Author: droppingdymes

Coaching against unconscious bias


Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending an unconscious bias workshop by a wonderful woman named Femi Otitoju. Femi is the founder of Challenge Consultancy. They design and deliver training solutions in the private, public and voluntary sector.

Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences (ECU: 2013 Unconscious bias in higher education).

This is the way Femi explained it: “We have unintentional preferences formed by our socialization and experiences, including exposure to the media.” Femi adds, “That we unconsciously assign positive and negative values to the categories we use.”

Take a look at the two images below and then be honest with what your thoughts are about both images:


The associations we make with the image on the left are more than likely the complete opposite of the associations we make with the image on the right. And I am sure that many people had negative associations with the image of the person in the sagging pants and positive images of the person in the dress slacks. Those associations are a reflection of our unconscious bias.

Many of the decisions we make as coaches are influenced by our unconscious biases. The types of players we pick, the style of game we play and the way we treat some players are just some of the ways are biases guide our choices.

How many times have we, as coaches, held open tryouts and automatically started classifying players on their appearances. The kid wearing the turban goes into that box, the kid with the doo-rag on his head goes into that box, the overweight kid goes into another box and the skinny kid goes over there. And all of this happens before we have even seen them play.

As coaches we have to be very wary of the roll our unconscious biases play in the decisions we make and the impact those decisions have on athletes. I am guilty of it and have to check my biases all the time.

Femi’s presentation wasn’t to deny our unconscious biases because they aren’t all bad. Her message was to be aware of them so that your biases don’t let you make decisions that are based on assumptions and stereotypes.

I challenge all athletic directors, coaches and program organizers to put their staffs through unconscious bias training. I have done it and it has opened my eyes to my strengths and weaknesses as a coach when it comes to decision-making.

At the very least have them try Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this blog. Email me at

Back in the day


I was chatting with a couple of coaches at practice the other day about how to get our players to compete harder. We know there are a lot of drills that improve competitiveness in practice. We use many of them. And we know that adding a reward/punishment factor to all drills also helps create a competitive environment. But what we struggled to understand is why we need t create a false atmosphere to get our players to compete hard right through practice.

The first thing our coaching staff always does as when practice starts to wane is reminisce about the good old days when we would play hard for hours on end. I have to remind them that we played harder because we weren’t nearly as skilled.

The biggest difference I find between players today and when I was growing up is the amount of street ball we played. My friends and I played street ball six or seven days a week. Today’s young ballers (at least the ones on the teams I coach) don’t play much pick up ball. Most of their basketball playing happens in organized sessions.

It was the pick up game that honed our competitive skills. When you went for a run in my days winning was imperative or you could find yourself sitting for up to 90 minutes before you got back on the court. There was always way too many guys waiting to play and the gym time was always way too short. In some gyms if you lost you went home because you weren’t getting back on before the gym closed.

There were always lots of arguments and a bunch of guys who would just straight up cheat to win. So you had to learn how to stand up for yourself or you would never get a call. And it wasn’t always the best players who won pick up games. It was the best players who were the toughest and most competitive who won.

I wonder if kids these days played more street ball if they would develop the competitive edge and toughness that is sometimes lacking in some of our players? Or maybe we coaches are “misremembering” how tough we really were back in the day.

Enjoy this article in complex magazine about people you meet at pick up basketball games.


Numbers don’t always add up

Numbers don’t always add up

This morning I was listening to Jesse Wente, one of my favourite radio personalities He does a pop culture column on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning program out of Toronto. His column is what I consider must listen to radio every week because of the unique perspective Jesse takes on many current issues. His take on things often makes me say, “I never thought about it like that.”


Today Jesse was talking about corporate responsibility in light of the incidents that happened with Pepsi (the controversial commercial featuring Kendall Jenner) and United Airlines (the man being dragged off the plane).

I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with basketball and coaching? Well, the incidents don’t have much to do with coaching but Jesse’s take on the United Airlines incident made me think about the relationships coaches have with their players.

Jesse’s point in his radio column was that United Airlines judged the value of the passenger as a consumer instead of their value as a human being. He goes on to say, “that people are constantly valued everyday. They’re reduced to a credit score or a metric.”

That last line had me thinking about how we as coaches sometimes think about our players. How often do we only value players by how many points they score or how many rebounds they grab or how many assists they have? And when the player can’t deliver what we value from them we sometimes toss them aside and move onto the next player hoping they can give us what we need. I know that sounds harsh, but even I’m guilty of it sometimes and I have to catch myself.

