Pelicans' Coach Williams on communicating and connecting
By Greg Bach
New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams knows that coaching – whether it’s the likes of All-Star forward Anthony Davis and high-scoring guard Eric Gordon that he works with on his team or little Jimmy and Lindsey that you’ve got on your youth team – is all about making connections.
The deeper that bond between coach and player, and the more each youngster feels a real part of the group, the stronger the team will be and the richer the experience for all involved.
“I think you make all the kids feel special when you spend time with everyone,” the fifth-year Pelicans coach, who’s currently in the middle of the NBA playoffs, told SK Live. “Unfortunately, there are some teams in some places where kids with the most talent get preferential treatment. I think the best way to build confidence and to help a kid along is to make sure that you share an equal amount of time with every child because kids understand when they are being pushed to the side.”
So a big part of coaching comes down to dissecting the variety of personalities you’ll have on your team and being dialed in to what works, and what doesn’t, when teaching, correcting and motivating each young athlete.
“It’s up to the coach to understand his team,” says Williams, who is an assistant coach on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff for the U.S. National Team that will be gunning for gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “I treat a lot of our guys differently but I treat everyone fair. There are absolutes that I have: You have to play hard and you have to show up on time. But then you have different personalities; you have guys or girls that carry more weight than others and I think you have to understand each person’s individuality so that you can coach them better because the reality is that everybody is not the same. If you want to have a good team I think you have to understand each of your players, their own specific personalities.”
Check out these additional tips Williams offers up to help you be a positive influence in a young athlete’s life:
DEALING WITH DEFEATS
“I think it’s OK to take losses hard or a disappointing performance because I think it helps you grow,” says Williams, who starred at Notre Dame and was an Honorable Mention All-American his senior season. “If you lose a game and you don’t feel bad about it I don’t think you are much of a competitor.”
But it’s the coach’s job to push players beyond the disappointment and help them grab something positive from the setback.
“A coach can help a child move forward by explaining to them that this is how you grow, you can’t win every game, and what did you learn from the loss?” Williams says. “We do that in professional sports. We teach our guys a lot from losses. When they have a bad game we show them film of the things they didn’t do well, and at the same time I think you can also show them things that they did well even though they lost or think that they didn’t play well. You can always take positives out of any situation. I think that helps kids when they can see both sides of the story.”
THE TRIALS OF TRYOUTS
“Anytime you have to cut someone being sensitive to their situation and explaining to them why they’re in that situation is important,” Williams says. “You never want to be harsh in those situations because most times the kid knows they’re going to get cut.”
He adds that coaches can use this opportunity to give the youngster some pointers on areas of his or her game that they can work on to improve when the next tryout rolls around.
“The thing that I would try to do is give them 3 or 4 pointers as to how they can get better – something that I’ve seen in their game or in their personality that they have to change,” he says. “And then be encouraging. I like to talk about my own failures and just tell them that it’s a part of life. Rarely do you go through life without failing and so how you respond to this situation and how you handle this is important.”
Helping young athletes grasp the concept of teamwork is often a real challenge, one that coaches need to be prepared for.
“It takes a lot of work to teach teamwork,” says Williams, who enjoyed a nine-year playing career in the NBA. “One of the things that I talk about is if one of us isn’t right then all of us aren’t right. If there’s a weak link in the chain the chain is going to break at some point. And we never leave anyone behind. I try to keep pounding home these catch phrases with the hope that they start to repeat them.”
Every chance he gets during both practices and games the team message is front and center in his dealings with his players.
“Even though you know you have better players and even though there are some players on your team with less talent, the bottom line is it’s a team sport and as much as you can you need to talk about the team,” he says. “Every day that we break we say ‘1-2-3-Team’ because everything we do is about our team. We always talk about the name on the front of the jersey as opposed to the name on the back of the jersey. That doesn’t negate the ones who have great talent, but at the end of the day if we don’t have a team you can’t win.”
ZERO IN ON FUNDAMENTALS
“I think the biggest key is just teaching fundamentals,” Williams says. “You’re always going to be able to rely on the basics. Kids watch enough TV, they see enough highlights, and that is only 10 percent of the game. The other 90 percent is fundamentals and most kids don’t have those.”
Antonio Pierce, Super Bowl champion and linebackers coach at Arizona State, on pinpointing motives and inspiring young athletes to be their best
Monique Henderson, Olympic track great and college coach, on chasing improvement one fun-filled step at a time
Ole Miss sports psychologist Dr. Josie Nicholson on helping your young athletes deliver positive messages to themselves to perform at their best
Reinforcing effort, coupled with a heavy dose of encouraging words, can help young athletes enjoy productive and rewarding seasons