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Impact Refreshers

Get Your Players to Show That They Know

Photo by Han Duong |

During my development as a coach over the past few years, I’ve taken (false) pride in the fact that the athletes have been able to answer my questions. To me, it showed that I had taught them the “right” answers. Yet it felt like there was something missing, and at times there was. John Kessel’s recent blog ( centered on getting players to SHOW that they know, rather than telling you. Good lightbulb moment for me.

“You show us everything you’ve got”


IMPACT asks coaches to demonstrate first, rather than give a long speech about a skill or concept. Can’t we ask the same of our athletes?

Example question by a coach: “Do you know where you belong on that defense?”

Player: “Yes, coach, right there.”

Coach: “OK, let’s prove it the next few plays.”

That simple exchange takes it one step further than before. You’ve now challenged the player, and you’ve been demanding without being demeaning. Then, as coach, we can watch over the next few plays to see if the player is in fact doing what he said he would. If so…mission accomplished. If not, time for a check in.

Where are some other places you can ask your athletes to show rather than tell? Kessel challenged us to develop culture with the same types of requests. Here’s a mix of his ideas and mine.

  • Working hard for each point. “Can you go even further to get that ball?”
  • Leadership, both on and off the court. Setup, teardown, curfew, clean bench/sitting area, kindness in the team chat. There are endless places to show some leadership.
  • Exploring the best way to use a skill. “That worked…can you find another way? A slightly better way?”
    Asking what they see on the court, and how to solve the problems the other teams give us. The critical thinking and then taking action are valuable life skills.
  • Learning to be open to alternatives, i.e. having a growth mindset. “Let’s test this idea for a while, to see if it works.”
  • Ask your players to create a lineup. Then change it. And change it again. Same with serve receive. Test these in practice of course, to help the players learn what works, and what doesn’t.

These requests help build a player’s resiliency, her mental flexibility, to encounter a new situation with a mindset to tackle it, rather than complain or hide. As coaches, if we continually provide the answer, the players miss opportunities to think for themselves and test their own ideas.

Make them show you; sometimes, their ideas will fail. Sometimes they’ll forget what worked before. Chances are, if they’ve helped develop the winning idea (as in a guided discovery approach) they will remember longer, and learn faster.

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