I spoke to a coaching friend the other day who was having some personnel issues. You know, it's that time of year, you're frustrated why your players aren't "listening" to you. Practices are like pulling teeth and in games it seems sometimes your players have no idea what they're supposed to be doing. It's driving you insane.

Sometimes we focus so much on problems and not on solutions. Why is it exactly that its not working out? Is it always structural? More important than tactics, a fundamental part of coaching is building and fostering a relationship of trust with your players so that they [the players] have the "courage to fail" in front of you, secure in the knowledge that by the end of practice and games, their weaknesses will have been laid bare solely for the purpose of reprogramming them into strengths for future encounters. Such a level of trust is like a house of cards. It takes a long time to build and it is extremely fragile. Its integrity is absolutely dependent on the professionalism and dedication of the training staff.

There's a great scene in the movie Days of Thunder. Tom Cruise plays the part of "Cole Trickle," a talented, but new to the NASCAR circuit driver. He has been burning up his tires and blowing engines on race cars designed and built by "Harry Hogge," played by Robert Duval. in the wake of constant tension and bickering between the two, Randy Quaid, who plays "Tim" the race team owner, brings Harry and Cole together for a "Come to Jesus" meeting during which the two berate each other for their respective "failings." After Cole stomps out of the meeting in anger, Tim and Harry have the following discussion:

Tim: Do you think he can drive?

Harry: Oh, he can drive... he can drive beyond the limits of the tires, the engine, the car, anything else... if the son-of-a-bitch would listen to me, we'd hardly ever lose a damn race.

Tim: Harry, I know, you're great, you know you're great... but if the guy in the car doesn't trust you, we're never gonna win a damn race.

After this meeting, Harry wanders off to find Cole in a bar, and sits down to talk with him. He suggest that they "need to talk." The discussion continues:

Cole: All right, Harry... talk.

Harry: No, on the radio, during a race. You wanna run right on the ragged edge all the damn time, you've gotta tell us what's going on with the car.

Cole: Well, you just wanna change the way I drive it.

Harry: Maybe.

Cole: Well maybe you could just set up the car so I don't have to change.

Harry: I'd be happy to. You just tell me how.

Cole: Well what do you want to know?

Harry: Well, hell, Cole, you're the driver... if you think it's running loose or tight, we'll give it a turn here, take some wedge out there... we'll win some races. That's all there is to it.

Cole: I can't do that.

Harry: Well why the hell not?

Cole: Because I don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Harry: How do you mean that?

Cole pauses, takes a couple of breaths, looks around nervously, gets closer to Harry, and says:

Cole: Because I don't know much about cars, okay.

Harry: Hey, Cole, that doesn't make a damn bit of difference for any driver I ever met.

Cole: No... I mean I really don't know... I don't know what you just said about turn here and wedge there... I don't know, I don't know.

Harry: How can that be?

Cole: What's the difference? They just told me to get in the car and drive and I could drive. The point is, I'd like to help out, but I can't. I'm an idiot... I don't have the vocabulary.

Harry: Well...

Cole:: Well?

Harry: Then, we're just gonna have to figure one out, aren't we. Don't worry about it... all right?

This is the critical and pivotal point in the movie since from this point on, the adversarial relationship between Cole and Harry transforms into one of collaboration. Trust is established and a relationship is built. Cole begins to trust that when it comes to what the car is capable of, Harry knows best. Harry coaches Cole thorough some experiential exercises so that they both have a thorough understanding of the limitations of the car/driver combination so that they can work within those limitations at the highest level of performance. This relationship could never have been built if Harry had been unwilling to extend the olive branch to Cole in an effort to understand what the underlying problem was. Cole knew nothing about cars, but was an amazingly intuitive driver. Because of his trust issues, he was not forthcoming about his lack of knowledge about cars, yet because he was such a phenomenal driver, Harry incorrectly assumed that Cole must have the underlying knowledge in order to perform so well.

Players may be terrified by games and will often suffer from a form of performance anxiety. Although they would never say it, they often come in believing they are going to be tricked or made to look foolish and may believe that the scenario is designed as a no-win situation. Thus, they take the position of "them vs the coaching staff." They make it their goal to beat the coaching staff at its own game. Whether of not the player is justified, (and especially if they are justified due to a negative offensive or defense used by past coaches) it is going to take a lot of effort on the part of the coaching staff to overcome this problem. The place to begin is with simple, properly structured scenarios with achievable, defined goals. If the player performs in accordance with known strategies and uses techniques that are in keeping with the approved offensive gameplan, he wins. [1]

[1] Kenneth Murray, Training at the Speed of Life, Volume One: The Definitive Textbook for Military and Law Enforcement Reality Based Training, (USA: Armiger Publications), 2004.