league you are required to play 2 out of 4 quarters so I can't bench him. Our team has lost 4 straight games after starting out 5-0. What do I with this player, I need help?

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
2/1/2015 at 8:10:21 AM

I'm not sure I can offer much help because I have always had the "bench" as a tool to motivate. If you are currently playing him 3-4 quarters, you could just have him play only 2 quarters when he doesn't follow your instruction.

Most likely you will need to utilize and try a number of different things. You can use some of the following as motivators and influence...

- stats
- get to know the player... ask questions... show interest and try to better understand his motivation and decision process
- play no dribble drills and run your offense with no dribble (he will be forced to learn how to move without the ball and rely on team mates to succeed). this can work wonders.
- talk to league administration. maybe they allow you to suspend players for certain games? I would be amazed if they didn't. If a player got in a fight, swore at a teammate, bullied a teammate, or did anything un acceptable.... you need to have consequences.

Also, check out this article. It might provide other ideas.


KJ says:
1/22/2015 at 1:05:52 AM

Can anyone give me advice on good reasoning to tell my players why individuals don't need to wear head bands and wrist bands at high school level.

  1 reply  

Joe Haefner says:
1/22/2015 at 8:54:41 AM

I'm reaching here... Promotes individuality in a team game.


Coach Eric says:
12/16/2014 at 9:11:16 AM

I am coaching girls JV having never played basketball before. This site has been outstanding. Thank you to all who have contributed.


Jeff Haefner says:
11/15/2014 at 6:41:41 PM

Sharnee - Here are a few suggestions on handling the situation...

- Talk to the player. Try to get to know them a little and find out why he behaves like that. Does he not like basketball? Is he looking for attention? Is he afraid of making mistakes?

- Set clear expectations for the player and communicate clear consequences (ex: he sits out). And immediately follow through once he does not meet expectations. If he mucks around and distracts played, sit him immediately. It will be up to him on whether he complies or sites out.

It's important to follow through because all players will test you to see if you are bluffing.


Sharnee says:
11/15/2014 at 3:54:50 AM

I coach Under 16 boys.... i have this one boy who is really inconsistent. He''ll say hes coming to training and then never show, or he wont call and just not show up, and when he does show up he just mucks around disrupting the other players. Ive tried almost everything to get him to stop, from telling him that if he keeps not coming and not trying his best he''ll be placed in a lower grade to not playing him much minutes in games.

do you or anyone have any suggestions? im getting really desperate. Thanks


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