Coaching Psychology

By December 6, 2013 9 Comments
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Being a coach is difficult in today’s age, especially at the high school level. We only get so much time with our athletes and our kids are constantly being pulled in multiple directions. In order to reach our athletes and our team’s fullest potential, we must utilize the forgotten but incredibly important role of coaching psychology.

Before we cover five ways to use psychology while creating an atmosphere of success, let’s discuss what psychology of coaching is and is not. It is not playing head games with our athletes. Leave the games alone. We need to be intentional and there’s no room for games. It’s not about tricking our kids to believe something in order to get them to do something. Tricking or deceiving erodes trust, and without trust the team will not reach its full potential. Coaching psychology is not just motivational; it’s all about creating an atmosphere of success. It’s difficult to do because of all the distractions kids have today with technology. We compete for their time with other sports. Sadly, coaches and players will ask, “What’s in it for me?” Creating an atmosphere of success is time-consuming and thankless, however if done properly the results are well worth it. Here are five ways to establish a culture of success.

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  1. 1. Develop and implement a Character or Leadership Education Program.  Through a leadership education program coaches are able to show, discuss, and model behaviors they want their players to have. This is a great opportunity to teach more than the game you coach; you’re teaching valuable life lessons. What your players are as people should be far more important than what they are as basketball players. Show them this by investing in their future. By having a character education program, you are modeling what behaviors you want and expect, while setting your athletes up for success later in life. If you haven’t already done so, check out Lead ‘Em Up and see what hundreds of coaches and thousands of players are enjoying!
  2. Create an atmosphere of teamwork. A coach should consistently emphasize teamwork in practice. Place an emphasis on acknowledging great passing, defensive help, rebounding, and taking a charge. Praise the players who may not score but set great screens. Always make it a point to talk about team goals and never individual goals. The only time I talk about individual goals is in one-on-one meetings with players or if a player has broken a school record.  By acknowledging all players and their accomplishments, all players will develop a sense of appreciation for all team members and what they bring to the table. This includes coaches, players, and managers.
  3. Foster an environment of discipline and respect. Being on time is critical no matter what career a person has. This must be emphasized and modeled through your program. Not only should players be on time for everything, but coaches must be as well. This includes practices. Head coaches need to set expectations for behavior and should be involved in all discipline issues at all levels of the program. All coaches should set a standard of respect that athletes must have to players, coaches, referees, teachers, and administration. As coaches we must respect our opponents and teach our athletes to as well. A common mistake is for coaches to make a game against an opponent personal. It should never be personal towards a player, coach, or team. It’s not about your record against an opponent or the past between coaches and teams. It’s about that game on that night.  Like the old saying goes, “To get respect, you must give respect.”
  4. Establish a culture where positive attitudes prevail. This starts with taking the time to acknowledge every player, every day. This must be done in the hallways and at practice. Contact is vital. I make a point to say hi or strike a conversation with every player in the hall. At the beginning of practice I make sure I make contact with each player. This year each player has her own handshake they created that we do at the beginning of practice and right before each game. Another tool to help with fostering positive attitudes is to have a thought for the day that is shared at the beginning of every practice. We have spent the entire month of November discussing mental toughness and how we need to be positive at all times. We focus on “playing present” and “brushing” mistakes off. We have a full court team drill where we have to make 20 layups in a row. We got to 19 the other day and missed number 20. We started over and made it all the back to get 20 in row. If you want mentally tough players, you must practice it and put them in situations during practice to exercise it. Lastly, have your players model the positive attitude and culture at your summer camp with the younger kids. This will also develop leadership skills.
  5. Create a program that exudes confidence. Confidence must be developed in each player and in the program as a whole. In order to do this, coaches cannot harp on mistakes. Rather, encourage the player and help correct the mistake. A lot of the time we assume players are overconfident and cocky, when the vast majority of players need to be built up. In order to build confidence, praise loudly and criticize lightly. When a player does something well, compare them to a former great player or well-known collegiate or professional athlete. It is our job as coaches to get our players to think and believe they are prepared. Give them the confidence to compete at a high level against the very best. Lastly, manage the little things. Have a team meeting in your room before every game. Show a film clip, read a passage, or simply talk about the team goals. Before games, manage where players are and who they’re with, and who you let around your team. Only allow people who are positive and who are on board with your program. The greatest gift we can give our players as coaches is confidence.

Coaching psychology is not playing games with your athletes. Rather it is building and maintaining a positive environment within the program. Athletes need to be built up and by following these five methods we are creating an atmosphere of success. The psychology lies within the little things we can do to help our athletes achieve success.

Coaches, what are some of the things you do or think are vital in the psychology of coaching? Players, what do you think is the most important thing coaches can do to create a culture of success?

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!


Coach Elmendorf is available to speak to your team, group, or organization. Message him for details.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • I invite you to peruse my website and my latest book: COACHING WITH HEART, which looks at ways to inspire,empower and lead in athletics and life. I have been working with these issues for the past 33 years and have a national and international consultancy. I would like to be in on any conversation about this topic.
    Keep up your fine work for so many others, Jerry

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thank you Ted, I appreciate the compliment and you taking the time to read!

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks for reading and sharing your site Jerry. I will definitely check it out. Thank you for all your work the past 30+ years!

  • BJ Mumford says:

    Great article!

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks BJ, I appreciate it!

  • Rene Pepin says:

    Coach, this is an excellent post. I especially like your statement that Coaching psychology is not playing games with your athletes. Can I add your post to one of the future issues of my online youth basketball magazine called BBALLMAG.NET?

  • kelmendorf says:

    Hi Rene,

    Sure, that would be great. Could you just put my byline and website under the article? Thanks for reading and reaching out, I appreciate it! What level of bball do you coach? In what state?

    Have a great one!

  • Rene Pepin says:

    Hi Coach,

    Thanks for the quick response. After each article on I include an author’s bio with links to their products and/or website. Can you send me your bio or point me to a link?