Coaching Basketball: Establishing Your Philosophy and Priorities

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To be an effective basketball coach, the first thing you need to do is establish your philosophy and priorities.

This might sound silly. Nevertheless, this very important step allows you to apply very effective coaching techniques.
Here's how it works...

You see, the most effective way to get the results you want is to emphasize the "right" things.

It's all about what you emphasize!

Players really notice this.

If you consistently emphasize and talk about rebounding, passing the ball, and playing the right way, then you're players will pick up on those things.

For example: At the very first team meeting, you might want to tell your players that you already know who two of the starters will be. The first starter will be the best defensive player on the team. And the second starter will be the best rebounder on the team. (This will get their attention!)

It's all about what you emphasize! If you're constantly talking about rebounding, you're players will pick up on that and become good rebounders.

You'll notice that they start talking about it. They might say something to another teammate like, "Hey, make sure you block out and get the rebound!" Or you might hear, "Hey coach, how many rebounds did I get today?"

If you constantly emphasize rebounding and defense, then you will probably have a team that is really good at defense and rebounding.

This concept is very simple, yet extremely important and very powerful.

Most coaches make the mistake of emphasizing the wrong things or emphasizing too many things. They end up getting poor results.

I know everything seems important but you just can't emphasize everything.

It's much more effective if you pick a few important things and primarily focus on those things. Just ask any successful college or NBA coach. They'll tell you the same thing because that's where I learned the concept.

In the business world, we use a similar concept. We often talk about "Focusing on the critical few, versus the trivial many." Whether it's business or basketball, it's an effective concept.

How Do You Decide What to Emphasize?

Here's what you need to do...

First, ask your self a few questions.

  • What are your coaching goals?
  • What are the most important things for you to teach?
  • What do you really want your players to get out of this experience?
  • What does your team need to be really good at to be successful?
  • How will you define a successful season or team?
Write down whatever comes to mind.

It's important to get this stuff on paper because you'll ultimately need to document these things and give it to your players.

To give you some ideas, here are a few things you might want to emphasize...

  • Playing the right way.
  • Defense
  • Teamwork
  • Rebounding
Now let's take things a step further.

What is your coaching philosophy?

In other words, what are your priorities in life?

This goes in line with what you emphasize to your team but it's not about specific basketball skills, like rebounding. It's about much more important things.

As a basketball coach, you have a VERY important responsibility.

You have a bunch of young players that look up to you. Believe it or not, they listen to you.

In addition, you have an opportunity to have an impact on their life!!

Think about it.

You're in a very powerful position. Most teachers would do anything to have the power that you have. Many of their kids could care less about what they are teaching. Heck, many of the students don't even want to come to class.

However, your players actually look forward to practice and games. These kids actually come to you and want to play basketball. They enjoy it. They are passionate about it.

Here is just a few of the things that players might be expecting from you:

  1. Fun.
  2. Learn new or better skills.
  3. Wins, yes, they want to win.
  4. Camaraderie.
  5. Fun.
Notice that fun is on the list twice. Unless you're a professional coach or a college coach with scholarships, your players certainly didn't join the team to have a bad time. Honestly, they probably didn't join to learn life lessons either but they will learn life lessons from you whether you intend to teach them or not.

Your choice is, what life lessons do you want them to learn and how.

Everything that you do and say will make an impression on them.

You have an unbelievable opportunity to teach them so much about life and basketball.

You probably don't realize it, but the things you say without a second thought can stick with a kid for LIFE!

Think back to all of the coaches that you had in your life. You remember every one of them don't you?

Of course you do.

I do too.

I remember so many little things about my basketball days. I remember the coach praising me. I remember the coach yelling at me. I can remember his exact words. I remember whether the coach had confidence in me or not. I remember believing everything that my coach told me, whether he was right or wrong.

Don't overlook the power of your position.

Some of the things you say and do can have a positive effect on these kids for life!

So what can you do about that?

Decide how you want to affect them. What message do you want to communicate?

Consider this interesting coaching tactic...

I knew a truly successful coach whose number one goal was to communicate and emphasize teamwork.

He communicated it in practice verbally. He reinforced it with drills. Every single time someone passed the ball, he offered praise. In fact, it was the only time he offered praise.

