Smart coaches know the value of listening to others. Assistants, fellow head coaches and mentors can all bring valuable ideas to the table, offering up new plays and strategies the coach may not have discovered.
These sources are all very valuable, but there’s a treasure trove of knowledge many coaches fail to tap into—the individuals actually playing the games.
There’s inherent risk in trusting a player’s opinion as gospel. Most athletes naturally view the game from a selfish perspective, only taking into account how the action affects them and their performance. They have a narrower focus and unlike a coach who sees how each action affects another, they’re more concerned with executing their specific assignment.
That being said, athletes provide a perspective that coaches and spectators simply cannot duplicate. The players are the ones actually seeing, feeling and hearing what’s happening during games. Their input can help unearth insights not attainable from the sideline.
Identify Proper Sources
Not every player is qualified to provide accurate, unbiased information. The human mind isn't capable of being subjective and athletes’ opinions will always be colored by their personal account of what transpired. They’re fighting for more playing time and opportunities, and may not be capable of making objective assessments that benefit the team.
But some upperclassmen have the ability to see the game beyond themselves. These players can offer valuable insight on not only their individual matchup, but the tempo of the game, why a play did or didn’t work, and notes on the opponent.
Identify a few older players, preferably captains, and ask for their input. These interactions will offer a different perspective on the game, give the athlete confidence and improve your relationship.
Turn On the Video
While there’s value in an impromptu discussion during a break in the game, the most important lessons are unearthed when video enters the picture. Neither you nor your athletes remember the game exactly as it happened—stress and emotions affect the way we remember things. The video provides an objective recollection.
Identify certain plays and ask the athlete why they did or didn’t work. What did he or she see that caused a certain set to fail? Did the opponent adjust after seeing the same play a few times? If so, how could the play be tweaked to keep them guessing?
Not only will these sessions help you learn new information, but it will create a more approachable environment within your program and better prepare your athletes if they aspire to coach some day.
Find the Style that Works
During your career you’ve developed a style of play you’re comfortable with and feel confident in. For the most part, it’s up to the players to fit in with your way of doing things.
But it’s wise to make tweaks based on your roster. Each group of players is different, and sticking to one approach might be setting them up to fail. Ask your most trusted players what they think might work or if there’s something the team can do better. You don’t have to make sweeping changes based off these suggestions, but sourcing more information gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what the locker room thinks when you’re not around.
Athletes can be an invaluable source of information if you use them correctly. Going to them for insights builds trust and sheds light on things you can’t see from the sideline. Something as simple as a 15-minute video session can go a long way in fostering trust and discovering new clues to help the team. For more tips, check out our Coaching Resources page.