Player Conduct

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at

Personal and Basketball-Related Behaviors Your Players Should Understand

"In early childhood you may lay the foundation of poverty or riches, industry of idleness, good or evil, by the habits to which you train your children. Teach them right habits then, and their future life is safe."
~ Lydia Sigourney ~

Coaches of young players have an opportunity to lay a foundation that greatly enhances their future growth. Usually, coaches focus on fundamental physical skills. As players learn proper habits, it's much easier for them to progress as an athlete, building one layer of skills upon another. Some coaches have a gift for teaching the "mental" part of fundamentals. They impart to their players a sense of gamesmanship. In addition to skills, they learn strategy. This level of understanding breeds a player with special confidence and poise. And further, some coaches excel at the abstract aspects of the game deriving excellence through mental preparation, discipline and emotion.

However, one important part of teaching the game that is often overlooked with youngsters is player conduct. How players behave on and off the floor is very descriptive of their history. Parents, coaches and other players can size up an individual within seconds based on a given action, statement or projected attitude. A coach can help the players and the team at large by teaching them to manage these outward impressions and use them to their advantage.

Player conduct can be broken into two components. One part is the code of behavior specific to the sport and covers actions and appearance while on the court. First impressions in this area can give an opponent instant confidence or dismay. The second component is personal, but has broad reaching and long-term effects. If the kids learn the basic skills of personal conduct, the public will form a positive opinion of the basketball program and perhaps the entire community that supports it. These skills will convey benefit long past a basketball career.

Unfortunately, most young players do not know the "sport code" of behavior. Unless their coach has a extensive background in sports, they may not have a chance to learn the breadth of protocol that will be required of them. Certainly, many parent-coaches will be able to promote ideals of sportsmanship and fair play to their charges, but concerning specific behaviors surrounding the game, they will probably copy what they see the opposing teams do and what they see on TV.

Television doesn't offer many desirable role models for personal conduct. Young viewers may learn how to entertain, but its unlikely they'll learn higher values from the tube. Parental education in basic social skills will vary greatly from family to family. Behaviors in children that seem rude or even shocking to one family may be quite natural in another. Without being made aware of appropriate social gestures and responses, an individual may be unknowingly compromised by committing social.

Once certain negative behaviors are adopted, they are part of the player for life unless there is an embarrassing shock of self-awareness later on that is powerful enough to motivate a change in the individual. For example, a player may have worked diligently on physical skills that are important to the game, but comes to tryouts dressed in a playground fashion. She unknowingly irritates the coaching staff and is cut. Another player spends the game at the end of the bench talking to his friend. He wonders why he doesn't get to play very much and eventually quits. In another scenario, a player fouls out of a game and yanks off his jersey in disgust. He's suspended for poor sportsmanship. Or, how about a player who denigrates the players of a losing team. He thinks he is being funny and doesn't realize that people who hear him think he's a jerk.

In each case, the player is likely demonstrating behaviors that have surrounded him thus far. In these examples, no one clearly discussed the etiquette expected of an athlete. As a result, there were drastic consequences that could have been avoided by preparation long ago. The player may feel compelled to change behavior in the future, but only after paying a painful price.

Below are areas of conduct that have a profound effect on how other people will view the players as individuals and as members of their organization. The suggestions, if followed, will help present each in a positive light. The suggestions will also develop sense of pride and self-respect among the players as they realize that they are part of a "real" team. The feedback they get from others will reinforce the feeling that they are doing things the right way. Opposing teams will grant them an initial respect.

Away from the Gym

Players are still part of their team when they are away from the gym. Once part of a team, a person has a larger identity. Each individual's reputation reflects upon the team. For that reason, out of respect for your teammates, players should consider their behavioral decisions in that light. There are many social courtesies that athletes should know, not just to represent their team well, but to experience individual growth as well.

Following are some topics that should be addressed with the team. Some of the topics may seem too obvious, but if just one of your players is ignorant of the expected behaviors, then the team may suffer in some way.

