Motivation, Business and Basketball Coaching

As a relatively new (10 year) basketball coach, and a life-long entrepreneur, I’m starting to see parallels between running a successful business, and being a successful basketball coach. Most recently, I attended an offsite for a company I started eight years ago, and was intrigued as one of the board members recounted some of his advice on running a billion dollar business with thousands of employees. This got me to thinking about how I could use my work experiences to improve my coaching craft. Here are some of the things that come to mind.

Data Driven Decision Making

One of the awesome things the Internet has brought to the forefront of business and marketing is the sheer amount of actionable data you can generate and access. For example, you can measure every ad message, or mouse action on your web site, and determine what triggers interest in your product. This data can be extrapolated to other offline endeavors to building your business.

In basketball, each game generates a lot of data. Every time a player touches the ball, or does an action on the floor, this creates an event. You can track hundreds of events during a single game, limited only by your appetite for detail. For example, I used Hoopsalytics the past two seasons to determine which players were the most effective, based upon per-minute adjusted plus/minus or net points per possessions when the player was on the floor. Defensive stats are typically under-tracked, so an aggregate outcome-based metric is a great alternative to the determine overall impact of individual players.

Another epiphany was using interactive shot charts to see how shooting percentages differ based upon the middle versus the edges of the court, which inspired me to go to a no-middle scheme for the next season. This blog has other examples as well.

More experienced coaches use the eye test, or rely upon what has worked or them in the past, and this is also valid. But having the analytics to back up your decisions and assumptions adds an extra level of confidence for coaches, assistants, players and parents.


One of the takeaways from listening to the CEO I mentioned earlier was his take on motivation. He broke down the different types of motivators as fear, greed and pride.

Some coaches will use fear to motivate players – these are the “yellers” or coaches that berate their players. Some coaches can be successful with this method, but it can lead to resentment and a lack of self-confidence in the players. In a company, fear could mean losing your job, or the possibility that the company could do belly up if certain numbers are not met. Either way, this is not an environment most people want to participate in.

Greed is another motivator. Last season, I used the possibility of winning a State Championship as one way I tried to motivate my players. However, it became apparent as we went through the season that some of the teams in our league were virtually unbeatable for us. We got whomped in our first playoff game by one of these teams, and the girls figured out that we were way outmatched. Even so, it was the worst performance of the season for us. We had played this team twice previously, and earlier we actually had a decent showing against them. Perhaps this team was greedy, but they also went into our game being very confident. In a business, greed would be analogous to trying to get a lucrative IPO and make everybody rich. I suppose this approach can work, but greed has to be realistic.

The other motivator is pride. I also coached our JV team, and for many of the players this was their first real season of playing basketball. The other schools had a much better program in place for up-and-coming players, and it showed. During one of our road trips to two perennially strong schools, I gave these girls this advice: “Don’t listen to the fans, and don’t look at the score”. Despite getting badly beaten on the scoreboard in these two games, the girls came away from this trip with a new sense of confidence – solely focusing on the things they did well during these games. This was the turning point of the season for them, and they did much better against the other teams the rest of the way. In a healthy business culture, if the company is focusing on just building a great product, success will follow.



To tie everything together, both businesses and basketball teams need to define their culture. On some of the basketball videos I see where a new head coach is introduced, invariably the word “culture” is used often. I’m looking to build a program in our small town based upon pride and positivity. If we play and practice in a way that shows max effort and attention to detail, we’ll create a great “product”.  (Also – off-season play is key. I’m working on that too.) And by using good data analytics to make good coaching decisions, I believe we can be successful, and eventually beat those unbeatable basketball teams and programs.

Our next season starts officially in six months, and I’m so looking forward to it.

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Category: Coach's Diary