Research Based Tips & Strategies


Sample Research Review:

The Coaching Behaviors and Philosophy of High Performance Secondary School Basketball Coaches.

*Important Note:

  • The results of this research are unique to this particular coaching context and should not be blindly assumed to apply to other coaching contexts (like yours or mine!). However, studying these results can help coaches improve their coaching and leadership by prompting coaches to reflect on their own coaching and either adapt and adopt some of the ideas in this research or reject them entirely.

What was this research about? 

  • Coaching Behavior in Basketball Practice and Coaching Philosophy
  • Alberto Cruz (2014) researched “expert” basketball coaches in Hong Kong secondary schools (ages 13-18).
    • An expert was defined as having 5+ years of experience, a winning record or awards, and recognition of their coaching.

Why does this research matter?

  • As the research noted, most of us rarely examine our own coaching behaviors in practice. Coaches who want to improve are always looking to learn from other coaches and this research allows us to examine what these successful coaches did in practice (coaching behaviors) and why they did it (coaching philosophy).

How was the data obtained?

  • Both direct observation of practices and interviews with the coaches.

What were the results/findings?

Coaching Behaviors in Basketball Practice

  • By the Numbers

3044 coaching behaviors were coded during four practices.

  • 53.8% Instruction
  • 9.3% Scold (Interestingly, and perhaps culturally influenced, Praise was only 1.7%)
  • 9.2% Hustle
  • Three Themes

1. Authoritarian Coaching (Again, culturally influenced and must consider their philosophy before judging!)

  • The coaches “made all the decisions without any input of the players” (p. 27).
  • One way communication
  • Highly disciplined
  • Intentional

“I usually adopt a stern and forceful approach in my coaching. I think this may help to develop the discipline of the players… without good discipline, it is hard to have good training outcome…” (as quoted on p. 28)

2. Active Teaching

  • Clear expectations
  • Achievable goals

“Prolonged periods of dynamic and energetic instruction were stressed with verbal cues, short reminders, specific commands and corrections” (p. 28)

3. Harsh and Deterrant Approach

  • Intense and demanding training environment
  • Sought to strengthen mental toughness and confidence

“…I have considered using more praise instead of negative criticism. However, I want them to remember their incorrect practice and mistakes, severe criticism may serve this purpose. They will correct their practice immediately…I think praise without purpose is meaningless…” (as quoted on p. 29)

Coaching Philosophy

1. Learning focused 

  • Showed concern for overall growth- including academic and personal.

“Their coaching philosophies included more than winning games. It involved all round development who would be successful in life. They teach their players about life through sport.” (p. 30)

  • Emphasize basic skills and tactics
  • Develop skills progressively
  • Seek to maintain player interest through a “fun” learning environment in hoops & set small, attainable goals to help players see improvements and success
  • Seek to develop players into independent learners who can solve problems on their own in the games.
  • Let athletes practice decision making through small sided games

2. Coach-athlete relationship focused

  • Creating positive relationships “is the prerequisite of successful coaching” (p. 30).
  • Use off the court settings for non-sport communication and non-coaching situations to build relationships.
  • Seek to build trust and respect by demonstrating interest in the players’ entire lives, not just basketball.

“When the players feel the coaches care and support their learning, they may trust and pay respect to the coaches in return” (p. 30)

“Establishing trust and positive relationship help the players accept the authoritarian and harsh coaching style” (p. 31)

3. Continual development focused

  • These coaches showed great desire to learn and improve their coaching practice (p. 31).


I like the multiple layers of this coaching research. I won’t get into the academic details of the research design, but far too many studies in the past have simply observed coaches and drawn conclusions based on the researchers’ observations without taking into account the coach’s perspective, which was done in this case through the coach interviews. However, there is still little to no explanation on the context of these four practices observed in relation to the point in the season, the team’s recent performance, and the coaches’ perceived skill of their team, and assistant coach and/or team leader behaviors. For example, if the practices observed were early in the season, then I would expect a higher percentage of direct instruction; if the team was considered highly skilled by the coach and had recently performed poorly, one could reasonably expect there to be a higher percentage of scolds than usual; if the coach has built a team culture that is marked by strong player leadership then this could impact the observed coach behaviors as the coach may allow the player leadership to handle some of the coaching.

What this research is also lacking, which the author noted, is the players’ perceptions of the coach behaviors. It is one thing to have a coaching philosophy that drives your coaching behaviors, but it is quite another thing to have those behaviors interpreted by the players in the manner in which they were intended! The perspectives of the assistant coaches, if there were any, could also add depth to this analysis through another viewpoint.

Interestingly, the Positive Coaching Alliance suggest a 5:1 “magic ratio” of praises to scolds. Yet, these highly successful coaches had nearly the exact opposite ratio! Personally, I believe there are several reasons for this. First, the magic ratio is intended for younger athletes and is an exaggeration allowing for “game slippage,” meaning if they suggest 5:1 and in reality a coach uses a 3:1 ratio then that is still a positive learning environment which we desperately need more of in our sports. Second, this reflects the Chinese culture, which the author explains.

Key Takeaways

  • Your coaching behaviors must be aligned with your coaching philosophy.
  • You must invest in building relationships with your players off the court if your coaching behaviors are to be the most effective.
  • Your leadership should be sensitive to the culture in which it takes place- in this case the Chinese cultural practices played a large role in the “harsh” on the  court coaching style that was balanced by intentional relationship building off the court.


Cruz, A. (2014). The coaching behaviours and philosophy of high performance secondary school basketball coaches. Asian Journal of Physical Education & Recreation, 20(1), 21-38.

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