When I was younger I used to wear my emotions on my sleeve. When I was happy you knew. When I was sad you knew. When I was angry or disappointed, you really knew. And growing up I was often upset about one thing or the other. I basically wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around, except when I played sports.
When I played sports I always had a great disposition. I loved team sports so much that I was always in a good place emotionally whenever I played. And I played sports so much it was easy to see why people thought I was the happiest kid in the world.
When I started coaching, one of the first things I would notice in players was their body language. I, rightly or wrongly, assumed that if a players’ body language was poor they didn’t want to play so I wouldn’t play them. I figure if you’re not enjoying something that you are voluntarily doing (for the most part) you should stop doing it.
As I grew in my coaching career I learned that body language is not always a measure of an athletes’ desire to play, commitment to the team or ability to be successful. Sometimes it is just someone’s disposition and, as a coach, I had to stop reading to much into it.
I hear it all the time: “That kid has a bad attitude, look at his body language!” And sometimes that might be true. But I have known many players who are not bad kids, they just struggle to contain their emotions. I think it is our duty as coaches to help those players, who we know deep down are good kids, so that they aren’t mislabelled or misidentified wrongly.
I eventually stopped punishing kids for their perceived body language. Instead, I decided to encourage players to improve their negative body language. The reason why I tell them it has to improve is because of how others read their body language. I tell them that you don’t want someone (a teammate, a parent, another coach) to have a negative perception of them based on their body language, so it’s imperative they work on improving it.
For a players’ own development it is important that they understand how perception can become reality, and that poor body language can have a negative impact on their basketball career. It sometimes doesn’t matter what’s in their heart if someone gets the wrong message by their body language.
Some of the best coaches in the world put a huge premium on body language. Geno Auriemma is one of those coaches. He coaches the incredible University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team – one of the most successful college basketball programs ever (male or female). Please listen to his thoughts on body language in the embedded video below. It’s well worth the listen.