Adopting a Holistic Approach to Coaching

Posted on Dec 18 2018

Shane McDonald is one of the most respected players to have played in the SEABL competition and has also had stints in the National Basketball League. The talented Nunawading Spectres leader & point guard is making the transition to coaching and recently completed the Basketball Australia Performance Coach course in Melbourne. A teacher by profession, Shane talks here about adopting a holistic approach to coaching young players.

A coach will often refer to the ‘many hats’ they wear in order to have a positive influence on the individual and team of athletes within a sporting environment. When considering the all-around development of an athlete, coaches must be prepared to teach much more than the tactical skills, such as offensive and defensive schemes involved with playing the game of basketball. Sport offers an ideal breeding ground to instil habits and behaviours that can assist people in all areas of life.

Quality coaches can influence this through the environment created and the values they role model as a leader. Being aware of the commitments athletes have as students, their family backgrounds and networks, coaching the person and not just the athlete; it allows us as coaches to connect and positively impact the lives of many along the journey.

The environment we create as coaches and the standards we set directly influences the behaviours and habits of our athletes. Each coach has the ability to put their own values in place, but should do so with authenticity and with the overall development of the athlete at the forefront of mind. If you consider behaviours common with high performing people, traits such as punctuality, humility, determination, and honesty are all common and can be qualities forged and imbedded within a positive sporting environment. The behavioural traits adopted by the athlete can then be applied to other areas in their lives to create widespread impact and influence various avenues in all their future endeavours.

Being part of a team and learning to work with others to achieve common outcomes is an added life skill athletes acquire through their participation in a quality sporting environment. Our ability as coaches to assist the athletes with fitting individual pieces together to form a team whilst educating individuals on the importance of playing a role, sacrificing, and supporting peers through positive and difficult circumstances, all contribute to the whole development of an athlete. The social aspect of team sport also requires people to integrate and work alongside others of varying personalities, values and backgrounds, an aspect all coaches should manage and encourage to enhance the overall sporting experience.

When considering junior development, it is imperative coaches understand the demands their athletes also have as students. This can be at a primary, secondary or tertiary level and the demands will be different for each athlete. The academic year will have periods of increased load where athletes will feel pressure and experience high levels of stress, along with increased cognitive and time demands that can have influence on their abilities to perform or participate in normal scheduled sessions.

Being aware of particular academic demands such as key assessment tasks and exam periods, and offering some flexibility with certain training schedules or loads, offering advice and guidance around time management and quality organisational practices, or simply demonstrating empathy in these times, goes a long way with assisting athletes through busy academic periods. This awareness will also assist with strengthen the coach-athlete relationship and provide all coaches’ greater insight into the workings of their players that can intern reinforce the coach’s ability to positively impact their basketball development.

A coach also needs to consider and negotiate the order of priority for outside commitments all athletes will have in their lives. Generally it is accepted that family and academics are prioritised over sporting endeavours but a coach needs to be clear with their athletes and outline these expectations. A coach must understand their athlete’s cultural backgrounds or religious beliefs and be conscious of how this may influence certain behaviours or commitments throughout the year during key developmental periods. Assisting athletes with creating weekly schedules and creating positive time management habits is an important aspect of individual development to ensure all areas of life are covered and a healthy balance is achieved.

Developing a process of communication around practice and competition commitments for athletes and the expected method for informing a coach of an absence needs to be considered and implemented within the team environment. Being considerate of these elements in coaching will assist athletes with acquiring some of the necessary life skills and responsibilities that young people need to take ownership of and develop to successfully navigate life as an adult. As coaches we are able to impact a range of areas in young people’s lives and should do so with an eye on the overall growth of the individual.

Athletically there is much more involved in coaching than being effective at teaching young people how to run up and down the court putting the ball in the basket. A coach has the ability to educate athletes on the connection between strength and conditioning and how this impacts athletic performance and injury prevention, importance of sleep and recovery, nutrition, performance analysis and sport psychology. These are all central aspects of becoming a high performing athlete but can often be brushed over or neglected by many coaches at varying levels.  You don’t require a PhD or extensive background knowledge in each subject area, but all parts do need to be considered for ultimate impact and to effectively develop the athlete holistically. If these aspects can be integrated into the overall sporting experience it will provide a greater foundation and prepare each athlete for future high performance environments, and also give some insight into other pathways associated with a career in sport.

The job of the coach is vast, at times an overwhelming and daunting task, but also as a career, voluntary role or pastime, can be extremely rewarding. When considering the positive impact we are able to have on the lives of others within sport and in their development as individuals, it’s a particularly influential and privileged title to hold. By embodying great passion for the sport and demonstrating care for the holistic development of our athletes, we as coaches will continue to take great pride in our craft, seek new knowledge and growth that will ultimately serve to holistically benefit those we are lucky enough to call our athletes.


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