Every coach knows that in order for teams to reach their full potential, they need buy-in from everyone on the staff and roster.
Depending on your level of experience and the situation you’re dealing with, earning player trust can be difficult. Here are four tips to help you build rapport with your players.
Create a Culture of Consistency
The most successful coaches and programs always use one word when discussing what makes their program what it is: culture. That culture isn’t built overnight, and it isn’t easy to create. You must remain consistent with your players and with the goals you have established for your program. Instill in your players the core philosophies that will guide the season and stick to these guidelines even when times are tough.
"I think it’s about staying the course and trusting in the process,” said Steve Specht, head football coach at Xavier High School. “We always talk about following the blueprint. It’s just such a fine line between winning and losing, and you have to get kids to believing and following the blueprint. They have to trust the process and everything we’re trying to accomplish.”
If someone isn’t a fit culturally, but is a talented player, you have to follow what you’ve set as the standards for your program. Bending for one player jeopardizes everything you’ve built.
Treat Your Players as Valuable Contributors
Ask your players for their opinions. Try to teach them the why behind your philosophy, and, most importantly, treat them like real people.
Listening and adapting are essential to making everyone feel like they are stakeholders in the team's success. Establishing a role for each player on the team will help them feel important.
"We try to put the kids in the best position, and we try to make sure every kid has got a role, whatever that may be," Josh Niblett, head coach at Niblett High School (Ala.), said. "They’ve got to have a role so they don’t get lost in the program. That’s what you don’t want. You don’t want a kid’s career to be over and he still doesn’t understand what his role is as a football player. We want you to leave understanding that you have value, that you added value to our program. That’s our job as coaches and I take that personally.”
It’s as simple as asking, “Are you seeing anything I’m not seeing?” Simple gestures like that can build confidence in your players, and open avenues of trust that weren’t there before. Listening and adapting are essential to making everyone feel like they are stakeholders in the team's success.
In order for your players to fully trust in your philosophies, they need to understand your message. This seems obvious, but unfortunately it's a part of the job that many coaches overlook. Ensure your players understand their role and responsibilities by speaking to them one on one and then reinforce these ideas during larger group sessions.
“It’s all communication. If you have good communication, they’re going to talk to you at times where they think you’re going too far or if they want to be pushed,” said Jason Negro, head football coach at St. John Bosco High School. “Kids want to be driven, especially the kids we have at our school. They want to be great. So we’re going to constantly push and try to pull more out of them.
“And you have to communicate with your staff, because those are the guys that are in the individual player meetings. Their kids talk to them a little more, and they need to report back to me and say, “Hey coach, I think we need to take a day off,’ or, ‘I think we need to kick them in the butt a little more today.’ If everybody feels there’s an open line of communication, that’s where you have a lot of positive things.”
Always lay out the purpose of a drill, set, scouting report or stretch. If players know why they’re working on something, or where it’s leading to, they will see the value in it and give it their best.
“You have to be really clinical with the theme you’re trying to show whenever you’re using video,” said Aaron Calvin, Performance Analyst for the Nike Academy. “Because with too much noise, the boys just get confused, and they leave more confused than when they came into the session. So it’s really important that you just [hone in] on one theme.”
When a team loses, it is never one person's fault. Your players may feel like their mistakes stood out the most and your fellow coaches may think their position group is to blame, but it’s important to remind them winning and losing is a team effort.
It’s okay to discuss missed assignments and errors in execution in the locker room or in a film session the next day, but there is no benefit to scapegoating anyone in public or behind closed doors. As a head coach, it’s important to let everyone know that the team is a family that doesn't lay blame on any one member.
The same is true when things go well. It’s okay to give praise to someone for a great performance, but don’t forget the rest of the team. Giving praise to all members of the team will give them the confidence that they are not only a valued member of the team, but also that you recognize the time and effort they are putting in.
Creating this mentality can do wonders for bringing everyone together. It teaches your players that you trust them not to make the same mistake twice — and having this tone from the top is invaluable.
It’s important to remind them winning and losing is a team effort.
“I’ve never coached a team that won at the end that didn’t have great leadership, where those guys didn’t hold each other accountable,” said Gabe Infante, head football coach at St. Joe’s Prep. “Those guys weren’t playing for me. They weren’t playing for their school. They were playing for each other. Coaches miss that sometimes.”
Have you had success in earning player trust? Let other coaches know what’s worked for you by dropping your advice in the Forum.