Coaches should:

  1. Teach the players to shake hands. As athletes, they will participate in this custom more frequently as they grow older and deal with opponents, coaches, sponsors and fans. A good handshake makes a lasting, favorable impression. It should be firm, simple, short and business-like accompanied by direct eye contact. Soft hands and evasive eyes will indicate submissiveness or insincerity.
  2. Define listening skills. It is important not only to listen, but to also acknowledge the speaker with eye contact and some method of acknowledgment that the message was received. Asking questions are part of active listening.
  3. Instruct players on how to apologize. A simple "I'm sorry" is an essential tool of etiquette. The lack of an apology, or a clumsy, resentful one, compounds an affront. Also, frivolous and unnecessary apologies are irritating. Players should never apologize for missing a shot, for example, but owe an apology for deliberately taking a shot that was not in the team's best interests. Make sure the players understand the difference.
  4. Show players how to deal with reproach. Criticism may be unpleasant, but it is unavoidable within the context of coaching. Players who do not have tools to deal with correction and admonishment may lash out demonstrably and incur lasting harm. Players who can set their defensiveness aside, just say "OK" and learn what they can from the experience reap benefits in several ways. They will defuse a confrontation, be seen as a person with internal strength and be able to take some good out of an uncomfortable situation.

Players Should:

  1. Talk positively about their teammates, coaches and program. People will not respect your team if you don't appear to. It starts with you.
  2. Treat your team manager (if you are luck enough to have one) with complete respect and equality.
  3. Participate in all team activities, such as off-season fund raisers, parties, travel arrangements and so on. If you don't, you are disassociating yourself from your teammates. You need to be together to be strong.
  4. Follow the rules of your school and community. Nothing shames a team more than to have one or more of its members disciplined for breaking the school policies or the community laws. Punishments are public and may deprive the team permanently.
  5. Maintain your priorities. Your family (and religion) always comes first. Next is school. If you cannot cope with your family and keep up with your studies, then do not play basketball. You have bigger problems in your life to solve. Being on a basketball team is a privilege, not an escape from your responsibilities.
  6. Don't try to live a life of multiple personalities. If in one life you are an athlete and in another life you are a street savvy tough guy, you are going to fail in both areas. Choose your course wisely and dedicate yourself to that purpose.

Preparing for Competition

It is unwise to walk into the gym for a tryout, practice or game without adequate time to prepare. The environment is just too competitive. If you think you can walk directly on the court and perform at your best, you are wrong.

  1. Get plenty of sleep. Most players cheat themselves by not getting enough rest. They never get close to their potential because they tire too easily. Basketball, on top of the rest of your life, is demanding. Sleep!
  2. Eat decent food. If you have a long bus trip in the morning, take a snack. Eat a hearty lunch. You will need the energy by the time you get on the floor to play.
  3. In the morning (or the night before) get all of your gear together that you are going to need to play basketball. Have a checklist of all the things you need: shoes, socks, shorts, undergear, jersey, dry clothes to wear afterward, snacks, and so on. Keep these things in a separate bag so you can quickly locate all your items and carry them easily.
  4. Store your sport bag in a safe place for the day. It is heartbreaking to lose your shoes or jersey when you need them most. There are thieves everywhere who will happily take your things if they are not protected.
  5. Make sure your transportation needs are arranged. Even if you are not old enough to drive, you are old enough to make sure someone is picking you up or dropping you off. Being late for practice because you couldn't find a ride is not an excuse. Call your teammates or coach if your ride is uncertain.
  6. Arrive at the gym early enough to get dressed properly. Getting dressed should be a thoughtful time where you can think about the hours to come and not feel rushed and distracted. Do not sit around with your shoes untied and your jersey tucked away until its time to play. You can't be taken seriously as a player if you approach the floor when you are not even fully dressed.
  7. Dress for performance. Are you coming to play or be seen? If its to be seen, you won't be seen very long. Performance means not wearing jewelry of any kind. Wear two pair of socks and make sure they are smoothed over your foot - no wrinkles. Your socks should cover your ankles, be the same height and the same color. Buy the best shoes you can afford. Shoes are your most critical piece of gear. Try several pair until you find the most comfortable pair. Don't buy based on style - it won't show in the box score. Your shorts should fit at your waist as they are designed and tied snugly. Sagging shorts look ridiculous and they slow you down. If you wear an undershirt beneath the jersey, it should be plain in and match the uniform color. Avoid NBA logos and names. Keep it simple and performance oriented. No hats, combs, kerchiefs or anything but hair should be on your head. Elaborate hairstyles may represent your personal freedom to express yourself, but what does your appearance express about your team?
  8. When you enter the gym, be calm. Walk with a sense of purpose. Look at kids who run around and make a lot of noise and realize how less mature they are. How can they compete with a serious athlete?
  9. If you have a pre-game meeting, be attentive. Ask questions. Devote your game to the team plan and concentrate on how you can help the team succeed.
  10. Once you get on the floor, don't start throwing up wild shots. Develop a personal warm-up routine that is calculated and comfortable. Coaches will readily recognize your sensibility.
  11. Run your warm-up patterns with diligence and care. Practice them so you look good. Don't kid around or talk to your friends. Your opponent will be watching you. Their first opinions will be based on how you warm up. If they take the floor believing they are the better team and can beat you, your work will be twice as hard.
  12. Do not bounce basketballs while awaiting your tun to play. It is very annoying to the spectators and distracting to the team that is currently playing.

