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Character Coaching

Character Coaching


By Greg Bach

At the top of youth basketball coaches’ to-do lists you’ll find teaching skills, planning practices and managing game day line-ups.

And former college basketball coach Gary Waters – the winningest coach in the history of Cleveland State University – reminds volunteer coaches not to overlook teaching character, loyalty and integrity amid those responsibilities.

“As coaches we are supposed to be examples,” says Waters, author of the upcoming book Ten Principles of a Character Coach. “I had character coaches who molded who I am today and when you establish that foundation with young players then they understand that good things will come from it.”

Too often, these get lost in the chase for wins, trophies and accolades.

“Integrity has taken a backseat to win-at-all-costs,” Waters says. “But when you have integrity within yourself, and you’re doing the right thing and putting another person ahead of you, only positive things will follow.”


Teaching young athletes the importance of loyalty – both to their team and in their daily lives away from the basketball court – can be done by employing loyalty scores, Waters says.

Coaches can rate themselves, and their athletes, using a 1 to 5 scale. Ratings can be related to key tenants of loyalty like honesty, trustworthiness, support, generosity, commitment, reliability, sincerity and consistency – or whichever attributes a coach finds most important.

“Every coach looks at it differently,” Waters says. “So you list your traits of loyalty.”

Coaches can then track strengths and weaknesses of players in these areas and focus on those that may be lacking.

“You ask yourself, ‘Am I doing what is right with this player?’” Waters says. “Or, ‘is this player doing what is right?’”


Simple phrases said with meaning can produce powerful results, especially when it comes to team building and forging units that play together and support each other.

“What you have to help young athletes understand is that they have to put the other person ahead of themselves,” Waters says. “So when you are out there playing with each other you have to make a commitment to say, ‘hey, this person is as important as I am, and even more important.’ One of the ways we did that was we pointed at the person who delivered the pass and said ‘thank you.’ And then they know that they have done something to help. And it starts in practice – it doesn’t start in the games. You have to develop that behavior where they all work together and they all care about each other as one. When it starts at practice then it carries on to the game.”

It’s crucial that those messages are relayed to players at every practice, too.

“You want to make sure that each and every day that they help one another because the support out on the court is the biggest thing,” Waters says. “We get so caught up in that it’s all about yourself and how well you do. But when you start supporting others now you feel good about what you are doing and that creates that team atmosphere.”


When shots aren’t dropping a young player’s head often does, along with his or her confidence.

“When I coached that was one of the things that I tried to never have a player say was ‘my fault,’” Waters explains. “When you see them putting their head down you have a teammate say something to them to lift them up. When a teammate comes over and pats them on the back and says ‘you’re ok’ or ‘let’s go after it’ or something like that it lets them know that they have someone supporting them.”

Coaching Gary Waters Character Integrity Practice Teaching

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