top of page

Establishing a Good Coaching Philosophy

By Tom Sclafani


To be an effective basketball coach, the first thing you need to do is establish your philosophy and priorities. This might sound silly. Nevertheless, this very important step allows you to apply very effective coaching techniques.


Here’s how it works…


You see, the most effective way to get the results you want is to emphasize the “right” things. It’s all about what you emphasize! Players really notice this. If you consistently emphasize and talk about rebounding, passing the ball, and playing the right way, then you’re players will pick up on those things.


For example: At the very first team meeting, you might want to tell your players that you already know who two of the starters will be. The first starter will be the best defensive player on the team. And the second starter will be the best rebounder on the team. (This will get their attention!)


It’s all about what you emphasize! If you’re constantly talking about rebounding, you’re players will pick up on that and become good rebounders. You’ll notice that they start talking about it. They might say something to another teammate like, “Hey, make sure you block out and get the rebound!” Or you might hear, “Hey coach, how many rebounds did I get today?” If you constantly emphasize rebounding and defense, then you will probably have a team that is really good at defense and rebounding. This concept is very simple, yet extremely important and very powerful.


Most coaches make the mistake of emphasizing the wrong things or emphasizing too many things. They end up getting poor results. I know everything seems important but you just can’t emphasize everything. It’s much more effective if you pick a few important things and primarily focus on those things. Just ask any successful college or NBA coach. They’ll tell you the same thing because that’s where I learned the concept.


In the business world, we use a similar concept. We often talk about “Focusing on the critical few, versus the trivial many.” Whether it’s business or basketball, it’s an effective concept.

How Do You Decide What to Emphasize?

Here’s what you need to do…


First, ask yourself a few questions.


What are your coaching goals?
What are the most important things for you to teach?
What do you really want your players to get out of this experience?
What does your team need to be really good at to be successful?
How will you define a successful season or team?
Write down whatever comes to mind.


It’s important to get this stuff on paper because you’ll ultimately need to document these things and give it to your players. To give you some ideas, here are a few things you might want to emphasize…


Playing the right way.

Now let’s take things a step further.

What is your coaching philosophy?

In other words, what are your priorities in life? Mine are God, Family, School and Basketball. This goes in line with what you emphasize to your team but it’s not about specific basketball skills, like rebounding. It’s about much more important things.


As a basketball coach, you have a VERY important responsibility. You have a bunch of young players that look up to you. Believe it or not, they listen to you. In addition, you have an opportunity to have an impact on their life! Think about it. You’re in a very powerful position. Most teachers would do anything to have the power that you have. Many of their kids could care less about what they are teaching. Heck, many of the students don’t even want to come to class. However, your players actually look forward to practice and games. These kids actually come to you and want to play basketball. They enjoy it. They are passionate about it.


Here is just a few of the things that players might be expecting from you:

  1. Fun.

  2. Learn new or better skills.

  3. Wins, yes, they want to win.

  4. Camaraderie.

  5. Fun.

Notice that fun is on the list twice. Unless you’re a professional coach or a college coach with scholarships, your players certainly didn’t join the team to have a bad time. Honestly, they probably didn’t join to learn life lessons either but they will learn life lessons from you whether you intend to teach them or not.

Your choice is, what life lessons do you want them to learn and how.

Everything that you do and say will make an impression on them.

 You have an unbelievable opportunity to teach them so much about life and basketball. You probably don’t realize it, but the things you say without a second thought can stick with a kid for LIFE! Think back to all of the coaches that you had in your life. You remember every one of them don’t you? Of course you do. I do too.


I remember so many little things about my basketball days. I remember the coach praising me. I remember the coach yelling at me. I can remember his exact words. I remember whether the coach had confidence in me or not. I remember believing everything that my coach told me, whether he was right or wrong.


Don’t overlook the power of your position. Some of the things you say and do can have a positive effect on these kids for life! So what can you do about that? Decide how you want to affect them. What message do you want to communicate?


Consider this interesting coaching tactic…


I knew a truly successful coach whose number one goal was to communicate and emphasize teamwork.

He communicated it in practice verbally. He reinforced it with drills. Every single time someone passed the ball, he offered praise. In fact, it was the only time he offered praise.

Even more impressive to me as a parent was how he handled the games. Regardless of whether the kids won the game or not, he reacted exactly the same way — every time! He praised the teamwork efforts. He didn’t criticize the players for not passing the ball but he didn’t praise them for single handedly scoring either. He only praised for teamwork. The players that showed more of an effort to work as a team played more during games. When the kids lost a game, he wouldn’t say, “I’m sorry that you lost.” When they won a game, he wouldn’t say “Congratulations” or “Good Job.” He only pointed out the teamwork efforts. Now this team did manage to win a majority of their games. Do you know why? Because they worked together as a team. (And because he emphasized the fundamentals.) How did the kids react? They strived to work together as a team. Even the showboats!


Document Your Priorities

Decide how you want to affect your team, what message you want to communicate to them and write it down. Document your coaching philosophy, goals, and what you want to emphasize. You need to get your priorities in order first if you want to be able to communicate them well. Once you’ve accomplished this, then you can get your players priorities in order.

To give you an idea, Morgan Wooten, the basketball coach with the most wins in high school history, had the following priorities: This is were I got mine from.

  1. God

  2. Family

  3. School

  4. Basketball

He then made sure his players understand those priorities. He emphasized those priorities all year long. I personally like to take things a little further. I have similar priorities but I write down the “life lessons” I want to teach the kids for that year.


For example, some of the things I often try to teach and emphasize are:


Playing the right way: playing fairly, playing hard, doing your best.
Telling the truth and being honest is more important than anything, including basketball.
How to take responsibility for their actions
Helping others – Get them to realize that just one person saying to you, “You’ve made my day!” makes your day too.
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% attitude – it’s what you make of it.


These are just a couple examples. I know I can’t teach everything, especially in one year, but if I can just teach a couple important “life lessons”, then I know that I’ve had a positive impact on this young persons life. These are all things that will teach the kids how to be successful in life.

Now make sure you write down your coaching philosophy and the important things you want to emphasize. Keep those things with you at all times. Look at them before every practice. This will help you stay focused and emphasize the right things.

bottom of page