Coaching: Develop Empathy in Your Players

Dick Moss, Editor

What's an often overlooked quality that will improve the play of any team athlete? How about empathy.

Yup, empathy. Knowing what it feels like to be the opponent during a play or move. This ability to sense what the opponent is experiencing will give your players new insights into their game and help them to be more effective and creative.

Here are two ways to develop empathy in your athletes.

1. Put Yourself in My Shoes Drills
Pair your players up—one as defender and one as offensive player. The offensive player makes a move, and the defensive player reacts. Then switch positions and run the same play. Switch twice more. Have the defender provide feedback to the offensive player on what might be more effective and what to watch for: “When you fake this way, I can't cover you—here, try it.”  The offensive player can likewise provide feedback to the defender.

In response to this drill, your athletes might develop an internal script that runs something like this.

“When I (as offensive player) make a jab-step right, I would (as defender) have to react in that direction. If I (as defender) moved a bit slowly, I wouldn't be able to react to the ball-handler's cross-over move in the opposite direction. So, as offensive player, I should watch for that slow reaction to my jab-step and cross-over as soon as the defender begins to move.”

2.  Stop the Action Drill
In a scrimmage, instruct one team to run a particular play. In the middle of the play, stop the action and ask the defenders what play is being run.

For the offensive team, stop the action and ask what defense is being used against them and how best to attack it.

Dick Moss (Editor), PE Update.

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