As a former Division One basketball player I have played for nearly 50 different coaches in my life. The most consistently clear distinction is that good coaches lift up, inspire, and motivate while bad coaches bring down, discourage, and instill self-doubt in their athletes. The problem here is that nearly all coaches would place themselves in the former category, regardless of the thoughts of their players. Many coaches, even youth coaches, become so wrapped up in the pressures of winning they are willing to resort to any tactic to get the win. This technique shows the athlete that their development and growth are less important than the outcome of the game. Unfortunately, many coaches who have the potential to be great are unknowingly stunting the development and mental game of their athletes.
Good coaches harp on technique, hard work, and the joy of the game. A good coach benches you for using your dominant right hand on a left-handed layup. A good coach meets you at eye level and explains that scoring isn’t as important as getting the proper technique down. A good coach tells you “I would rather see you miss the rim completely, as long as you are doing it the right way, because I know in no time you will be scoring with that left hand like you have your whole life”.
Bad coaches harp on the importance of winning, the presence of talent, and one’s ability to hide their negative emotions, pain, and fear. A bad coach benches you for missing that left-handed layup you’ve been working so tirelessly to perfect. A bad coach loses their cool and shouts at you for your mistakes. A bad coach tells you “I don’t care what it takes to win this game, I need you to do everything you can because the team needs you”.
Good coaches can correct and critique while simultaneously lifting their players and motivating them to be better. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself before a coachable moment if what you are about to say will show that you value the athlete more than the outcome. Do not be afraid to ask your players for feedback. All athletes are different and coaching styles should attempt to capture individual differences to the highest degree possible.