Thursday, August 28, 2008

What makes a player "coachable"?

A post from yesterday had a quote from Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli that ended with a question about "coachability." It got me thinking about the subject of "coachability" -- what it is, why it's important, etc.

Here's a solid definition from one management consultant: "Coachability is the extent that we hear and utilize outside input and influences. To produce breakthroughs, we need to be coachable."

About five years ago, former NBA player Devin Durrant (who averaged nearly 30 ppg for BYU back in the mid-80s) wrote a book called "Raising an All-American." I have a copy here at the house, so I pulled it off the shelf. It's written for parents, but really provides excellent insight on the subject and should be a must-read for players.

[Devin is pictured above and below in action at BYU.]

A couple of excerpts from the book that I found here (which, thankfully, saved me from having to re-type it myself):

Coachable and teachable are synonymous. Coaches are first and foremost, teachers. Players are students. Coaches want to feel players care about what they say. During practice, during timeouts, in the post-game, etc., a coachable player will give his coach his undivided attention and then do what he has been told to do.

If a player doesn't learn to listen, then he will have to learn to like a seat on the bench. More opportunities come to those who are willing to be taught.

One of the things that has always amazed me as a basketball player is how much time some players spend wishing the coach would change the way he did things—wishing that the coach would change the offense, wishing that the coach would change the defense, wishing the coach would change who he plays.

Those players need to take all that energy and think about what they can change within themselves. A potential All-American doesn't worry about the things he can't control. He just deals with the things he can control. As a player, one thing he can control is where he is going to expend his energy.

An athlete should focus on how to become a better athlete. A coachable athlete will try to understand what the coach is trying to accomplish and then do his best to make that happen.

Some athletes say, "The coach doesn't like me." That attitude creates a self-imposed negative barrier blocking the athlete from success. Remember a coach usually loves his players because they are playing their guts out for him. A coach may criticize a player [EM: Don't take it personally], but that doesn't mean he doesn't like the player [EM: Don't make assumptions.].

The coach wants to win. If a team member helps him do that, he will treat that player like a son because that player is helping him succeed. Generally speaking, if the coach seems to not like a player, it is because the player is not doing the things that will help the team win.

A potential All-American doesn't blame his lack of playing time on a feeling that the coach doesn't like him personally. The coach is going to play those players that he thinks give him the best chance to get a victory.

Some coaches are a lot easier to hate than to love. Despising a coach at times is okay. Keep in mind that an unlikable coach might be the key to future athletic success. It is not pleasant to be yelled at for having made a mistake but it is the coach's job to push the player.

A player won't generally have positive feelings toward a coach who at times is critical of him, but his feelings may change over time. A coach has to be a little crazy, even mean at times. He may have to yell and rant and rave in order to get a player to perform at his best.

A coachable player is not an excuse maker. He takes responsibility for his actions. If his coach takes him out and jumps all over him, he doesn't blame the coach. He is accountable for his own errors. When he makes a mistake, he acknowledges it and moves on. He then does his best not to make the same mistake again.

A coachable player knows he needs to take criticism or he will never get any better. One thing all great players seem to have in common is during their careers, one or more coaches were critical of them. As a matter of fact, one common method of coaching is criticism.

One of the best examples I have ever seen of someone who could take criticism and then go out and do good things was Charles Barkley. I was his teammate representing the United States in the University Games some years back.

As we prepared for the games, we spent some time in Kansas City where we played an exhibition game. At one point in the game I was on the bench and Charles was on the floor. He made a mistake and the coach immediately sent someone in for him. Charles came over to the bench and sat down right by me.

Our coach, Norm Stewart, who was the coach at the University of Missouri at the time, walked down the bench and stood above where the two of us were seated. I don't remember what Charles had done wrong on the court, but Coach Stewart let him have it. I watched Charles as he looked Coach in the eye. He didn't say anything, didn't challenge him, just took it like a man.

Coach Stewart finished his tirade, returned to his chair, and sat down. Charles got himself ready to go back in the game. Nothing more was said of it. It was over for Charles and it was over for Coach Stewart.

Charles went on and had a successful experience with that team at the University Games. I was impressed at how well Charles handled that tongue lashing. It took a lot of character just to take it and move on, but I believe Charles knew Coach Stewart's goal was to make him a better player.

One of the pluses of participating in athletics is that it teaches accountability. When [a player] makes a mistake, he is immediately held accountable. That might mean that he will be taken out of the game and get to sit on the bench for a while, or even for the rest of the game. That could happen because the coach is making him accountable for his mistakes.

Pat Summitt, the very successful coach of the women's basketball team at the University of Tennessee, said: “Accountability is essential to personal growth, as well as team growth. How can you improve if you're never wrong? If you don't admit a mistake and take responsibility for it, you're bound to make the same one again.”

[For more information on Devin and the book, click here.]