Basketball, at any level of play, is a complex, demanding sport. The player is responsible for a multitude of internal factors that they have to constantly adjust to meet the performance demands at any given time. At the level of high school basketball, external factors play an equal, if not larger role than at any other level. The athletes are still learning their limitations, and their attentional capacity is likely not large enough to accommodate for the wide variety of situations the game can present. When it comes to emotional regulation in these players, supportive structures such as coaches, parents and team cohesion can heavily influence the athlete’s ability to perform to their best potential.
Coaching: It’s more than just on the court
In your average high school, coaching responsibility usually falls on the shoulders of teacher volunteers. Some of these willing individuals may have played or coached before, and have a good idea of what to expect in the coming season. Others may have never coached, or perhaps have coached an entirely different sport, and are new to the realm of competitive basketball. Regardless of experience, the primary goal of a high school basketball coach should be to facilitate your player’s development, both on and off the court. Your responsibility as a coach does not end once you’ve written up a couple good plays and held practice twice a week. As the voice of authority on the court, your players will look to you to provide insight on the intricacies of the game and how to handle pressure situations. The athletes you are coaching are going to have various psychological needs that must be accommodated for them to feel comfortable on the court. Knowing what makes your players tick; their motivations, triggers and comfort zones are they keys to providing effective coaching. For the sake of high school sport, simply providing constructive feedback and positive support can go a long way towards enabling the athlete to perform better (Wulf, Shea & Lewthwaite, 2009).
Another important thing for a coach to recognize is that the individuals you look over are more than just basketball players. They have other responsibilities outside of sports, including their education, family and social lives. One of the major differentiations between high school coaches and other levels of play is the age group of the athletes you’re responsible for. Teenagers in particular are going through a transitionary phase in their lives. As a good coach, your goal is to enhance the overall well being of your players, not necessarily just their skills on the court. It may not be what you signed up for, but at one point or another, you’re going to serve as a guidance counselor for your players. If you’ve done your job, your athletes will look up to you not just for your game knowledge; but also for your opinion on troubles at home, advice on how to approach their crush, or what colour tie to wear to prom. Your role as coach extends much farther than just basketball; you will serve as a mentor for your players that will enable them to develop into well-rounded individuals. For more information on coaching and athlete development, the National Coaching Certification Program and Basketball Canada have excellent resources for new coaches:
Parents: key contributors to athlete success
As a parent, whether you realize it or not, you will do anything to help your child succeed. Sometimes, this instinctual behaviour can put unintentional stress on your son/daughter in a sporting situation. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon in some form or the other over years of playing and watching sports. For example, a father at a hockey game gets flustered over a penalty called on his son and lets the ref hear all about it from the 5th row. While this may be an extreme case, it highlights an important note. As parents to an athlete, you play a large part in the individual’s emotional regulation and performance. A study by Frank L. Smoll and colleagues (2007) out of the University of Washington looked at the effect that coaching education had on reducing athlete’s competitive anxiety. One group of parents and coaches were educated with a coaching workshop that emphasized goal setting, skill development and reducing competitive anxiety in their athletes. The other group of participants was given no such education. At the end of the season, athletes playing under the educated coach and parent group reported lower levels of stress and increased attentional awareness, where as the other group reported higher levels of stress and competitive anxiety. These results clearly identify that a little knowledge of the types of stressors your child faces and education on how to help them cope goes a long way towards increasing their performance and enjoyment. To find videos and tips on how to promote a fun, developmental sport climate for your child athlete, see these resources:
Smoll, F. L., Smith, R. E., & Cumming, S. P. (2007, Summer). Effects of coach and parent training on performance anxiety in young athletes: A systemic approach. Journal of Youth Development, 2.
Wulf, G., Shea, C. & Lewthwaite, R. (2009). Motor skill learning and performance: a review of influential factors. Journal of medical education, 44(1), 75-84.