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Getting Wayward Players Back on Track


It’s hard for teenage basketball players to maintain their focus and keep their priorities in the forefront over the course of an entire season. Heck, it’s sometimes difficult for basketball coaches to do the same thing!

When your players do lose focus, regardless of the reason, something “bad” usually happens – maybe their grades slip or their on-court productivity suffers noticeably. In extreme cases, life changing mistakes are made.

As basketball coaches we have the opportunity to impact lives both on and off the court and often the greatest opportunities to serve present themselves when our players somehow get off track and need some correction.

Whenever you notice one of your players starting to stray it might be a good idea to have some type of face to face meeting in order to get to the bottom of things. Here are some suggestions you might find helpful as you prepare for that meeting:

Basketball Coaches

Nip The Problem In The Bud

A lot of coaches I know have a tendency to ignore problems for a while and just hope they go away or work themselves out – especially if it involves one of their best players. Unfortunately, problem areas hardly ever go away on their own and even tend to get bigger and more complex as time goes by. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll just wake up one morning and everything will be fixed. Take action right away!

Be Brutally Honest and Extremely Specific

Just yelling at a player that he’s been lazy lately isn’t good enough and probably won’t bring about any lasting changes. Instead, tell him that he’s just going through the motions on defense or taking shortcuts in his skill work. The same holds true while discussing attitudes, academics, and personal behavior. Specificity increases accountability.

It’s also imperative that you encourage the player involved to be as honest, and as open, and as forthcoming as possible. If you accept vague, one word answers (or grunts) then you’ll have a much more difficult time in getting to the root of the problem and then solving it.

What Happens to One of Us Effects All of Us

Remind your struggling player of all the people who are being impacted by his losing focus and getting off track. While you don’t want to put any additional pressure on him, you have to understand that players will often make changes for their teammates even though they won’t change or straighten up for themselves.

Ask What Is Causing The Problem

While this step sounds extremely simple, many basketball coaches often overlook it. As Jim Rohn used to say “What is simple to do is also simple not to do.” Determine the source of the problem and then change it, improve it, or eliminate it. (If it can’t be changed, improved, or eliminated then you’ll have to find another way to deal with the situation.)

Again, don’t settle for “I don’t know” or even worse, complete silence. The player involved might be in denial or might be embarrassed and reluctant to talk about what’s happening. It might take a little digging and a little patience but there is always an underlying source or cause.

Work Together To Map Out A Solution

Back in the “old days” a basketball coach could just tell his player the best course of action to take but that isn’t always true anymore. With today’s millennial generation there needs to be much more collaboration to get things accomplished. If possible, guide the player into discovering his own solution – “I need to quit eating so much fast food so I can get my weight back down to normal” or “I need to suspend my Netflix account and spend extra time studying so my grades will improve.”

The solution will be much more effective and will still better and longer if it comes from the player himself.

End On A Positive Note

Even if you have to be a little creative point out what the player has been doing well and how much better he will be once he gets back on track. By the time the meeting is over the player MUST know that you care about him and that you’re sincerely trying to help him recover and improve. The more serious the problem and/or infraction the more the player must feel your love and support.

Meeting with a wayward player is often uncomfortable and usually never fun but it is always necessary – not only for the wellbeing of the individual but for the team as well.

Written By Dave Stricklin

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