5 Ways to Con­nect with Play­ers on an Indi­vid­ual Level

Every coach wants to gain trust and buy-in from their play­ers. Relate to them in one-on-one set­tings to get there.

5 Ways to Con­nect with Play­ers on an Indi­vid­ual Level

Every coach wants to gain trust and buy-in from their play­ers. Relate to them in one-on-one set­tings to get there.

Trust is an essen­tial aspect to sports. Ath­letes must believe their coach is putting them in the right posi­tion for both indi­vid­ual and team suc­cess, while coach­es must rely on ath­letes to prop­er­ly exe­cute the schemes and game plans they’ve designed. If trust is sev­ered by either side, the entire team suffers.

That’s why it’s crit­i­cal to con­nect with your play­ers as indi­vid­u­als. The more you and your play­ers are on the same page, the more like­ly you are to find success.

But con­nect­ing with ath­letes isn’t always easy. You’re deal­ing with indi­vid­u­als sig­nif­i­cant­ly younger than you. They’ve had dif­fer­ent life expe­ri­ences. If you’re going to con­nect with them in a real and mean­ing­ful way, you need to estab­lish a part­ner­ship, not a dic­ta­tor­ship. Con­sid­er these five tips to help you do so.

Learn About Their Lives

You can’t paint rela­tion­ships with a broad brush. Each one of your play­ers has a unique sto­ry that got them to where they are now. Their past expe­ri­ences and rela­tion­ships have shaped their cur­rent path. The more you under­stand who they are and where they come from, the more you can approach them in the man­ner that’s going to help them succeed.

Every­thing boils down to your rela­tion­ship with your play­ers,” Gabe Infante, the head foot­ball coach at St. Joseph’s Prep (Penn.), said. How do you treat your play­ers, and do you real­ly care about them? And not just about them as foot­ball play­ers, but as peo­ple? Do you care about them aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly or, in my case, spir­i­tu­al­ly? Are you help­ing them become the best men they can pos­si­bly be?

Once peo­ple trust you, then they’re open to love. Then they’re open to your message.”

It’s also impor­tant to get to know their par­ents. They’re the ones that have the most con­tact with your ath­letes – if you have their approval, that will trick­le down to their sons and daughters.

Con­duct One-On-One Video Sessions

As a coach you’re typ­i­cal­ly not flush with free time. Nei­ther are your play­ers, who are jug­gling school­work, ath­let­ics, rela­tion­ships and jobs. Find­ing time out­side of prac­tice to sync up isn’t an easy task.

But it’s com­plete­ly worth it. Even if it’s just 10 or 15 min­utes, any indi­vid­ual video time you can spend with an ath­lete is worth expo­nen­tial­ly more than a team ses­sion. The ath­letes will be more locked in because they know this time is all about them. There’s no doz­ing off in a one-on-one setting. 

With their full atten­tion, you can get into the nit­ty-grit­ty of how they can improve. Ana­lyz­ing indi­vid­ual shot charts or video of the upcom­ing oppo­nent becomes more effec­tive in this set­ting. Play­ers are also more open to con­struc­tive crit­i­cism because they won’t feel they’re being called out or embar­rassed in front of the whole team.

And if you don’t have time to squeeze in meet­ings with every play­er, cre­ate spe­cial­ized playlists for them to watch. You can still get your point across through draw­ings and comments.

Give Your Lead­ers a Voice

As you spend more time with your play­ers, you’ll rec­og­nize which are the most respon­si­ble, well-spo­ken and pol­ished – those that have the respect of their team­mates. If you think they can han­dle it, let them lead a video ses­sion or a drill in practice.

There are two main ben­e­fits here. First, the rest of the team gets to hear a dif­fer­ent voice. They’re get­ting the same mes­sage, but switch­ing up the mes­sen­ger helps keep it fresh. And sec­ond, they want to hear from their peers, who know what they’re going through.

Take some time in the sum­mer or near the begin­ning of the sea­son to iden­ti­fy a few key influ­encers and meet with them. Train them to lead a video ses­sion or drill. That small time invest­ment will be worth it.

Make Every­body a Somebody

It’s crit­i­cal that every mem­ber of your team feels impor­tant. From the super­star to the last man on the bench, every­one needs to feel some own­er­ship in the team’s success.

Josh Niblett, the head foot­ball coach at Ala. state cham­pi­on Hoover High, is a big believ­er in help­ing all ath­letes find worth. The more a play­er feels he’s con­tribut­ing, the hap­pi­er he’ll be. And the hap­pi­er your lock­er room, the more like­ly your play­ers will buy in.

They’ve got to have a role so they don’t get lost in the pro­gram,” Niblett said. 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.”

Fol­low Them on Social Media

Fol­low­ing the social media mean­der­ings of your entire team might not seem like a fun task, but there’s no bet­ter way of see­ing what mat­ters to them and what’s going on in their lives. Today’s youth doc­u­ment almost every aspect of their day on Face­book, Twit­ter, Insta­gram and Snapchat.

Some coach­es make it a pri­or­i­ty to close­ly mon­i­tor every­thing their play­ers post. This allows the coach­es to gain insights into ath­letes’ moods and moti­va­tions. And if a play­er posts things that might hurt him or her in the eyes of recruiters, the coach can see that and step in.

The con­nec­tion between play­er and coach is unlike any oth­er bond in life. The coach is both a men­tor and a dis­ci­pli­nar­i­an; a shoul­der to lean on who isn’t a pushover. Those are very fine lines to walk, but build­ing trust at the indi­vid­ual lev­el makes every­thing eas­i­er. When an ath­lete believes you tru­ly care about their best inter­ests, they’re much more like­ly to fall in line with what you teach.