Advice to Trainers…

The scene for individual skills trainers has exploded over the last decade. It used to be that a select few professional players had individual trainers, but now it is common-place for young players as well. That’s a good thing. Players are getting more individual attention and their individual skills are improving dramatically.

Recently I saw a tweet from my friend Jay Hernandez, who used to be an independent trainer for NBA players and now works for an NBA team (follow him on social media @repyourwork). Jay commented “Advice I would give to myself 10 years ago… Reach out to the coach that works with the NBA player I also work with and see what the team needs.” Smart.

A couple years ago, I saw a tweet from an independent trainer lamenting that the head coach was ruining all of the work he was doing with that specific player. The trainer forgot that he doesn’t own the player, nor does he control the player’s playing time, schemes, role, or anything. The team controls all of that and ideally, a trainer will augment the needs of the team.

As trainers, we need to remember that the ultimate goal for all of us is that the player perform better in games. The top of the pyramid is the team and the head coach. The team and the head coach of that team is going to decide, right or wrong, how they are going to use the player in order to make the team successful and win more games.

Regardless of whether the trainer works for the team or not, the player DOES, and trainers work for the player. The work that a trainer does should be in line with what the team wants. Otherwise, everyone’s work will be wasted.

When I raised this point to the trainer I spoke of a minute ago, he commented that he doesn’t work for the team. He believed that this allowed him to do whatever he wanted for the player and while it is true to an extent, it is also very short sighted.

Trainers can have great personal relationships with players but they will never control a team or how the player is used in games. Teaching a skill that the team doesn’t need the player to develop is wasting everyone’s time, including the trainer’s.

Instead, if you are a trainer at any level, make a phone call or email to the head coach of every player you work with. If the player plays on many teams with different head coaches, ask them which team is the most important to them in the long term and call that coach. Ask how that coach plans to use the player, what skills the player needs to improve, and what types of situations the player will be put into. There is no sense in the trainer working with a player to develop a step-back three point shot when a coach will pull the player off the floor for shooting that kind of shot.

If you are a trainer that wants to have this control, then become a head coach. You don’t get it both ways. Basketball is a team game and the needs of the team are the most important thing to the head coach and the team as whole.

If you are a parent of a player, ask the trainer to call the coach so they can get on the same page. If the trainer declines by saying, “I kinda do my own thing,” be aware of this red flag.

Being a good trainer involves many moving pieces. Mental and physical skill development, preparation, understanding organizational priorities, having good relationships, all of these things play a role. Being a good communicator is just as important as any of these big moving pieces. Communicate with the team to learn their short and long term goals for the player. Communicate with the player to figure out their short and long term goals. Your job is to find the throughline that connects those two sets of goals. If you’re able to complete this task and deliver what both the team and player are looking for, that is being the best possible version of a trainer for that player.

The old expression is that it take a village to raise a child. Avoid going rogue and thinking that you, whoever you might be, are more important than anyone else. Understand the hierarchy of teams, understand your role in that hierarchy, and be a star within that role. If you want all the control, become a head coach and be responsible for the accountability of everyone involved.

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