A Must-Have Conversation for Coaches

A Must-Have Conversation for Coaches

Building winning teams is hard work! So many moving parts. So many things that can go wrong. As coaches, you want every advantage you can get to give your team the best opportunity for success. Yet many coaches skip one simple step that makes all the difference. One conversation that directly impacts your team’s ability to reach its potential.

Oftentimes overlooked, even by the most seasoned coaches, is the “role definition” conversation. Long-time Ashland women’s basketball coach, Sue Ramsey, recently told me how she and her staff met with each player individually to communicate roles. “It’s so freeing!” she said with a smile.


One conversation proved vitally important. Coach Ramsey clearly told one player that she would play sparingly, and may not get in some games. This athlete was Coach’s Player of the Game recently, though she hardly saw the court! All because she embraced her role by having a good attitude and cheered for her teammates (a significant turnaround from last year).

Communicating individual player roles benefits you:

  • Gives you clarity about what you want from each player in light of your team’s mission/vision. How can your players clearly understand their roles if you don’t? Invest time in looking at your team goals and seeing where each player fits best.
  • Promotes open, honest communication. It’s your responsibility as the coach to create an atmosphere of open communication. Proactively discussing roles with your players is a huge step in the right direction. You must, however, be honest, clear and direct. If one of your athletes may not see any court time, tell her that. Communicate respectfully, but be honest. Have her repeat back what you said, to make sure she understands.
  • Sets you free! Although you may fear that defining roles will limit you, it actually brings freedom. Now that you’ve clearly articulated roles, you’re free to make decisions in light of those roles. In addition, you have a framework from which you can manage performance and give feedback, since your expectations are clear.


Communicating individual player roles benefits your athletes:

  • Athletes clearly understand what you expect. This in itself eliminates many team issues. Your athletes must realize that as the leader, you get to decide their role. They may not like the role you’ve chosen, and I would encourage you to allow them to voice those concerns in this meeting. And let them know what they would have to do in order for their role to change. But at the end of the day, they must understand that it’s your decision.
  • Athletes develop greater focus. By communicating what you want from them, you’re not only telling them where to focus their attention, but also where not to. If, for example,  Pete’s main role is to be a defensive stopper but not necessarily a scorer, he would likely want to focus his extra practice time on defensive quickness rather than shooting hundreds of shots.
  • Athletes grasp the purpose and meaning behind their role. When you intentionally meet with each player, you communicate that each one is equally important in meeting your team objectives. Many players will embrace their role (even if it’s not the one they want) when they feel valued and see how fulfilling that role serves a purpose and makes a difference.
Don’t miss out on this easy way to get and keep your team on the same page! While it’s ideal to have this conversation prior to the season, it’s never too late for clear communication.


What’s your experience with communicating player roles with your athletes? What benefits would you add to my list?