It is easy to watch an NBA game and want to be one of the coaches walking up and down the sidelines, calling plays, and substituting players. What you don’t see during the two-hour TV broadcast is all the work that the coach does before and after the game and you especially don’t see the years of dedication and training they put in in order to get to that position.
Beyond the small group of coaches and assistants in the NBA there are also thousands of other basketball coaches at every level of the game, from college and high school to recreational and youth league coaches. Basketball coaches are an elite club of brothers and sisters who have all dedicated themselves to a similar profession and set of values. This article is designed to help give you a better understanding of how to become a basketball coach, starting from your earliest playing days, up to what it takes to run a team and advance in the profession.
Play As Much As Possible
Many people who are interested in coaching basketball wonder if they themselves have to play basketball first. The answer to this is both yes and no; many of the greatest basketball coaches in history have been ex-players, however they are not the only ones who have found success – many other great coaches have never played at a high level of any kind.
That said, it certainly does help a coach to play or have played basketball themselves for several reasons. Playing basketball gives you an intimate, ground-level understanding of the game, how it works, and what it feels like to be a player. The more situations you have been in yourself, both on and off the basketball floor, the more knowledge and understanding you are able to give to your players when they encounter those situations. It might also help you gain the respect of your players if they know you played and achieved a certain level of success for yourself.
While there aren’t many coaches who have never played a game of basketball, the vast majority of coaches have also not made it to the NBA. On the court basketball skills are not the same as coaching skills, and sometimes the worst players make the best coaches. Players on the bench get to watch more of the game from the coach’s perspective, and it often drives them to find ways to improve themselves. When they become coaches, they can then offer all the wisdom they gained through this process to their players, starters and role-players alike.
If you want to be a basketball coach, try to play as much as possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s pick-up games, a local recreational team, or your high school squad, just get on the floor as much as you can. It also doesn’t matter if you’re great or terrible as long as you learn from your experiences on the floor and apply them to your coaching practice.
Watch As Much Basketball As Possible
If you are interested in coaching basketball, then being told that you should watch as much basketball as possible should not seem like a chore. Watching basketball is something that you’ll be doing a lot of if you are a coach – from practices, to games, to film room sessions – so it should be something you really love to do.
Watching basketball like a coach is also a skill that can be developed and is one of the primary ways to learn the game. First, don’t just watch highlight shows or post-game wrap ups. While those can be valuable too, there is far more to the game than the handful of dunks and three pointers that are shown on SportsCenter.
Try to watch a full game from start to finish, regardless of what level it is or if it’s men’s or women’s basketball. Coaches aren’t watching the game the same way as fans are; they’re paying more attention to the specifics and the nuances of the action. They watch the whole court, not just the player with the ball, and have to be attuned to everything that is happening at once.
As you watch, spend time paying attention to the offensive and defensive sets that the teams are using and the plays they are running. Watch the coach on the sidelines as they talk to their players. Listen to the announcers as they discuss the nuances of in-game strategy. All of this information will begin to form the foundation of your basketball knowledge and will be critical when you are running a team yourself.
Also, whenever possible, try to go to live games. There is something about the atmosphere that cannot be replicated on the small screen. From the energy and noise of the crowd to the size and speed of the players, it has to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. Live basketball is a great chance to get up close to the action so that you can hear the coach and what they are saying to their players. Regardless of where you live, there will always be basketball games happening somewhere nearby; go and try to soak in as much of it as possible.
No one walked up to Steve Kerr or Tyronn Lue and asked if he or she wanted to coach a championship-quality basketball team. They both started coaching at lower levels and worked their way up. Start by volunteering to help coach a youth team at your local community center, YMCA, or rec league.
Most people will have to start their coaching career as an assistant coach, which is an invaluable learning opportunity. Watch everything that your head coach does, from the drills that they use to the skills and techniques they impart, to the ways that they interact with their players and support staff. Take note of everything they do that makes them successful while also keeping an eye on things that you might like to improve upon when you have a chance.
