“Screw you, Coach!” said the…

…body language of too many players.

Eye rolls. Sky palms. Head drops. “Screw you, screw you and screw you, too.” OK, a little dramatic…but the message cannot be over emphasized. Body language is the ultimate truth serum. More often than not, negative body language is disappointment in one self, but perception is reality. And if a coach thinks the player is showing him/her up, then that’s the reality…regardless of the player’s intention. 

I try to instill into my players and students that, like shooting, passing and ball handling, body language is a skill that needs to be practiced. In essence, the skill is the ability to control one’s emotions. And in this emotional, fast-paced game, a “poker face” is essential for many reasons. What is the player’s negative body language really saying? 

To his/her coach: “I doubt your ability to coach this team.”
Result: Coach loses trust, time on the bench.


To teammates: “Sorry, team, my head isn’t in the game tonight.”
Result: Teammates lose trust, hesitant to pass player the ball, team chemistry is compromised.


To the defender guarding him/her: “You should attack me because my head is thinking about the last play.”
Result: Giving up driving lanes, missing help and box outs, time on the bench.


To the opposing coach: “Your game plan should be directed at me, because I’ll continue to get more frustrated.”
Result: Potential foul trouble, time on the bench.


To the referee: “You don’t know what the hell you’re doing.”
Result: Less calls in favor of your team. Human nature is to “get back” at someone who’s done me wrong.


To the college recruiter: “Don’t recruit me, Coach. Even though I’ve spent thousands of hours honing my shooting skills, I won’t build chemistry for your program. There are plenty of shooters out there, so you don’t need one who’s a head case.”


Basketball in its infinite wisdom can teach kids the importance of body language in real life. As adults, many of us have seen similar behavior in the workplace. That “Debbie Downer” with the negative vibe that can undermine. For “Debbie”, a reputation like this can affect her job performance and future employability. And like a basketball team, this behavior can disrupt chemistry in the workplace.

For kids struggling to control body language, I approach it with the same methodology as any other skill…with constant corrections and awareness to help the player develop muscle memory. And like physical skills, the process of sharpening mental skills takes time. It’s not a light switch. As a coach, this takes tremendous patience. There will be times calling for calm reminders and others requiring the bench to send a “louder message”. 

As a coach, there may be times where it seems hopeless. However, I often harken back to when I was a teenager who resisted parental direction. For years and years, I didn’t think my parents knew what they were doing…that time had passed them by. Then, I woke up one day and everything they preached made sense. I take the same approach to my coaching in hopes that one day the light bulb shines.