IA Blog

Thoughtful Leadership

🕐 5 minute read

The description, “one-size-fits-all” is commonly used to describe a product, approach or procedure that has widespread applicability or appropriateness. Rely on that description when buying a new hat on Amazon and you may discover it is more like, “one-size-fits-most”. Apply that approach to your coaching style and discover the reality that “not-all-fit-the-mold”.

Too often, coaches and trainers preach “buy in”. They believe that they have developed or discovered a system that will yield positive results and success for everyone, in all contexts, under their guidance. However, I believe this approach is shortsighted. While “buy in” certainly has its place in bringing a diverse group of individuals together to focus their collective energies on a common goal, coaching and communication need to be tailored to the individual athletes. In short, the old adage of “one-size-fits-all” simply doesn’t have a place in sports.

Assess Your Audience

A good coach, in many ways, is a good teacher. Teachers develop relationships with students by being able to determine eaches learning style and deep motivators. What will excite someone to learn or perform and what will cause them to reject the instruction or get frustrated? Essentially, what makes them tick?

As a coach, we can’t simply be a “yeller” to incite action with all team members because that is how we were coached and had success. Sure, there will be instances to bring energy into the gym, but applying the aforementioned approach of “one-size-fits-all” to every group of players will eventually backfire. Instead, pay close attention to how each and every player responds during different segments of practice. Do some thrive in highly competitive environments or pressure-filled simulations? Great, you are learning what makes those players tick. Do others flourish when the pace and energy levels are a bit more tempered or controlled? You are now starting to uncover how to manage your team to maximize individual and team performances.

What about that first-year point guard who always seems to have a “deer in headlights” look on his face during the intense moments when upperclassmen challenge him? On the flip side, what about those moments when that same point guard artfully orchestrates your offense with a placid, yet effective court general demeanor? He is young and maybe outmatched by intense scenarios at this point in his career. That said, he thrives when the pace of the game more closely mirrors Mozart than Metallica.


“We often project the message we want to hear, thinking that is what everyone needs to hear.”


Understand Yourself

Once you start to piece together your team, it is important to look at yourself through a different lens. Perhaps you are a deeply passionate coach who brings energy and intensity to everything you do. Maybe you are more of the mindset that raising your voice from the sidelines does nothing more than to distract your team. I’d argue that both have value, but it is recognizing when to accentuate that and when to rein it in that is most important.

The ultimate key to success is to recognize this, along with your audience’s tendencies, and use each in collaboration. See yourself through others eyes. We often project the message we want to hear, thinking that is what everyone needs to hear. Take the time to see it from both sides.

Apply That Knowledge

Picture this, your team steals the ball and outlets it for a layup to put them up by two points with 10 seconds left. The opponent immediately inbounds the ball and pushes it down the court, 9…8…7. You are frantically calling out coverages and reminders to not foul. 6…5….a shot goes up from behind the arc…it swishes through the net without even grazing the rim. You are down 1 with four seconds left and use your final remaining timeout.

What do you do in the huddle? Well, that depends on what drives your players. If you are that intense and competitive coach who exudes energy, maybe it is time to reel that in and project more calm confidence in the play you are drawing up. If you tend to be a bit more passive normally and your team looks dejected, maybe it is time to inject some fire and belief into your squad.

(Back to the action). You enter the ball and your first-year point guard pushes the ball down court 4…3…2… the whistle blows! A reach in foul with 1.2 seconds left. You are in the bonus so your inexperienced, and at times timid, first-year point guard is shooting 1 and 1, down by 1 point. The opposing coach calls his final timeout to attempt to “ice” the shooter.

Win The Game

How do you handle the situation? You have lived this before as a player and recall teammates shouting and pounding your chest as encouragement. You thrived under pressure, you welcomed it. But you can’t project what you would want or need here, you have to recognize and convey the appropriate message to your audience. Here is a young man who may lack confidence and needs a calming voice in his ear.

You pull him aside in the huddle. The last thing you want to see on his face is that all too familiar “deer in headlights” look we mentioned earlier. You already know that he tends to shut down when you raise your voice or use strategies to motivate him that worked during your playing days. Instead, you keep the message short yet impactful. “It’s just a game. Now go do what we all know you can do and win it for us”.

I’ll stop the cliche theatrics now, but I’ll end promising you one thing. By recognizing the situation and adjusting your approach, you all will walk off the court victorious more often than not.

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *