I am sure many of you are wondering why I am writing a blog about building solid relationships, as that certainly seems like a topic more suited for Dr. Phil or Oprah, not a basketball strength & conditioning coach.  Oh contraire!  While I will certainly elaborate on my thoughts, I truly believe that everything in life comes down to relationships.  Everything. To be successful in any walk of life, from basketball to business, you have to know how to build and maintain solid relationships.  As author Jeffrey Gitomer said, “Quality relationships lead to success, wealth, and fulfillment.” On some level, isn’t that what we all want out of life? I know I do. Sometimes I think basketball players and coaches take this for granted and forget how important it is to have a sound relationship with each other, both on and off the court.  My goal with my weekly blog is to cover as many topics as possible that deal with success, and in my opinion, nothing is more important than developing relationships.

While there are numerous relationships that directly affect and impact basketball players and coaches, this article will focus more specifically on their relationship with each other. The player to coach (and coach to player) relationship is fundamental for ultimate success on the court. There are several components to any quality relationship, but the characteristics I am going to focus on between coaches and players are respect, trust, communication, and compromise.

Let me preface this blog by saying one of the main reasons I do what I do for a living is because of the relationships I get to have with those I work with. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the game of basketball and have a deep passion for strength and conditioning, but when it is all said and done, I cherish and value the relationships most.  I am so thankful and fortunate to have been able to really get to know hundreds of players and coaches in the last 10 years and have had some amazing, memorable, and life changing experiences and relationships. And I welcome and look forward to many more to come!

Like most coaches, I enjoy watching the players I work with progress through high school and go off to college. I get so much satisfaction seeing someone I worked with enjoy the fruits of success, whether on the court or off it.  I value these relationships and work hard at maintaining them. I go to a high school or college game almost every night of the week to support the kids I train, talk with their families, and see all of their hard work pay off. I also make sure to catch as many games on TV as I can and stay in close touch with my former players who are in college or in the pros.  Between text messages, emails, and Facebook, I do my absolute best to stay involved with the majority of the players I have worked with. I don’t want anything from them, but to stay in touch and be there if they need anything. I am very appreciative of how many former clients, players and coaches reciprocate and check in with me to do the same.  That is my definition of job satisfaction.

Player to Coach Relationship

How many times have you heard a player use their coach as a scapegoat for why they aren’t successful? “I would play more, but the coach doesn’t like me” or “My coach is an idiot. I'm a shooting guard and he is making me run the point.”  These are just excuses. As a player, whether in high school, college, or the NBA, your coach is your “boss.” He is or she is the CEO of your team and program and as the old saying goes, “the boss signs the paychecks.” That means the coach is in charge, period. The sooner you acknowledge that the better. With that said, as a player, if you truly want to maximize your ability and development, increase your playing time, and increase your chance to play at the next level, it is in your best interest to have a superb relationship with your coach.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they do, but you have to do your part to contribute to the relationship.  Do you ask your coach if you can stay after practice so you can get up more shots? Do you thank him if he says yes? If you aren’t playing a lot, do you ask your coach what you need to work on to get more minutes? Do you show your coach the same respect you show your parents or the principal of your school? Do you listen with your eyes and your ears when the coach is speaking at practice or team meetings? Have you earned your coach’s trust and respect? Do you know much about your coach outside of basketball? Does he/she have any kids? What do they like to do aside from basketball?

If you are currently a basketball player, at any level, and feel there is some strain in your relationship with your head coach, I challenge you to take the first step in mending things.  Trust me; it will go a long way and ultimately, will help you in the end.  And if you feel as though your coach is unapproachable, or you are really in the dog house, is there an assistant coach you can speak with to help mediate things?  If you currently have a great relationship with your coach, congratulations! Make sure you thank them and let them know how much you appreciate them.

Coach to Player Relationship

Most coaches have noble intentions.  I have never met a basketball coach, at any level, who does it solely for the money.  They coach because they love basketball and enjoy working with young people. But times have changed with today’s technology, even in the 15 years since I was in high school. While many coaches have sincere intentions, I know plenty that don’t make the effort necessary to really understand the youth of today.

I think a coach’s primary job description should be to be an exemplary role model and provide an atmosphere for the student athlete to take full advantage of their basketball potential. A coach should be a teacher of the game.  A coach should be a motivator.  A coach should be a mentor. And while it is not the coach’s job to be “friends” with his players, I do think coaches should make every attempt to show his players he cares about them as people; not just as basketball players.

As a coach, whether at a small high school or a major university, you should get to know your players, know what is going on in their life, find out what makes them tick, and do your best to stay up with the times.  How well do you know your players’ families or girlfriends? Do you know how to text message or what Facebook even is? Do you know what kind of music your players listen to?  Do you know what their goals and dreams are? And while I will reiterate, it is not the coach’s job to be friends with his players nor try to emulate them in how they dress or speak, but a coach should make every attempt to be likeable and show that he cares.  Kids will always play harder for someone they like as well as someone they know cares about them.  If you get on your kids really hard when they don’t play well, do you balance that out with encouragement and praise when they do? It has been my experience that kids crave discipline as long as it comes from someone they care about. It is important for a coach to understand, especially when dealing with today’s kids, that respect and trust have to be earned, they aren’t automatic like they were 15 years ago.  A player is not going to respect you just because you are the coach; you have to earn their respect through the way you carry yourself and the way you treat them.  Even though it might not be your taste, respect the way they walk, talk, and dress. And if you truly want your players to work hard for you every day, then you need to work just as hard for them.  Put effort into your practice plans, scouting reports, and team functions. Come in early and stay late. The more you do for your players, the more they will do for you.

The Inner Circle

Nothing is more important than the relationship you have with your inner circle, or as it was referred to in the movie Meet the Parents, “the circle of trust.”  Whether you are a freshman in high school or a 55 year old college coach, everyone of us should have a small group of family and friends we utilize to make life’s most important decisions.  I know I do.  My parents, my fiancé, and a handful of close friends (all of which I have known for years) make up my inner circle.  These are the most important relationships in my life. These are the people I trust to offer their opinions and advice when I need them.  These are people who know me as well as I know myself. 

Do you have an inner circle? Who is in it? Does your inner circle only have people you trust? Would you trust them with your car? With your girlfriend? With your life? Could you call them if you were stuck somewhere at 2 a.m.? Are they people that have always been there for you or someone new on the scene? Are they people that will love you and support you even if you don’t “make it” or if they disagree with your decision? Do these folks tell you what you need to hear or what you want to hear?

It is especially important for young people (high school and college age in particular) to create and maintain this inner circle.  In regards to elite level basketball players, deciding which college to play for or which agent to sign with are two monumental decisions to make. Who will you listen to when making these decisions? Will the folks in your inner circle lean toward the best situation for you or for them?  I am fortunate enough to work with and get to know the nation’s top high school players every year at a variety of events, camps, and academies and I see first hand which players have a tight circle and which ones are easily distracted by hanger on-ers and phony entourages.  From there, it is pretty easy to determine who will be successful in the long haul and who will be gone with the wind.

Some of the thoughts and concepts in the blog were derived after reading Jeffrey Gitomer’s “Little Black Book of Connections.”  This was hands down one of the best books I have read on the subject of networking and relationship building.  I highly recommend any of Mr. Gitomer’s books, and I have several.  Whether you are a player, a coach, or a trainer, his philosophy will help you achieve higher success.  You can buy his books at all major book stores or visit www.gitomer.com.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog, or my services in general, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com.  I will do my best to respond as promptly as possible.

Train hard. Train smart.


Alan Stein, CCS, CSCS