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Basketball Coach or Employee Manager?

During the last year, my daughter has taken to the sport of basketball. At first she showed a passing interest in the game, mostly due to her friends having been playing. Last year, she was adamant she was going to start to play on a team so we enrolled her in minor basketball. I am happy to say that so far she has thoroughly enjoyed it. Like many parents, once their kids get involved in a sport, we somehow end up coaching them. I ended up doing this for my daughter’s soccer team years ago and have now started coaching her girls’ basketball team. To say it has been an interesting learning experience would be an understatement. As I reflect on the current season and how the girls have developed I can’t help but put my HR hat on and do some comparisons. (Maybe I just need to get a life!?) Regardless, there are an amazing number of similarities between coaching a youth basketball team and managing a team of adults in the workplace.

For instance, on this current team there is a real mix of skill sets, abilities and overall basketball experience and knowledge. Therefore, I have had to adapt my coaching and communication style to meet the needs of the player/learner. Much like in the work environment, managers have teams of employees with very diverse backgrounds, skillsets and learning styles. In order to be effective, managers need to adapt their style based on the knowledge, skills and abilities of their employees so as to enable them to do their best. This also has the added benefit of providing the best overall work environment for employees to be successful.

Basketball BookAnother parallel I experienced is that, as a fairly new coach, I fell into the trap of drawing things up on my whiteboard and “explaining” to the girls how to do things. I noticed that they simply weren’t hoisting in the concepts of a “give and go” play or a “defensive box out” based on my Picasso like drawings on a whiteboard. Once I started to physically demonstrate for the girls what was expected of them, the light bulbs went on (mostly for me, not them). As a coach, a visual demonstration of the expected behaviour and outcome was what was needed to make the connection – especially for the newer players. By showing and involving them with a demonstrated “give and go,” the girls were able to more easily grasp the concept. Much like in the work environment, managers have to be cognizant of not “telling” their employees what they need to do, but be more involved with demonstrating the desired behaviour or work process, or identifying what the desired performance outcome looks like. For the girls, it wasn’t so much important to make their shot at the end of the give and go, but more important to trust their teammates during the passing component and focus on being an effective teammate.

Once the desired behaviour/outcome was demonstrated and after we went through a series of practices, it was important to connect all this activity for the girls in terms of what it means during a game situation. This was best done by scrimmaging the girls and stopping the action to identify and reinforce key behaviours and outcomes that were demonstrated real-time (or to course correct when things were not being done properly). In order to buy-in to the practice sessions, the girls needed to see how the “training” and practice activity aligned with game situations. The principles apply to your employees. Once they have been trained, they need to see how this training will help them with their actual job. As their manager, you need to observe how they apply the training and then coach them by identifying when the desired outcomes are being met or coach them when their training and skills are not being applied properly.

One of the most important pieces when coaching youth basketball is recognition and positive reinforcement. The girls need it on a regular basis so that they know they are progressing and doing what they are supposed and (and most importantly) to keep their passion and love for the game in place and to ultimately allow them to have fun. As with any recognition activity, you have to know your players (employees). The newer players need instant recognition when even the smallest things are done right – i.e. a layup with the proper footwork. This recognition usually involves high-fives and verbal congratulations. This way, the girls know they have done well and will strive to repeat the outcome. Some of the more experienced players don’t want that type of recognition for completing the “basics.” So, you need to pull them aside and provide praise for helping other teammates, or for making a left side layup with their left hand, etc.

The same logic and application holds true for the staff that you manage. You need to provide recognition for a job well done. It needs to be tailored to the individual – what you recognize a junior employee for might vary greatly from how you recognize someone who has been in role a lot longer. As well, you need to know how your employees like to be recognized. Some of your staff may LOVE public praise while others would quit on the spot if you ever did that to them! The key is to know your people and then adapt your recognition approach accordingly so as to maximize the impact of the recognition activity.

Lastly, as the coach, I learned that in order to keep your team motivated, you need to do more than just practice the fundamentals and provide recognition (per above). You need to keep them engaged in their overall basketball involvement. In order to do that, I provided special “assignments” when the girls achieved something that they were focusing on. For instance, once certain skills milestones were achieved or a sustained level of excellence was demonstrated (i.e. star players) they were asked to demonstrate and/or lead the team in a series of drills.

I liken these “player/coach” assignments to what managers would set as stretch targets or special project assignments for their top talent. You have to provide more to them than just the ‘job.’ You can enrich their job experience by giving them the opportunity to step outside the normal job boundaries and be informal leaders themselves. Likewise in basketball, when less skilled players became adept at specific skill they were practicing (i.e. figure 8 dribble), they were given the opportunity to lead the team in that drill next time, or if they chose to do so, they could pick a shooting game for the team to play. Either way, you need to go beyond the basics of the game or job – both on the court or at work.

When I first got into coaching the team, I never thought that applying what I knew as a manager and HR Pro would pay dividends as a youth basketball coach! However, the parallels and application are most definitely there! I can certainly say that what I have learned as an HR Pro and Manager have made me a better coach. Now, if it only worked that way in my home life! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of ponsuwan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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