This college coach prided himself on communication. He was working to be transparent around playing time and roles this season. He was determined to lean into the hard conversations that he had avoided for so long. So, he implemented biweekly conversations with his players to ensure role clarity (an idea discussed in Episode 93 of Coaching Culture).

Now, in the first game of the season, midway through the second half, a few of his players who were deep in the rotation hadn’t seen the court, and two players in particular were making sure everyone on the team knew they weren’t happy about their playing time. If you’ve been in this situation, then like many other coaches, I’m sure you, too, have felt your blood start to boil as the negative energy on the bench infects everyone.

After having worked hard to better communicate the role, he was not expecting attitude issues within the first 30 minutes of their season. The problem was that the players understood they had a role as a reserve, but they did not expect to never see the court.

Player Expectations vs. Coach Expectations

Playing time and player roles can be the main source of drama and negative attitudes in a team’s culture.

When a player believes they should or wish they could play more minutes than they are currently playing, then it will create an emotional reaction. It’s going to be challenging for them. (We discuss some unique conversations that you can facilitate to help support them through these challenges in Episode 115 of Coaching Culture.) As in the case of this coach, when a player expects to play more minutes than they are currently playing, it creates a greater emotional reaction, and usually at a moment when you are not prepared to handle it. This was the case with this coach in the first game of the season.

When I asked this coach two days before, “Does every player on your team know the number of minutes they will be playing in tomorrow’s game?”, his response was, “I’m pretty sure. They should.”

I ask this question to a lot of coaches, and I always get a similar response. In my experience, if a coach is “pretty sure” that the players know their minutes, then I’m “pretty sure” the players have different expectations than their coach.

If the players had known that they wouldn’t play unless they had a big lead or were down by a lot, then it may have been difficult for them, but they would have had time to prepare themselves for how they would respond.

How to Check Player vs. Coach Expectations in Under Five Minutes

With the coaches whom I support, one of the simplest and most effective ways to gather information from players is by using Google Forms. They can be copied for simple reuse and put into spreadsheets to easily review the information later.

To avoid the conflict or drama discussed above, I suggest using the following pre-game form for every game. This will take you less than 60 seconds to create and send to your players. The form should include:

  1. Name
  2. How are you going to serve the team in your current role?
  3. How many minutes do you expect to play?

All the above information is fed into a Google Sheet. The coaches can quickly review it and identify whether any player is confused about their role or has unrealistic expectations about their playing time. Now, the coaches will have time from their last practice until tip-off to sit down with that player and clear up any confusion. Going into the game, the player will now have time to ground their expectations and refocus on what their team needs from them during the game.  Most importantly, make sure these difficult conversations about playing time aren’t held during the game, but before the game.