It is unfair to expect teenagers to devote all their free time to a sport or one particular interest. Sports offer physical fitness, social interactions and fun and are a healthy part of the school experience, although levels of commitment will vary.

Build Personal Connections with Players

  • Get to know the interests of the players on the team and work together to make time for school, basketball, and other interests.
  • Negotiation and compromise are key life skills for young people to learn. It may be necessary to intervene and provide time management counselling.
  • If a student-athlete is struggling, they may need to give up sport for a time.
  • Flexibility and compromise are critical.

Engage Students, Don’t Compel Them

  • Athletes who commit by choice are much more intrinsically motivated than those who feel forced to participate.
  • Intrinsic motivation makes dedicated practice challenging and enjoyable.
  • Basketball players face a range of choices – some of which are emotionally enticing (travel, opportunity to be seen) – so high school coaches must make varsity basketball fun.
  • Teenagers need chances to display their creativity, critical thinking and leadership skills.
    • Practice should stimulate the mind and the body.

Provide Choice and Autonomy

  • The most fulfilling activities for teenagers are those where they have control over the environment.
    • Low organizational games in an elementary school yard or social media have used independence from adults and structure as a major drawing factor.
  • A coach should not cede authority but work together with players.
    • Choice increases opportunities to find flow in the sport.
  • Players must be responsible for themselves, not in a punitive sense but a constructive one.
    • Help players think through their actions and understand the consequences that they may entail.

Understand the Lives of Teenagers

  • Provide players with a chance to mentally park whatever happened during the day before they start practicing.
    • Never start a practice immediately after school ends; give players time to take care of their academic and personal lives.
  • Teach larger topics over the course of a few practices and workouts.
    • Repeat and reinforce the same fundamentals, review what was explained the previous day and keep lessons relatively simple and interchangeable.
  • Build confidence in the sport of basketball and other aspects of players’ lives.

Coach Players who Want to Be Coached

  • At the youth level, the best planned practice can disintegrate when players do not attend because of other choices.
  • Do your best with those who are there and help them reach their potential.
    • Give every player something meaningful to take away every time that you see them.


  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow. New York City: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
  • Syed, M. (2010). Bounce. New York City: Harper.

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