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Leadership Lessons from the Basketball Court

basketball, teamwork, skills, leadership, coaching

A few weeks ago I spent a fascinating hour watching basketball practice for a team of second-grade girls. It was early in the season, and for many of the girls it was just their second year playing the game. I expected lots of instruction, errant balls, and few actual baskets. What I witnessed was a clinic in outstanding leadership from their coach.

I was so impressed with how he was managing the team that I started to take notes. The following examples translate to ANY environment, with any age group. Read on and see if you agree!


The first thing that got my attention was how Coach spoke to his team. It was always "Ladies." Not kids, or girls. Ladies. A clear sign of respect. Good leaders know you need to give respect before you should expect to receive it.

When Coach needed to provide direction to one person, he would bend down or kneel next to them. He got on their level - no power play here. And it was 1:1, focused on them to minimize the potential for embarrassment.

When new skills were introduced Coach not only explained them, he demonstrated them. Several times. He recognized that kids learn differently. Some can understand from words, some need to see what good looks like.

The encouragement was constant, and evenly provided. I didn't realize until we were leaving that his daughter was on the team! She was treated the same as every other player - no special treatment.

Warming Up

To get the girls ready to play the coach started with some basic drills. First up was moving around the perimeter of the half-court. Here's how he did it:

The girls lined up along the sideline. The girl at the front of the line chose how they were going to complete the lap: sprinting, skipping, side-stepping. At the end of the lap the lead girl went to the end of the line, and the new leader started the next lap. The process repeated until each girl had a chance to lead.

Next up was the classic Red Light Green Light with a twist: Yellow Light they had to go backwards! A more advanced skill woven into the basic moves, and fun for them all!


Once the team finished their basic skills drills it was time for some challenge: dribbling with their non-dominant hand. If you have never tried this, you should - it's harder than it sounds!

The team then moved on to learning some basic plays. Each girl was provided some basic instruction about where to set up, how to move and cover their opponent, and how to adjust. Then Coach started play.

Inevitably things did not always go according to plan. Rather than provide a continuous stream of coaching (or shouting, as some coaches tend to do) he let the play run until it really fell apart. Then he called the team together, walked them through the play and where opportunities were either missed or executed well, and then started the play again.

No yelling. No criticism. No one made to feel like a failure. If a player got upset at being coached (remember, they are 8...) he calmly reassured them that they are LEARNING. And that he didn't expect them to be perfect. And that they would run the play over and over until each player learned their part. The kids were allowed to fail without fear.

The Leadership Lessons

  • Communcation is the foundation for high-performing teams

  • Provide clear expectations in a way that works for the individual

  • Encourage your team to achieve!

  • Prepare your team for success

  • Provide opportunities to lead to each person on your team

  • Focus on outcomes, and let your team be creative with the tools they use

  • Challenge is essential for growth

  • Allow people to fail without fear

  • Have FUN!

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