You can demonstrate that you deserve more opportunities by first doing the fundamental things right: showing up early and staying at least as long as the head coach does. If possible, you should also put in time away from the gym studying the game and your team. Never undermine your head coach and do all that you can to implement and communicate their strategies to the players.
The best in the craft are recognized for their dedication and tend to be rewarded for it. It is important to remember, however, that no one automatically deserves a head coaching job. Coaching positions are something you have to prove that you are worthy of by showing your dedication to the craft. Whatever level you start at, if you take it seriously and apply yourself then you’ll be able to advance. You may never become an NBA head coach, however you will be able to find a coaching job that is right for your skills, abilities, and experience.
Another way to get experience is by getting an education. To coach at the high school or college level, you will probably need at least a bachelor’s degree; however, schools can offer prospective coaches far more than just credentials.
First, schools tend to offer multiple ways to play basketball. Try out for your school team and if you don’t make varsity or JV, then join an intermural squad. You can also volunteer to be an equipment manager or student assistant, which is a great way to get close to the coach so that you can observe their habits.
Second, many schools offer basketball classes as part of the physical education department. Far from the pick-up games you may have played in grade school PE classes, many schools offer classes in fundamentals, techniques and history that go far deeper into the nuances of the game than you’ll ever hear on a TV broadcast.
Third, this is one way that you can meet people and show them your talent and interest. People often talk about coaching “trees” or “families”; networks of people who have worked together and who share similar philosophies. You get to talk coaching with people who love it and are eager to share their knowledge and wisdom. Plus, if you work hard and display your knowledge of the game, then who knows – maybe they’ll add you to their coaching staff one day!
There are some fundamental skills that you must possess as a person, or else dedicate yourself to improving, if you want to be a good coach. Leadership skills are an obvious necessity and these can be practiced anywhere. You can develop your leadership skills any time by being a good role model, embracing difficult opportunities, and helping others to succeed.
Care for others is in fact one of the primary traits that a good coach has. The one thing a coach can’t do is play the game for their players; they have to figure out ways to motivate them, connect with them, and educate them instead. This takes empathy and compassion for others. You have to be able to communicate with and care for your players off the court in order to get the most out of them on it.
Good coaches also tend to have high energy levels and enormous amounts of dedication. Being the coach means getting there before your players arrive and staying after the last one leaves. It often means watching hours of film, taking late-night calls from players, meeting with them in your personal time, and dedicating enormous amounts of your personal time toward performing your duties and improving your craft.
Attention to detail is critical in this endeavor. Coaches are responsible not just for all the strategic decisions that happen over the course of a game but also for the many thousands of small choices that have to be made leading up to that point. Coaches have to be able to watch all of their players and offer specific, individualized advice about how to improve, from micro details like footwork to personal details like helping them understand the importance of good work habits.
Many of the details that a coach has to care for are often mundane and seemingly unrelated to the game of basketball at all. This can include making transportation details, coordinating food and drinks for the team, organizing team bonding sessions, and planning year end awards. As a head coach every facet of the team is your responsibility, no matter how large or how small they may seem.
Other important skills that a good coach needs are intelligence, strategy, and competitive spirit; however, none of these are as important as the number one thing that you need to be a good basketball coach: love of the game. This is the one defining trait that every successful coach shares. It is impossible to do everything that is required of a head coach without a deep and abiding passion for the game of basketball.
Coaching can be very hard on a person. In addition to the long hours and physical demands of the job, being a basketball coach can also be emotionally draining. You have to celebrate the wins and mourn the losses. You have to tell players that they made the team and also that they didn’t make the team. You have to guide your players through slumps, interpersonal conflicts, and personal tragedies – and you have to do it all while acting like a good leader and role model.
To be a good basketball coach you have to live and breathe basketball – watch it on TV, talk about it with your friends, and play the game whenever possible. Read books about strategy and biographies of the greats that came before you. If all of this sounds boring or frustrating to you, then maybe coaching is not right for you. If, on the other hand, this sounds like what you love to do anyway, then congratulations: you may have what it takes to be a basketball coach.