Sports Psychology Coaching

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The Mental Game Of Basketball

Handle Negative Coaches With Mental Toughness


Bill Cole, MS, MA
The Mental Game Coach™
Silicon Valley, California


I've been the mental game coach to dozens of basketball players, teams and coaches over the years. The mental game of basketball is one of my specialties. I've been the Sport Psychology Coach and Consultant to players and coaches on numerous college and high school and college prep programs: Stanford University, the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), Cal State Fullerton, Santa Clara University, many high schools around the US, Montverde Academy Eagles basketball team (Florida), one of the top three HS prep schools for basketball in the country, Team USA Basketball, and the finalist team in the Dick's Sporting Goods National High School Tournament.

Have you had a mean, toxic, negative, bullying coach? How did that affect you? If you compete long enough, and you have enough coaches, you are bound to have a coach you don't like. I don't mean a coach who is not qualified, or who is not skilled. I mean a coach who is downright negative. Unfortunately, coaching is one of the last bastions of institutionalized abuse. If a teacher did what many coaches do to players—yell, scream, call names, belittle, ignore them, punish them, etc.—what do you think would happen? A teacher like this would probably be sanctioned, suspended or fired very quickly. A coach who did this might get an award...as long as they're winning. How should you deal with a negative coach? How can you protect your self-confidence?

You must have smart mental strategies in place to buffer the negativity you get from many coaches. Having been a sport psychology consultant in over 100 sports, I'd have to say that basketball coaches are among the most intense, and among the most negative. Intense is OK. That's part of sport. Not ALL basketball coaches are so inflammatory, but many are. As you continuously move higher up in the basketball world, will the coaches be easier and "nicer", or will they be tougher and more demanding? You know the answer. Your response to these coaches, in your mind, has got to be strong. You must protect your confidence from being torn down from their belittling, critical and picky comments. Basketball players who call me tell me their coaches are destroying not only their confidence, but also their love for the game. That's really unfortunate. I hate to see that happen.

Fortunately, there are proven psychological answers to anything negative your coaches can throw at you. Here are some proven mental strategies you can use to buffer your coach's attacks and to sharpen your mental game.

What Usually Does Not Work With Negative Coaches

Negative coaches are negative for a reason, or for many reasons. One thing's for sure. You WON'T change a truly negative coach. Don't hold your breath trying. If they are an older coach, they may be set in their ways. If they are a younger coach they are out to make a name for themselves and are not about to listen to some young athlete tell them what to do. So forget about remaking them. You have to accept them as is and make the best of a bad situation. To do that you need some smart mental strategies.

It is critical that you take charge of the aspects of the situation over which you have control, and to accept the areas in which you have no control. You have control over how YOU REACT to the coach. You have control over what you THINK and FEEL and how you BEHAVE in response to the coach. Let's take a look at some strategies you can employ in these situations. The coach would never have a clue you were using them. Of course, FIRST, make sure you are a valuable member of the team, and that your behavior is beyond reproach, so the coach cannot justify any attack on you.

  1. Don't Buy What They're Selling. Don't take the negative things these coaches say and do to you personally. This is challenging, but possible. Remind yourself how capable you are and that you've done nothing to deserve the coach's venom. Be professional, polite and diplomatic outside, in your behavior, and mentally tough inside.

  2. Never Let 'Em See You Sweat. Don't be a target for their negativity. Don't react. Don't give them the pleasure of seeing you get upset. Hold your emotions in and be stoic. Do what they ask and they may leave you alone. They also may respect you for being able to "take their garbage". Who knows, they may be testing you.

  3. Don't Give Your Power Away. Some athletes think, "How can I play well with such a negative coach? I need my coach to support me and believe in me." This gives your coach the power over you. Thinking this way, THEY get to decide how you feel about yourself. You don't NEED their approval. It would be nice, but with a negative coach, do you think you'll ever get that approval? You have to give yourself your OWN approval.

  4. Convert Their Negative Instructions To Positive Ones. Some coaches are very poor at telling you what they want. They're great at telling you what they DON'T want. That's negative. They say don't do this and stop doing that, but they never say what you SHOULD be doing. You need to change their negative messages to positive ones in your mind. That way you can act on them with clarity and success.

  5. Decide To Not Allow Them To Stop You. Only you can stop you. Only you can allow yourself to be upset. Are you going to allow some coach who you don't like or respect to ruin your fun in the sport you love? Will you give them the power to stand in your way of improving? Will you blame them for not succeeding? Succeed in SPITE of them.

Great Coaches Have Great Communication Skills

I was the Sport Psychology Coach for the San Jose City College Jaguars (San Jose, California). SJCC Head Coach Percy Carr led the Jaguars to eight state championships and 21 seasons with 20-plus wins. Coach Carr is the all-time winningest college basketball coach, at any level, with 881 wins to date. With these 881 career wins, Coach Carr holds the record for the most wins in California community college history. Coach Carr was inducted into the California Community College Basketball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame and was the sixth-ranked junior college coach in the USA by the magazine Basketball Times. He's still coaching.

Coach Carr is a great coach because he listens to his players. He cares about his players. They know this to be a fact. He cares about them as people, not just as basketball players. He's a precise communicator. He doesn't talk in generalities. He talks in specifics. His players know exactly what he wants from them. There is no confusion. He doesn't over-coach. Over-coaching is probably the number one coaching mistake made in all sports. An over-controlling coach like that wants to make sure his players understand, but the excess information (often delivered at the wrong time) overwhelms them, and they lose focus. There is a time to coach, and a time to be quiet. A wise coach knows the difference.

Now you can see that having a negative coach does not have to feel like an impossible situation. A coach like this does not have to ruin your sport experience. In fact, you can overcome their negativity and still get what you want using the strategies outlined above. The bottom line is this. Don't blame a negative coach for your unhappiness. Decide to be a happy person, regardless of their behavior. Learn and improve every day and become a better athlete and basketball player every minute, in spite of that toxic person. You'll feel GREAT about that.

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Copyright © 2017 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.


For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. Here is a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot. This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with mental coach Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.


Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time college athletics.


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Bill Cole, MS, MA
Sports Psychology Coaching

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