The good coach coaches to the end of the bench. He says all the things needing to be said to inspire his starters, yes, but then he continues on down the roster and continues to coach, pushing the right buttons for these players, as well.
I thought of this as I caught a glimpse of a Utah Jazz game, and saw Raul Neto slicing in for a lay-up. Raul, who started at point much of the previous season. Raul, who this year is the fourth point guard on the team.
Would be easy for him to get disillusioned, feel hopeless, maybe even worthless.
So, what would a good coach do? First off, he would explain to him what a blessing it is to have George Hill as his teammate. Every day in practice, you get to go up against one of the very best in the league. You can test yourself, measure yourself, pull yourself up to the level of the best. If you can play with the very best, you can be the very best. This is an opportunity to improve to the level of the competition and who knows how good you can get.
If I were coach, I suppose I would open by saying, "We need you," thus quickly sending a message that whatever you are about to say should not be seen as a negative. We're not thinking of trading you away. The first reaction the player has to what you say is important, setting the stage for how he receives the whole message. So:
"We need you, Raul. You have been a wonderful player and we need you to continue being a wonderful player. We're expecting that you will continue to see some playing time. And, when you do go in, mark that you are still playing on the NBA stage, against NBA-caliper players. This opportunity remains yours. You go out on the court to measure yourself and stack up to these players every time you enter the ball game.
"Raul, how long has it been since you played against high school-caliper players? You know, it wouldn't be the same if you were still playing against them. It wouldn't be as fun, nor as challenging, nor as rewarding. The level of the competition is half the fun. Yes, we've brought in Shelvin Mack and George Hill, and Dante Exum has returned to health. Raul, playing against these players in practices can be a plus for you. Playing with them can be good. Players tend to raise their games to the level of the competition. Russell Westbrook gets all kinds of triple-doubles, for example, and the next thing you know, other players are also getting more triple-doubles. Don't let Shelvin's, and George's, and Dante's being here be a negative. Turn it into a plus. When they whip past you for a layup in practice, set your mind that you are going to figure out a way to stop them. Set in your mind that you are going to work on it until you get it figured out. You are going to find a way to stop on a dime when they are guarding you, and push off a shot that sails cleanly through the net. When they steal your pass, you determine to use this as an opportunity to figure out how you can keep them from stealing your shot. When they beat you to a rebound, you ask yourself how you could have beaten them to the rebound. Raul, we need you."
As a coach, you also want to avoid unrealistic expectations. So, then, the speech might continue: "You might never reach the level of a George Hill. Despite playing with and against him every day, you might not reach his level. That is fine, too. He's one of the NBA's best, and if you don't reach that level, there is no shame. Push for it and try for it, but don't break yourself on it."
Coaches expect their little-used players to be ready to enter the game, to stay ready. But, the coach who coaches to the end of the bench is most likely to reap that result. A player's preparedness starts with the coach.