During Practice Sessions

  1. Don't be late. Treat practice seriously, just like a game. Arrive in time to get properly dressed and warmed up.
  2. If you have free time or unstructured time, use it to your best advantage. While other kids are wasting their opportunities in open scrimmage, practice weak areas of your individual game.
  3. Work as hard as you can every minute. You can rest after practice. If you practice with enough intensity, the games will seem easy in comparison. If you are the kind of player that can only rise to his best in a game, you'll find that you don't get any better or any stronger.
  4. Do the drills with an emphasis on proper form. Don't rush to the point of reinforcing poor technical habits. Even on easy drills, try to do them perfectly.
  5. Don't get caught up in horseplay or clowning around. The season will be over before you know it and the moments that you spent foolishly will be gone forever.
  6. Don't do stunts or jokes that could cause injury. Many players have lost their season due to pointless injuries.
  7. Its OK to ask the coach questions. Don't nod your head "yes" trying to look smart if you are just going to look stupid in the next few minutes.
  8. Understand the vocabulary. If the coach uses an unfamiliar term like "elbow" or "hand check", ask for a definition.
  9. When the whistle blows, hustle to the coach immediately.
  10. Help keep the team morale and energy up by being positive and encouraging your teammates to work hard. Practice is a lot of fun when everybody is into it.

Playing the Game

Player conduct during the game is a key element of winning and losing. It's more than sportsmanship. It is also about concentration and accepting personal responsibility for what happens on the floor. In addition, there are several procedures players must learn to follow. Failure to respect the administrative facets of the game usually results in technical fouls.

