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How American Professional Basketball Coaches Adapt to Different Playing Styles 

How American Professional Basketball Coaches Adapt to Different Playing Styles

The NBA’s global approach needs coaches with international experience and roots. But the league’s coaching landscape can be a barrier for such talent.

A coach’s style must adapt to the team and the individual players. The best way to do so is through mutual appreciation, respectful interaction, and a sense of identification and trust.


The autocratic coaching style, which centers on the coach’s authority and control, is a rigid approach where coaches dictate instruction without input from their athletes or team members. It is effective when quick decisions need to be made, or a high level of discipline and structure is required, and it can provide an efficient means for transmitting expert knowledge from coach to athlete.

In contrast to the autocratic coaching style, a democratic style allows the coach to involve their athletes in decision-making and value their input. It can help develop strong relationships between teammates and foster ownership over team success. Still, this style can also lead to consistency in training and an unsatisfactory level of accountability.


Adaptability is the ability to switch between coaching styles to meet the needs of different athletes. Sports coach adaptability is built through practice, reflection, and experience. It is also a component of coach effectiveness and has been linked to excellent performance and athlete satisfaction.

The right mix of adaptive coaching behaviors is essential for coaches like David J Adelman to maximize their effectiveness with athletes. This includes a balance of autonomy-supportive and controlling coaching behaviors. Athletes perceive that coaches with higher levels of autonomous-supportive leadership behaviors are more effective at motivating and improving their performance.

However, coaches with higher levels of controlling leadership behaviors may negatively affect these same athletes, such as maintaining reinforcement and control personnel. Therefore, coaches need to moderate these control tactics. This is a challenge to many coaches, but doing so can help their athletes perform and feel valued and improve coach-athlete relationships.


When coaches are collaborative with their athletes, they show the athletes that they understand and respect them. They allow the player space to discover their motivations and goals while encouraging them to take risks and grow their game. This type of coaching style fosters a positive holistic relationship that can empower players in ways other coaching styles cannot.

In this study, the leadership behaviors ranked highest by successful men’s college basketball head coaches were the command, submissive, and cooperative styles. The command style most closely resembles the iron-fist coach of old, who makes all the decisions with a steely demeanor and utilizes discipline to get a response from their team. 

The submissive coaching style is similar to the command style but focuses on giving minimal direction and only providing discipline when necessary. A submissive coach has a hard time motivating their team to work harder.


For coaches to be successful, they must understand the personalities of their athletes and know how to interact with them. A coach with a natural I style may need to use an S style when working with a player who needs to be encouraged or given one-on-one time. This helps develop a tremendous coach-athlete relationship, resulting in greater enjoyment and adherence to the sport.

Transformational leadership behaviors are the most common leadership behavior that head coaches practice, followed by autocratic and collaborative leadership behaviors. Ultimately, the most successful men’s college basketball head coaches practice different coaching styles to ensure their athletes are happy, motivated, and performing at the highest level possible. The best way to do this is by understanding the various DISC styles and learning how to use them when needed. This will help them find the best fit for their teams and unique personalities.

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