Doc Rivers

Make Them Better

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

Why is it that so many coaches are quick to make comments about what players can’t do? Even if we say we’re not this way, we’ve all been guilty of this line of thinking at some point. It’s likely we’ve commented on the negative before even thinking about the positive. We make assumptions about what players must be thinking, when in reality we have no idea. But why? Is it easier? It’s easier to justify that our opinion of this player is correct and we are right. But without knowing we’re doing it, we create this bias within our own mind or the minds of those we make these comments to. This does is nothing but hurt the player being discussed and ultimately it’s just our opinion. With that being said it’s still interesting that we don’t make more of an effort to focus on the positives, to regularly talk about these aspects of a players game and try to capitalize and continue to improve on them. Or even more revealing is that we don’t talk about how we can, or should, be making these players better. In Seth Davis’ book, Getting To Us: How Great Coaches Make Great Teams, members of Doc Rivers’ staff discuss his attitude during a rough patch in their season,

“Every day during that losing streak, he came in and he would never say anything negative to the players,” says Armond Hill, Rivers’s longtime assistant coach. “Even when the coaches were alone, he wouldn’t rip the players. He might get frustrated about what was happening, but he would always say, ‘We gotta make them better.’”

I do not teach anyone, I only provide the environment in which they can learn
— Albert Einstein

It’s refreshing because it puts the emphasis back on the staff and what they can do, it doesn’t necessarily make the staff believe that the players aren’t good enough. Maybe they ultimately aren’t good enough but if the mindset is such from the beginning, how will they ever really improve? We must do everything in our power to help make them better.

I wonder what the trajectory of a players development would be if rather than speak to what they can’t do, we first focus where they excel. I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t critique a player and their overall skillset or specific performance. That’s not at all what I mean. But in order to do that we should probably employ more energy to help them express their positive qualities and start there rather than the opposite. Plus if we really assess our jobs, and like Rivers says, we gotta make them better. I just wonder what kind of players we could develop if while providing honest feedback on a continual basis we first focused on improving positive areas of their game. I’m just as guilty as anyone else. We can all be quick to say things like, “this guy is no good” or “he can’t pass/shoot/dribble”. Maybe we should start thinking with thoughts like “this guy really is good at X, let’s see how we can foster more of that”. Seems simple in theory but I know it’s hard in practice. I don’t think it’s realistic, nor should we, live in a faux positive environment all of the time. Sure there will be times when we need to get on players and things will tend to be a little more negative or critical. Ultimately players are either going to get better or they won’t, it’s our job as coaches to help foster an environment where they can and hopefully not one where we don’t even give them a chance to. 

As Einstein said, “I do not teach anyone, I only provide the environment in which they can learn”. We should focus on creating those environments.