Tom Thibodeau was fired as head coach of the Chicago Bulls last week - a public torching by Bulls management topped off by his own players ripping him on the way out. One more reminder that coaching is not for me. I knew early on I didn't possess the patience coaching demands watching my sister's get tested over coaching 14 seasons of high school basketball. The breaking point for her came in the form of a dad chest bumping her over his daughter's playing time. Maybe that's what led me to call games instead of coach them. .
This Bulls team was equipped to win a title, but egos got in the way, and the relationship between Thibs, management, and the players crumbled quickly. The libra in me wanted so badly to step in and mend the fences. The Bulls ended the season with an embarrassing loss to the Cavs in Game 6.
From the NBA to AAU, talent isn't enough, especially if the mojo is gone and eye contact is avoided at all costs. Every team needs chemistry to build success, and that starts with communication. Just from what I watch at the college level there is an evident, widening disconnect between players and coaches, especially men's teams. Guys typically don't embrace conversation. Creating chemistry isn't easy to do, but from my own experience as a player and observing coaches across the country as an analyst here's what works, and what doesn't:
The method a coach chooses to motivate and create team communication sets the tone to teach X’s and O’s. Before the season started at Coastal Carolina, our coach and his wife had us over for a barbecue and had us perform made up skits. We loved it because it didn't involve working out, and it really did help bring us closer together.
Some coaches take it to another level. Texas Head Coach Shaka Smart takes his team and staff through Navy Seal training! A motivated player is buying whatever you’re selling, a discouraged one will tune you out. It’s human nature!
Respect is given when respect is earned. One time a coach got within an inch of my face to tell me I f*ing sucked and to go run for the next hour of practice. He was too simple to understand degrading me didn’t motivate me. I was supposed to respect this clown after what he said? No chance. On the inside I was raging, but on the outside, I managed to stay emotionless by staring at his shiny bottom lip, counting the little flecks of mint Copenhagen stuck to it. That served as my personal tipping point. I transferred high schools after that season.
When I watch practices, I pay attention to how much the team is talking. Lately when I ask coaches, “How do you get your team to communicate?” many times they shrug their shoulders. Other than the obvious answer, cell phones and social media, what else has led to being introverted as the new normal?
I think about it like this… an 18-year-old freshman has grown up during a pretty weird time. He or she was four years old on 9/11, and ten when the great recession pulled our entire country’s emotional state to an all-time low. For the most part, they’ve grown up around war and economic hard times. Don’t turn on the tv, sports is no longer the innocent, last safe haven anymore. Every other story is about a scandal or domestic violence. Those are the dots I connect to understand why they are who they are. Quiet.
It doesn’t mean that can’t change, but like anything else, talking, like shooting and defense, has to be practiced and made a habit. Talking is how a coach finds out what’s inside by pushing you until you reveal it yourself. The motivational part will fall naturally into place after that. Players: show up early, ready to work, and ready to TALK! Teams who don’t talk don’t win. Coaches have to demand it and make it a habit, until there’s no other option. The right approach will pay off, taking a kid’s talent beyond where they even thought was possible.