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The Power of Nurturing Players

When I  bought my first home a colleague of mine gave me a gift of a plant, the same colleague 2 years prior had given me a beautiful plant which had died like every other plant I had ever owned.  As this was now what I like to call “my real home” I really felt the need to nurture this little thing. After years of renting and living in spaces whereby I spent more than I can remember on plants, I had decided no matter what happened it was going to survive and I wouldn’t give up on it.

After 2 years it blossomed, I watered it and left it in the sunlight everyday. I made a point to speak to gardening specialists who pointed out to me that sometimes we may kill things with kindness, so they urged me not to overdo it on the water or nurturing elements. They would say to me

“Let it be, let it flourish and read the signs and nurture it when you feel it needs it”

Two successful flourishing years , I was so proud of myself and enjoyed watching it grow and develop. Then I started to slack off a little bit. I watched as some dead leaves crept in and as I paid less attention it started to look a little worn out. I lost the interest in its wellbeing and the results were obvious. I had to re evaluate this situation. I needed to get back on the job. There was 2 things at hand here, the lack of nurturing going on from my side and the dead leaves draining the life and energy out of what was once a beautiful plant.

As a Basketball Coach I pride myself in building people and creating players. Like taking care of  my plant nurturing is at the heart and soul of what I do.  Many studies have shown that people crave feelings of importance, and those that are shown signs of appreciation and encouragement excel as a result.

Many coaches want the ready made team, not only does it make their development job easier but it allows them to focus on winning and in turn shows how effective their own skills are. While the skill to develop good players into a team are very  valid,  the ability of a coach who can create a player and the ability be able to coach an already good player are quite different. A coach with the ability to do both is blessed with a skillset for success.

So when your faced on day 1 of a school year or club trials , which players do I nurture, keep or prune? My experience says all of them

I hear you say all of them, even the kid in the corner who hasn’t got an ounce of coordination or ability to bounce a ball. All of them I say. Apart from a wealth of experience on my Hoop Skool Programme which nourishes any player that walks in the door , I have found evidence to support this theory. Here’s the science bit.

In the 1980’s a psychologist Dov Eden published the first of a series of extraordinary results. He could tell which soldiers in the Israel Defence Forces  (IDF) would become top performers before they even started training (1).

He studied over 1000 soldier conducting aptitude tests and evaluation of test scores during basic training, while speaking to their previous commanders before beginning training for their current roles.

Eden was able to identify a group of high-potential trainees who would emerge as stars (1).

So here’s what he did, after testing these soldiers he labelled a group of them as high performers at random. He was not only testing the ability of the soldier to bloom after being told they would be high performers , but more so their leaders who  didn’t know he had in fact selected them at random.  The leaders believed they were high performers and treated them in that way by encouraging, nurturing and challenging them. As a result the group who were labelled the high performers were in fact after some time actual high performers compared to those who were labelled low expectancy performers.  Even though according to his initial tests some of the low expectancy performers were actually the real high expectancy performers. They just didn’t receive the concentrated nourishment from the leaders.

Now concentrate here’s the important bit. The difference was not only in the mind of the performers but more so in the mind of the leader. What does this mean? The teachers and soldiers beliefs created self-fulfilling prophecies.

Evidence shows that leaders beliefs can catalyse self-fulfilling prophesies in many settings. The Coach, who nurtures and believes in his players even the really poor one, puts expectations which allow the player to develop a sense of self belief and motivation to reach a high performance.

A good Coach will see the potential in everyone. A great Coach will see a spark in every individual and bring out the best in that individual. Every individual can bring something to the table. They may possess great motivational skills but can’t put the ball in the hoop, but their encouragement on the bench pushes the other players when the game gets tough. Another players life experiences may have moulded them into being an angry or tough individual, recognising that and nurturing it into being used a positive thing can make what may seem like a difficult player the toughest players on the team.

As a Coach I can’t tell you how to pick the best team, I can only advice that nurturing the diamond in the rough will add so much value to what you do.

Challenging and nurturing ones soul creates and expectancy of greatness. Nurturing doesn’t mean mollycoddling weak players; remember what the garden specialist said to me “you’re killing your plants with kindness”. The leaders in the study not only motivated and encouraged but they challenged them beyond their own expectations. This is part of true nurturing. Don’t facilitate dependency in your players; encourage them so that they become their own coaches and believers in their own ability.

Today my plant is in its infancy once again, after cutting back on all the negative old energy wasting leaves it has begun to grow once again. Don’t give up in what you believe in. There is always an opportunity to begin again and recognise the ray of hope in everything and everyone.

# It’s not just a Game


  1. Adam Grant : Give and Take (2013) pg 113.