Even more impressive to me as a parent was how he handled the games. Regardless of whether the kids won the game or not, he reacted exactly the same way -- every time! He praised the teamwork efforts.

He didn't criticize the players for not passing the ball but he didn't praise them for single handedly scoring either. He only praised for teamwork. The players that showed more of an effort to work as a team played more during games.

When the kids lost a game, he wouldn't say, "I'm sorry that you lost." When they won a game, he wouldn't say "Congratulations" or "Good Job."

He only pointed out the teamwork efforts.

Now this team did manage to win a majority of their games. Do you know why? Because they worked together as a team. (And because he emphasized the fundamentals.)

How did the kids react? They strived to work together as a team. Even the showboats!

Document Your Priorities

Decide how you want to affect your team, what message you want to communicate to them and write it down. Document your coaching philosophy, goals, and what you want to emphasize.

You need to get your priorities in order first if you want to be able to communicate them well. Once you've accomplished this, then you can get your players priorities in order.

To give you an idea, Morgan Wooten, the basketball coach with the most wins in high school history, had the following priorities:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. School
  4. Basketball
He then made sure his players understand those priorities. He emphasized those priorities all year long.

I personally like to take things a little further. I have similar priorities but I write down the "life lessons" I want to teach the kids for that year.

For example, some of the things I often try to teach and emphasize are:

  • Playing the right way: playing fairly, playing hard, doing your best.
  • Telling the truth and being honest is more important than anything, including basketball.
  • How to take responsibility for their actions
  • Teamwork
  • Helping others - Get them to realize that just one person saying to you, "You've made my day!" makes your day too.
  • Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% attitude - it's what you make of it.
These are just a couple examples. I know I can't teach everything, especially in one year, but if I can just teach a couple important "life lessons", then I know that I've had a positive impact on this young persons life.

These are all things that will teach the kids how to be successful in life.

Now make sure you write down your coaching philosophy and the important things you want to emphasize. Keep those things with you at all times. Look at them before every practice.

This will help you stay focused and emphasize the right things.


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Chris says:
5/9/2019 at 7:56:33 PM

Well done simply written but hit the nail on the head welldone


Coach Hale says:
7/15/2018 at 5:14:42 PM

You take them to the children''''''''s hospital and show them kids who will never be able to walk again, children who were born without limbs and doesn''''''''t have opportunities to even play basketball.You take them to the city of Chicago or Detroit and show them poverty and children who will never have an opportunity to escape that poverty to enjoy a game of basketball. Take them to the Washington monument and show them the unforgotten tombs. Men that sacrificed their life so we can enjoy our freedom and compete in sport! If they don''''''''t want to play basketball after that field trip than they can #handoverjersey

  1 person liked this.  

Ruth King says:
1/27/2018 at 11:20:55 AM

Along with coaching philosophy we also need to teach THE HISTORY OF THE GAME!


Ron says:
4/24/2016 at 9:13:36 AM

There''''s always gonna be "haters" Christine, just do your best and if your team is doing well, your players are not complaining, that''''s all that matters. Plus you are doing it for volunteer, I applaud you for that. :)


Coach K says:
3/12/2016 at 12:17:55 AM

Thanks Jeff for a well composed and very important article. I have only a slightly different perspective and that is that formulating a philosophy is not the FIRST thing. I've seen far too many young coaches who don't understand the nuts and bolts of the game try and formulate a philosophy. Rotten wood builds a poor house.

The steps that come before this in my mind are to a) study the game, b) learn what the building blocks are, and c) note that they actually have to be taught (teaching skill). Then I think it's a good idea to dig deep inside yourself, find humility and set your ego aside and apprentice with someone who knows what they are doing. Unfortunately we live a society where credentials and skills mean less and less and few people want to bother with the effort to acquire and polish them.

This is why there are so many responses in the thread with unhappy endings .Teaching isn't opening the ball cage and running a scrimmage. It's rolling up your sleeves, getting in there, getting your hands dirty, and instructing. If you can't manage that no philosophy in the world is going to help you.


Cbo says:
3/23/2015 at 4:02:46 PM

Hello! I have one question bothering....

What u people think when it is ok to start givin more playing time to the best players on ur team?

Other way around: what is the age of the kids when u r not anymore sharing playing time egualy?

