4 Off-the-Court Coaching Skills to Develop Players

Coaching is a complex topic. You may think about coaching as someone shouting at players from the sideline, drawing up plays, pushing athletes beyond their comfort zones, and giving inspirational speeches during half time. These are all important aspects of coaching but they all focus on the on-court stuff.

If you ask most coaches why they coach, I bet you would discover a common theme built around making a positive impact on the lives of student-athletes. Ask any player and they will be able to name a coach that had an incredible impact on their life. This is the intrinsic joy of coaching.

But if coaches want to bring out the best in their players and make the greatest impact, they must develop skills that have nothing to do with coaching on the court. The player/coach relationship is built on connection. And that connection is strengthened when the coach helps the player discover the type of player (and person) they want to be, and constantly helps them make progress towards that goal. This type of connection requires coaching skills that have nothing to do with dribbling, shooting, or game strategy. I like to call these skills…off-the-court coaching.

Off-the-court coaching helps players increase their self-awareness, clarify goals and values, create development plans, and promotes accountability. Unfortunately, these skills are rarely taught or emphasized to players and coaches.

This becomes a major problem when players have to deal with the intense pressure and responsibility of balancing school and sports. They can easily become overwhelmed and disengaged. Rarely do student-athletes take the time to clarify…what exactly do I want (as a person, as a player, as a leader)? And why is this important to me?

Helping student-athletes gain clarity on these important questions will help drive commitment to reaching their potential.

Below are 4 off-the-court coaching skills that you and your team leaders can implement and practice now!

Skill # 1: Coachability

Coachability is someone who demonstrates commitment to their own development, a hunger for feedback, and is open to experiment with new ideas that may improve themselves. This skill allows us to become aware of our current abilities and make consistent adjustments to improve.

Coachability is an observable behavior and should look like…

  • Remains calm and actively listens when receiving feedback
  • Embraces and seeks feedback
  • Assesses feedback and experiments with new ideas
  • Constantly looks for opportunities to learn and grow from film sessions, classes, books, assignments, and coaching
  • Aware of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Quickly bounces back from failure and adversity

Trying to help a player that is not coachable can be a waste of time. So before we try to coach someone, let’s help them understand that we are committed to helping them achieve their goals. A good start is to simply listen. This takes us to our next coaching skill…conversation.

Skill # 2: Conversation

The conversation skill is made up of two parts…active listening and inquiry. Active listening is being fully present, non-judgmental, and requires us to quiet that voice in our head that wants to give advice before the other person is finished speaking.

Simply listen!

Coaches love sharing our own experiences and our “expert” advice. But we must remind ourselves that it’s not about us (the coach)…it’s about the player. Sometimes our perspective is so different from the player’s that we must take time to see things from their perspective. The conversation skill requires us to take off our “teacher hat” and put on our “coaching hat”.

The second part is inquiry, which is the ability to ask questions to help someone explore a topic. Effective inquiry leads to increased self-awareness. Self-awareness helps players understand understand what they do, and more importantly, why they do it. This valuable skill helps players discover answers (what’s important to me) versus being told the answers, which enhances motivation and buy-in.

So what can you do to improve your inquiry skills? Get started by creating a list of power questions! Power questions can be used to help someone…

  • become unstuck from their current situation
  • create an action plan
  • view a situation from different perspective

Coaching Tip: use open-ended questions versus closed-ended questions to illicit better responses. Close-ended questions generate one word replies (i.e. yes/no) and fail to help someone think, reflect, and discover. Open-ended questions (i.e. power questions) require someone to reflect at a deep level and discover the what/why/how of difficult questions.

Coaching tip: There are a few things that can reduce our impact during the conversation stage, they are…

  • Sharing endless stories about your own experiences. It’s not about you (the coach), it’s about helping the other person
  • Cutting off the person as they speak
  • Judging the thoughts/opinions/feelings of the other person
  • Asking questions without explaining the “why”

Active listening & inquiry skills can be a transformational experience for the listener and the speaker. Try to practice this skill for the next 3 days and notice how different your conversations are. Someone that is free to share their story/thoughts/opinions — without someone judging them — is much more inclined to be coachable. This skill is a game changer!

Skill # 3: Perspective

The 3rd skill is perspective. This skill will help players discover opportunities (or perspective) in any situation (good or bad). It helps them become aware of their own thought process and see if there is a better way to approach it. After all our thoughts/beliefs -> outlook -> actions -> results.

This tool is extremely useful to empower people that feel overwhelmed, stuck, negative, and lack confidence.

Coaches can help people discover a new perspective that opens the door to opportunities never seen before.

Changing someone’s perspective is done through thoughtful questions. Below are a few examples:

  • Do you have enough information to take action now?
  • What would your best friend tell you to do in this situation? Why?
  • What are you most worried about? What will you learn if things don’t turn out how you want them to? What will you learn if you don’t do anything?
  • Do you have the ability to succeed? If not, what’s one thing you must develop?
  • How could you look at this situation differently?

Skill # 4: Progress

The 4th coaching skill is progress. Many people have a vision or goal they want to achieve, but fail to make progress. Lack of progress can be the result of a number of issues, so it’s the coach’s role to help the person discover strategies to overcome the obstacles. A plan without action is worthless. So part of the coach’s role is to help players…

  • Create an action plan
  • Commit to the plan
  • Schedule weekly check-ins and provide a structured way to share their progress
  • Inspire action

Progress, even in small doses, is one of the most effective motivators.

To promote taking action, resist ineffective questions like, “What are you going to do?”. Instead, help the person identify the specific next step they must take. If possible, break that one step down into smaller steps that seem so small and easy that it’s almost impossible for the person to resist taking action.

One inhibitor of progress is failing to schedule the weekly check-in. Considering the busy schedules of student-athletes between school and sports, it’s too easy to deprioritize your goal to develop a skill (one that is important but not urgent). Scheduling a simple weekly check-in that the player answers 3 questions will dramatically improve progress:

  1. What did I do this past week?
  2. What did I learn?
  3. What will I commit to next week?


An effective coaching relationship involves 4 parts: coachability, conversation, perspective and progress. Try to implement these skills into your discussions with players this season and watch them make serious progress towards their individual and team goals.

Shoot us an email (carrollbrosbball@gmail.com) or visit http://flowtrainingdevelopment.com if you or your coaches would be interested in learning more about developing your off-the-court coaching skills.