Nicolas Raimbault is the Director of Coaches Formation of the French Baskteball Federation. Yannick Stephan is a psychology consultant.
To achieve the best results with a basketball team, three basic elements are necessary: tactics and technique, physical fitness, and sports psychology. We would like to focus on the psychological aspects and how they can be integrated into a team framework.
It is first important to understand that the body is a mass of muscles and nerves linked together into the central processing unit that is the brain. Sports psychology helps guide athletes in using that central processing unit to its greatest effect in controlling the body to provide optimum athletic performance.
The coaches are generally concerned about psychology, but they do not usually have complete knowledge of the subject or know how to work with a psychology consultant. The following are some of the guidelines we use for approaching sports psychology at the French Federal Basketball Center (CFBB) in order to create a solid and fruitful cooperation between the coach and a psychology consultant. The Center, directed by Lucien Legrand, and with the support of the National Technical Director Jean Pierre De Vincenzi, is placing great emphasis on the technical as well as on the psychological aspects of training and game performance.
The coach cannot have a deep relationship with the players. On the other hand, the players are not likely to open up themselves, either for reasons of time or for not wanting to create problems for themselves on the basketball court.
It’s the psychological consultant, however, who can create the all-important link between the players and the technical staff. The psychology consultant can help the team reach the best performances possible. It would be best that this expert come from the basketball world, and it would be even better if he was a former player. As a former player, he would know first-hand the feelings of the players, the overriding symptoms of stress particular to basketball, the team dynamics and conflicts, and any other psychological aspect related to basketball.
When using a psychological consultant, it must be made very clear to the players that he is a member of the staff. All the other staff members should know precisely how he wants to work with the team. It must also be made clear that the sports psychologist has nothing to do with the technical choices or decisions of the coaching staff.
Finally, there must not be any confusion concerning the role of the psychological consultant: Only the coach decides what and how to do things with the team. Think of the sports psychologist as a consultant similar in stature to an assistant coach or a trainer. The psychologist may suggest, but does not take any final decision in team matters.
SOME IDEAS FROM THE CFBB FOR IMPROVING TEAM COHESION
When psychological training is introduced to a team, it is possible to make noticeable improvements just as athletes do in daily basketball training sessions on the court. Here are some tips for dealing with a basketball team that will help better integrate the sports psychologist with the team:
- Do not talk or address your remarks only to the group; schedule private discussions with individual players.
- Define what you can say to the team, what you must say, when you can say it-try to avoid the “heated moments” for discussions-and, above all, how you speak to the team. Following the common rules of communication will earn the respect of everybody on the team.
- Accept, understand, and “handle” the differences among the individual players. Do not think that a star player wants to be treated like the last reserve on the team. Great coaches generally tolerate the different behavior and conduct of their top players.
- Distinguish in what way each player is different. Explain to each team member that you know how his personality is the same, as well as different, from his teammates and that you respect those differences.
- Discover the various “clans” inside the team. Do not disrupt these special cliques, but find different ways of communicating with these different groups.
- The coach and the team should make some joint decisions: Define the rules of the group, how fines are levied and what they consist of, and how prizes and awards are given and what they consist of. It’s important that you let the team decide by itself on some pre-game routine, such as a pre-game meal.
- Define exactly the individual and collective aims for everyone on the team. Both the technical staff and players must know their individual roles.
- Use game statistics in a different role as a way to measure individual and team goals. Review and compare the statistics with the players and see if they have achieved their pre-season targets.
Many coaches intuitively know that the major differences between two players or two teams and between winning and losing are psychological. Unfortunately, very few of them work on this critical aspect of the game. In basketball, so many things are left to chance. But basketball is predictably unpredictable. Coaches should not let the mental mindset of their athletes be another one of those unpredictable factors. In this modern sports era, there’s no reason for an athlete’s mental game to become his Achilles heel.