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
3/23/2015 at 4:34:01 PM

It all depends on the situation. With out 4th graders playing time is not equal for each game (I try to match them up based on ability so they can all succeed and yet get challenged). However during the course of the entire season playing time ends up about equal.

Generally speaking, I think playing time should mostly be equal until about 6th grade. But again it depends on the situation. I think all kids should get opportunities to play... you never know who will develop if they just get a chance. But also as they get older learn how to "earn playing time".

  1 person liked this. 1 reply  

Cbo says:
9/3/2015 at 3:30:34 PM


I coach u10 and here of course I share playing time equaly... Only if someone is behaving badly or something like that they r not getting minutes...


Todd says:
3/14/2015 at 11:25:12 AM

Your input is awesome and has given direction!


Ken Sartini says:
3/10/2014 at 10:47:31 AM


Go to this page.

I had a lengthy conversation with a parent about a situation pretty similar. Read everything I said to "Concerned Parent" and you might get some ideas / answers. She might even reply to you also.

I hope this helps.


Donna Marie Valentine says:
3/7/2014 at 3:18:45 PM

This article is so profound to me and absolutely what I agree with. Unfortunately, my 15 year old daughter has had the most horrible experience playing basketball during her Freshman and especially this year (sophomore year). She started for her Freshman year and the new coach (finishing her schooling to be a teacher) did nothing but scream at the team and criticize. She did not quit. She came to the open practices in the summer, went to the Princeton basketball camp and the captain's practices in the Fall. This year they decided to place one Freshman on JV and rotate 6 others in with a total of 16 girls on the team. My daughter sat on the bench and sat out games entirely. She went to every practice and even sustained a concussion trying to show how well she can play. The head coach said he did not want to hear from parents. My daughter said the JV coach acted like she did not exist. She worked hard in practice, but it made no difference. She stayed for all the varsity games and helped with the books, etc. She never started a game, only played in some games for a few minutes. The Freshman were not good players and after they were put in we lost all but 3 JV games. The very last game she went in, in the 2nd quarter and played the rest of the game (with 2 other Freshman). She was outstanding. She rebounded 6 times, made foul shots, baskets, stole the ball - really amazing - the Freshman really did nothing. We found out that he chose the permanent Freshman and 2 other Freshman to practice with the varsity for the last tournament. Therefore, it is obvious that he chose these girls to start on JV next year and swing to varsity (this is how he does it). She loves to play. She is all about the team - it is really heartbreaking. You cannot speak to the Athletic Director and the varsity and JV coach will not speak with parents. I have asked my 15 year old to speak to her JV coach, but she is/was so demoralized she felt that she couldn't. I have that last game on tape. I wish I could call a meeting and share all that has gone on and ask for outside coaches to come and evaluate her ability. She has done everything in terms of commitment and attitude that he asked - but it seems that she was only there as practice fodder and to continually pay for things for the team. They just want you to walk away, but I feel that the someone should speak out about all the unfair/unjust things that have been allowed to go on. If you tried out and other players were picked because their ability was better that would be one thing, but that is not the case here. The worst part, is that after all I have taught her to keep displaying the right work ethic and attitude, her treatment last year and especially this year (4 months season every day) makes it really hard for a 15 year old to believe in these values. What are your comments/opinions on this experience and do you feel that I am just supposed to have her quit, give up and walk away or try to address this?? Thank you so much for your time.


Mrs. Valentine


murugan says:
9/26/2013 at 10:12:44 AM

Dear sir,
your article is amazing, its gives me moral support, its teaches me the life skills,should be taught to kids then sports skills, very informative , each line and words are effective and very usefull , a big thanks to team members of breakthroughbasketball site , usually i will not write comments in any website , this is the first time iam giving comments, because i admired the way information given in this article,
thanks a lot sirs
May god bless you and your team members always
sir one question, sir how can keep the spirit and energy throughout the day 100% b.cos iam getting tired from my time table given by the school iam taking my class very effectively from morning and evening but in the midday like 12 pm to 2pm very difficult to keep my mind , body, sound way , but iam saying my self , iam here to teach life skills through sports , can you give idea to keep the energy, and mind power level to be always high
please guide me sir this my mail id
by murugan sports teacher


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