As much as anything else in competitive athletics, players’ and coaches’ attitudes as revealed through their body language are integral parts of the winning process. Even in cases where individuals are acting to be braver, more poised or stronger than they really feel, this can have a positive effect on their teammates. Of course, it’s always better for these positive feelings to be 100% pure, but in the absence of that, acting like we’re totally buttoned up is far better than many of the alternatives that we’ll discuss here.
The level of basketball notwithstanding, a classroom session early in the season to discuss these and any other characteristics a coach deems worthy is highly recommended. Sometimes players can’t identify these negative attitudes unless their coach identifies them on their behalf
POUTING: This is easily one of the worst of all of the negative vibes that one can exhibit on the court because for one, pouting is totally non-competitive. Pouting sends feeling sorry for one’s self and quitting signals to teammates and opponents alike and has no place at all in competition of any kind.
DISAPPOINTMENT IN SELF OR TEAMMATE: If a player spends more than a split second pondering his or a teammate’s error, it’s probably too long. If it’s a live ball, there’s no time at all and if it’s a dead ball, getting ready for the next play is a better investment. It’s up to individual coaches whether or not to follow the same approach but if experience and hindsight are any measure, I would spend way less time on the last play and more time on the next play in my next life.
CELEBRATION FOR GOOD PLAYS: This is just as potentially damaging as hanging one’s head in disappointment. Good plays by teammates need recognition but not at the expense of losing concentration. The best players only need a nod, a look or a brief word to recognize a teammate. Celebration on the floor is for the postgame.
ANGER OR FRUSTRATION ON AN OFFICIAL’S CALL: For a player, I would totally say, “move on immediately” after every call. The more stoic a player can be in this area the better because this can be so emotional and get a player totally out of whack. This isn’t easy and takes practice but it can be controlled. For coaches, this is a different matter. While every coach knows he can’t change the last judgment call, many coaches think they might be able to influence the next judgment call. That might be a stretch but I would suggest that your players are watching your body language and you want to be sure that whatever you’re conveying to them is what you really want to convey.
ALOOFNESS: Sometimes players can be so non-judgmental and non-committal about teammates, officials, their coach and themselves, that they become totally aloof. That can be as destructive as the aforementioned negative attitudes. This is an extreme solution to which some players resort to withdraw from tough situations.
UNENERGETIC: There are a lot of reasons for players to lack energy. Some are probably legitimate. No matter the cause, this body language will bring teammates down as quickly as pouting, dissension or aloofness. These players usually don’t need to be on the floor.
COCKINESS OR LACK OF CONFIDENCE: These are the two extremes at both ends of the adage, “Fear No One; Respect Everyone.” Confidence in the face of even the most challenging circumstances is inspiring to teammates and coaches alike. Players can be very, very confident without crossing the line. On the flip side, the better the player’s preparation and the coach’s plan, the easier it is for lesser players and teams to be confident.
The above list calls attention to some of the most common body language problems. If one reverses the focus on this issue to positive attributes, how would that list look? The ideal player or coach would be extremely energetic, highly confident, very supportive of everyone in the program, totally engaged and unflappable the entire game but especially at crunch time. Striving for these ideals would serve to eliminate many of the body language issues that prevent players, coaches and teams from fulfilling their potential.