Reflections on “Not Coaching”

Last week, after a tough first game (and string of scrimmages), we decided to “stop” coaching. This was largely Schwenkel’s idea, or at least her observation. When we did small-sided games in practice, and gave kids little instruction, they actually thought with the creativity and intensity that we were trying to coach into them. In reality, our drills and practices are working, but we hadn’t seen that in our first game.

Since then, we’ve won 4 straight games by wide margins and are feeling confident, at last. We’re not playing perfect basketball, but here are some reflections on including our players in the decision making process.


  • Players are thinking about the game more, including analyzing their opponents and deciding which offensive sets and defensive situations give them the best chance to win.
  • The team is more unified. Decision making has brought them together.
  • We have clear leaders, as this process has forced girls to become vocal and make a stand on something they see. They don’t just parrot what we say anymore.
  • Players play with more ownership. They’re not following orders, but executing something they care about and want to see work.
  • When coaches do set something up, they listen more intently, as they know “this is important.” Since we don’t speak all the time, so to speak, when we do, it’s actually heard.
  • It’s just more fun. How many coaches and teachers let their kids make some of the decisions?!


  • Some of the players were frustrated that we just “did the same thing” since it was working. We grew out of this, lately, But we ran too much 2-3 zone and had to deliberately break that habit.
  • Some parents have tried to coach the team through their players. I heard a couple of them saying what we should do against a certain opponent, then their daughters repeating it in a pre-game meeting. Not a big deal, actually, as we simply make it a “teaching moment” about why that would or would not work. We’re not coaches that always think we’re right, anyway, so outside opinions are welcome, if they can help our girls. But it could be a problem if you’re a coach that isn’t like that…

I’m sure I’m missing a negative, especially as a constant optimist. However, these values – and the subsequent reaction by the players – is essentially the same response that students in my classroom have had. The girls understood what we’re trying to do. We explained what the goal was, what was expected of the girls, and our rationale. The girls are get it. Parents, too. A few made comments after the games about the difference.

I guess it all comes back to teaching. We are TEACHING basketball. Winning is nice, but helping the girls understand how to ball and how to think is paramount. Eventually, the two are very closely related – winning and learning – but there’s naturally a curve as we learn the process.

And it’s something that makes the process more fun for players, too. Hey, what a thought!