Athletes are more than the points they score or the rebounds they grab. They’re human beings who make many sacrifices to play the sport they love, and regardless of the result we get from them, as coaches we need to acknowledge their effort as much as their result. Plus, athletes allow us to do the thing we love – coach! Without athletes grinding everyday to get better coaches wouldn’t have teams to coach.

Many coaches want athletes to appreciate the time they, as coaches, put into their craft. And considering so many coaches are volunteers, it’s understandable. But as coaches we need to respect the “whole athlete” and not just their sum parts.

Listen to Jesse’s column on Metro Morning and then let me know what you think at

You can also follow Jesse Wente on twitter @jessewente 

You had me playing in fear

You had me playing in fear

In my last blog post blog post entitled “Get kids off the bench and into games” I mentioned that coaches need to find ways to build up their athletes’ confidence so they can get the best out of them.

Blogger Christina Silies wrote a wonderful piece on February 14th that I had shared with my Facebook friends earlier this year. Her piece spoke of a situation where a coach took away her confidence. With her permission I am reposting her blog. Enjoy!

To The Coach That Took My Confidence Away

“The road to athletic greatness is not marked by perfection, but the ability to constantly overcome adversity and failure.”

As a coach, you have a wide variety of players. You have your slow players, your fast players. You have the ones that are good at defense. You have the ones that are good at offense. You have the ones who would choose to drive and dish and you have the ones that would rather shoot the three. You have the people who set up the plays and you have the people who finish them. You are in charge of getting these types of players to work together and get the job done.

Sure, a coach can put together a pretty set of plays. A coach can scream their head off in a game and try and get their players motivated. A coach can make you run for punishment, or they can make you run to get more in shape. The most important role of a coach, however, is to make the players on their team better. To hopefully help them to reach their fullest potential. Players do make mistakes, but it is from those mistakes that you learn and grow.

To the coach the destroyed my confidence,

You wanted to win, and there was nothing wrong with that. I saw it in your eyes if I made a mistake, you were not too happy, which is normal for a coach. Turnovers happen. Players miss shots. Sometimes the girl you are defending gets past you. Sometimes your serve is not in bounds. Sometimes someone beats you in a race. Sometimes things happen. Players make mistakes. It is when you have players scared to move that more mistakes happen.

I came on to your team very confident in the way that I played the game. Confident, but not cocky. I knew my role on the team and I knew that there were things that I could improve on, but overall, I was an asset that could’ve been made into an extremely great player.

You paid attention to the weaknesses that I had as a player, and you let me know about them every time I stepped onto the court. You wanted to turn me into a player I was not. I am fast, so let me fly. You didn’t want that. You wanted me to be slow. I knew my role wasn’t to drain threes. My role on the team was to get steals. My role was to draw the defense and pass. You got mad when I drove instead of shot. You wanted me to walk instead of run. You wanted me to become a player that I simply wasn’t. You took away my strengths and got mad at me when I wasn’t always successful with my weaknesses.

You did a lot more than just take away my strengths and force me to focus on my weaknesses. You took away my love for the game. You took away the freedom of just playing and being confident. I went from being a player that would take risks. I went from being a player that was not afraid to fail. Suddenly, I turned into a player that questioned every single move that I made. I questioned everything that I did. Every practice and game was a battle between my heart and my head. My heart would tell me to go to for it. My heart before every game would tell me to just not listen and be the player that I used to be. Something in my head stopped me every time. I started wondering, “What if I mess up?” and that’s when my confidence completely disappeared.

Because of you, I was afraid to fail.

You took away my freedom of playing a game that I once loved. You took away the relaxation of going out and playing hard. Instead, I played in fear. You took away me looking forward to go to my games. I was now scared of messing up. I was sad because I knew that I was not playing to my fullest potential. I felt as if I was going backward and instead of trying to help me, you seemed to just drag me down. I’d walk up to shoot, thinking in my head, “What happens if I miss?” I would have an open lane and know that you’d yell at me if I took it, so I just wouldn’t do it.

The fight to get my confidence back was a tough one. It was something I wish I never would’ve had to do. Instead of becoming the best player that I could’ve been, I now had to fight to become the player that I used to be. You took away my freedom of playing a game that I loved. You took away my good memories in a basketball uniform, which is something I can never get back. You can be the greatest athlete in the world, but without confidence, you won’t go very far.

Feature photo credit: Christina Silies