In watching the NBA Finals and seeing Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant embrace as Jackson won his 10th NBA Championship, it got me thinking on approaches to players as coaches. The two schools of thought are: treat everyone the same; each individual is different so you must treat everyone differently. In fact, you scan through the literature, you'll find coaches are divided on this with some saying 'the same' and others saying 'different'.

For example, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich is known to be one who treats everyone the same, no special treatment, you yell at one player, you have to yell at them all. You have to treat everyone the same so you avoid splitting up the locker room, the so-called favorites factor.

But on the other hand, in his book "How to Be Like Coach Wooden: Life Lessons from Basketball's Greatest Leader" legendary UCLA Head Coach John Wooden says one of the biggest lessons he learned was that you can't treat everyone the same because the relationship between coach and player A is different than between coach and player B. They respond differently.

In my opinion, paradoxically, I think they're both right. In the delicate balancing act that is coaching, you have to treat everyone differently because of individual differences, but the key is to APPEAR that you are treating everyone the same. Sounds like a trick doesn't it? Like some kind of mind manipulation. In a way it is, perception is reality. The reality is, it is impossible to treat everyone the same because everyone has a different personality, develops differently, different cultural background, etc... But in your players eyes, you must appear to be treating everyone the same otherwise they will accuse you of favoritism. Others say, you treat everyone different, so long as you are fair. You can also look at it that way, but remember that not everyone's conception of 'fairness' is the same, what I think is fair may not be what you think is fair.

In order to be a good coach, you must understand psychology, it's almost like needing an out of body experience. You have to observe others observing you. In that way, you see how players will react given a specific situation, and in knowing that it will help you understand how to motivate them best.


  1. cbest  

    June 17, 2009 at 2:02 PM

    I definitely agree with you. As a teacher I was taught in school to treat students the same, which even then I realized didn't make sense since we are taught students are all different. As a teacher I have always tried to walk that line of treating students as individuals and treating them the same, its not always easy, but I do think its the best thing to do. As a coach I have tried to do the same, and believe its the best way to run a team.