  1. Always report to the scorekeeper before entering the game. It looks real stupid to jump off the bench and run onto the floor, only to get called back and scolded. When you report, stay down on one knee so the scorekeeper can still see the action on the floor. Let your number be clearly seen. Mention your number and the number of the player you are replacing. Then, be patient and quiet.
  2. When the whistle blows, stop. Don't take an extra shot. Look at the referee and understand the call. Don't react to what you think the call might be because you could easily embarrass yourself. Just look and listen.
  3. If the referee calls a violation, hand him the ball and get into position. Because the call is already made, it is pointless to argue or comment. Just play on.
  4. Keep your temper. If you become angry. It is a sign that you are distracted from the game.
  5. If you have a foul called against you, just raise your hand and be expressionless. It is not your job to approve or disapprove. There is no need to make a facial commentary. Even if the call bothers you, if you have the habit of acknowledging the call, you maintain respect and you can more easily get back into the flow of the game. If you show your temper, you may adversely affect your own play, get benched, incur a technical foul, or all three together.
  6. Any time the whistle blows, hustle back to your bench. Players who saunter back to the bench waste valuable time-out seconds. If you are too tired to hurry back, you need a substitution.
  7. During the time outs, shut up and listen. The time is precious. Let the coach outline the plan. When the plan is presented, you can ask a question, but don't argue about the plan. If something happened on the floor, leave it on the floor and don't waste the time out whining about something no longer important.
  8. Some teams have timeout rituals, like the active players sitting on the bench while others circle around. Other teams bring chairs out on the floor. Whatever you do, do it with the same precision as one of your drills.
  9. When you come off the floor, tell your replacement who you are guarding. Help him out. Don't make a face. Make your teammate feel like you are glad he is getting a chance to play. Come off the floor quickly and sit down.
  10. Never talk trash to your opponent. It's a tactic for weak people. Strong people express themselves through their play. Weak people try to influence you in non-playing ways because they do not believe they can legitimately compete with you. Trash talking is an ugly attempt at intimidation. Players that persist in the habit should not be allowed to play.
  11. If your opponent talks trash to you, no matter what is said, ignore it. As was just explained, it's a sign that you are the superior player. Why demean yourself to the inferior level of the trash talker? There is no need to dispute what was said because the person who said it does not deserve a reply. The best way to maintain superiority is to concentrate on the game and win it with respect.
  12. Its not only OK to speak to your own team, its necessary. Talk a lot. Warn your fellow players of screens, loose balls or anything else that may give you a slight advantage.

On the Bench

  1. Pay attention to the game. You should care enough about the contest and your teammates to watch with interest. If the coach notices a bench player's lack of enthusiasm, it's a good bet the complacent player will remain on the bench.
  2. Don't just sit there, try to help the active players. Advise them of what the opponent is doing, remind players where they are supposed to be and, above all, cheer them on.
  3. Do not communicate with the crowd. Focus on the game.
  4. Be ready to go into the game at all times. Shoes should be tied, jerseys tucked in and all jewelry removed.
  5. When you come out of the game, don't walk around, bury your head or otherwise make a spectacle of yourself. Take a towel or a quick drink of water and relax. By all means, do not remove any part of your uniform, including your shoes. That's a sure sign that you won't be playing anymore, this game or the next.
  6. During time outs, get out of your chair and listen closely to the coach's instructions. You may need to enter the game at any moment.
  7. If you have water available to you, be mature enough to not make a mess. If you spill your water, grab a towel and wipe it up. Be responsible for yourself and not require others to pick up after you and take care of your sloppiness
  8. At half time and at the end of the game, help out by bringing the basketballs and any other materials into the locker room.

After the Game

  1. Never blame the outcome of the game on anyone. If you went out and did your best, then you just got beat by a team that played better. There is no shame in that.
  2. If you played great, give the credit to your teammates. They all helped.
  3. If you didn't play as well as you wanted to, accept full responsibility. Do not displace your performance on a referee or another player. Excuses are a sign of weakness.
  4. When you talk about your teammates, always speak in complimentary terms.
  5. When you speak about your opponent, be graceful. The worse you criticize someone, the smaller you look.
  6. Once the final buzzer sounds, shake hands with the opponent and say "nice game".
  7. It's a nice touch to say thanks to the people who make the game work: the timekeeper, the scorekeeper and the refs. Don't make a big deal out of it, but a simple thanks will be greatly appreciated.
  8. After the game and handshaking, get off the floor. Chances are another team is waiting to play.
  9. Double check your gear and make sure you have your shoes, jersey and other items you need.
  10. When you have a chance, relive the game with your teammates. Its fun to talk over all the situations and the crazy things that happened. In this process, teams learn how they want to deal with such events.
  11. Go home, drink lots of water and get to bed at a reasonable time. After a workout, your body needs rest to get stronger.

If you have any additional behavioral tips for young players, please email them to If you include your name and email address, you'll be credited with the tip.