Building Commitment in Athletes
Many coaches complain that their athletes just are not committed enough, or they attribute an unsuccessful season to an uncommitted team. However, very few athletes enter a program with a fully committed attitude. Loyalty and a sense of belonging take time to build. Athletes must buy into a program before they fully commit to making the sacrifices and giving the dedication that the program needs from them. So how can a coach build a program that promotes commitments from their staff and their athletes? John C. Maxwell claims, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” This begins with trust. Commitment, like all other basketball skills, can be modeled and instilled in our athletes. To build commitment, coaches must lead by example, create a committed environment, develop a shared vision, and set measurable goals.
Lead by Example
Leaders in the program must first exhibit commitment. One cannot expect their players to commit if they as the leader are not fully committed. Demonstrating sacrifice, loyalty and dedication is important so that one’s players can see that their coaches care about the team and each athlete’s individual growth. Our coaches open the gym early in the mornings for our players and meet with them on our lunches and free time to help them with school and life choices. We plan team dinners and spend time with our players so they know we care about them as individuals and as a team. A coach cannot hold their players accountable for what they do not exhibit, teach, expect and reinforce daily. If one values it in their players they must first model it for their players.
Create the Committed Environment
All of this is well and good in theory but it must be acknowledged that it takes time to build commitment. Furthermore, coaches need to create an environment that rewards players for commitment. When I first began to build my program, I was lucky to have ten athletes show up to off-season open gyms. I recall rarely having enough players to go five-on-five. My task was to get basketball players in the gym so that I could implement strategies I had learned to build a successful program. I started with the few I had and let those players experience some success, both personally and as a team. I made it fun so they would look forward to coming. As we grew the program and started winning, the buy in increased and it became more competitive to make the team. Commitment became the only way the players had a chance to improve and stay competitive going into tryout season. The more success our program has experienced the more buy in the athletes have and this promotes more commitment and dedication to our vision.
Each coach has a special vision for their program. Make that vision clear and talk about it every day. When coaches talk about the legacy they are building, define for players how they are part of that legacy. Players will more clearly envision their role, not only on the court, but in the program. They will know that they are a vital piece of the vision and that their daily efforts and attitude make a difference. Positive encouragement is important so that players stay focused on the team’s goals. Letting players know that they are getting better every day will allow them to commit to the process, while it may not be easy. In this give and take communication, both the coaches and athletes will continue to work hard to allow for maximum growth.
Set Goals for Success
Our program has a commitment meeting every year. We create goals, define our mission, set standards for our team and develop a commitment contract. We have found that when the players lead this process it creates buy in and increases commitment levels. It also lets the players build trust and valued by the coaches. It gives players ownership over the commitment contract before they sign it. During our commitment meeting, we take the opportunity to display transparency for every player which alleviates ill feelings about playing time or positions. We go over each member’s role and write it on the whiteboard. After our vision is communicated, we ask the players to share any questions, concerns or suggestions regarding their roles or anyone else’s. This allows each player to commit to the team’s success and see how they will fit into the plan that we have for that season’s team. In addition to this, we have frequent one-on-one talks throughout the season to offer encouragement, suggestions and notify players of any changes or adjustments of player’s roles. We believe that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. This process has made it possible for players and coaches to hold each other accountable. It sets the tone for a committed season for both staff and team members and sets the foundation for successful programs.
Drew Torres is a PE Teacher and boys basketball coach at Freedom High School in Oakley, California. Over the last 10 years, he has lead his squads to three league championships, including one undefeated league season, and multiple state tournament appearances.