Building basketball chemistry

Bob Seggerson

December 18, 2013

If someone asked me to list my coaching priorities when beginning a new basketball season, I would place building team chemistry right at the top. This is especially true for a team sport like basketball that requires melding a diverse collection of athletes into a cohesive group that share a common goal. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and the task is more difficult in this day and age because our athletic culture is rewarding far too many athletes who are busy promoting themselves.

When I was coaching I spent a lot of time trying to define the roles that I expected our players to accept. Defining those roles and then selling them to young athletes was often the most critical aspect in building the chemistry of a successful team. The process was difficult because those roles can change and because the players, their friends and their families often had a different assessment of where they believe they fit into the scheme of things.

Those roles involved job descriptions for the best players on the team all the way down to the athletes sitting on the end of the bench. And the first rule of basketball chemistry is the guys sitting on the end of the bench are just as important as the stars and everybody on the team has to accept that premise. Even the most talented teams will eventually begin to unravel if cliques begin to form within the team that do not appreciate the contribution and efforts of everyone in the program.

The bottom line is really simple. It’s called respect. Every person in the program, including coaches, players, managers and support staff need to respect each other if a team expects to reach its potential. The reason this is true is because every team is going to be tested by adversity at one time or another and it is during this difficult period members of the team will have to lean on each other for support. On teams that are divided or lack respect, the cracks grow wider and those squads rarely escape their rut.

It is in those times of adversity that a team’s chemistry is really tested. When team’s are winning and everything is sailing along smoothly, it’s easy to find harmony and rare to witness division or acrimony. But a loss in a big game or a couple weeks of disappointment on the court often opens the door to criticism and second guessing.

Teams that find themselves in this kind of calamity need to pull rank, and it is in these times that real leaders step up and shoulder responsibility for climbing out of the rut.

When teams are faced with these inevitable periods of the basketball blues, the squad and coach are often bombarded with criticism and second guessing from everyone including fans and families to buddies and Internet sport chat room experts. That is exactly when a team’s chemistry can be properly measured.

During my coaching career, when faced with this dilemma, I would gather our team in the locker room and tell them that it did not matter to me what others were thinking about the team in our adversity. I simply did not care. But I told them that I cared a great deal about what each of them was thinking and feeling and that our response to the difficult time depended upon how we came together. I reminded them that disaster can be turned into opportunity by teams who had the collective strength to be resilient in the face of adversity and that athletes can be strengthened by the very blow that cuts them down … if they help each other up. Teams that battle through difficult times and stick together can become an imposing force.

And teams that have worked at developing great chemistry can and will accomplish that difficult feat when the time comes.

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