Friends and Basketball

Friends and Basketball

Matthew Hartman

Building trust on and off the court

Two questions have been on my mind a lot lately.

1. How do you get your team to play together?

Coaches everywhere share similar mantras around playing hard/smart/together. We print it on t-shirts and shout it in huddles. But, getting a player to embrace We Not Me is challenging. 

2. How do you make friends?

I don't remember anyone ever telling me how to make or keep a friend. I have them, so I've done something right. But, I've also lost them and I'm not entirely sure about what went wrong.

I'll argue it's the same answer for both questions - on the court and off:

You need to build trust. 

So…how do you do that?

What probably did happen early on with friends was I was taught how to play fair. I'm pretty sure this is what kindergarten is for. I also have vague memories of friends' parents telling me to cut the crap more than a few times (a day) as a youngster.

When you learn to take turns, to keep score fairly, to play by the rules the other kids trust you. When you do that enough times, when you navigate the inevitable conflicts of your backyard football games with integrity that trust deepens.

Imagine this school yard scenario: At lunch you whisper to your classmate that you think Sam is cute. If that kid runs out to recess singing about Sam and I kissing in a tree that opportunity for trust is ruined. I'm going to hesitate before I share something personal with them again.

But, if Sam walked by us at recess and the classmate and I shared a knowing smile, saying nothing of my crush, we just took a big step towards friendship. I know I can trust them with my stuff. If we repeat this exchange, slowly increasing the seriousness of the shared privacy over time, a deep friendship can be forged.

Quick warning: If that classmate never returns the favor by risking their inner world with me, now we are going down a different road. That's unhealthy. You want a 2 way street when it comes to friends.

In basketball, passing to the open teammate is like sharing a secret. And if you are always finding them under the basket, but they don't look for you it's like the example in the previous paragraph - a one way street. How motivated am I to continue playing for you if you don’t trust me enough to pass it?

If you drive and kick it out and it’s common that the ball eventually finds you again you will start to feel it: They trust you! It's equally as important to trust and be trusted in life and basketball.

Scoring is the best; Nobody wants to give up the ball, but basketball is easier when you do. The ball moves faster than the defense can run.  A team full of scorers, or even just one ball hog, will inevitably struggle at the end of games...unless they find a way to trust each other and pass to the open person. The Celtics embody both of these qualities somehow. They play beautiful basketball for most of the game. But, if it’s close their clutch stats are below average because it turns into hero ball. Let’s see if they figure it out during the playoffs. As a Sixer fan I am hoping they don’t!

All baskets are not created equal when you consider a full game. If four different players score on 4 straight possessions and everyone touches it, that will create an energy between the teammates that far outweighs one kid drilling four in a row, but never passing it. 8 points is the result in both, but the energy from the former can carry through the rest of the game, whereas the latter is likely to crash and burn.

While coaching during a game this is what I'm paying attention to more so than just the score. What's the quality of our looks? Are they contested? Is it sustainable? Are players trusting each other? I like our chances to finish the game if the ball has been zipping around, never sticking. If we are taking contested shots and ignoring others I don’t care if we are winning at half time. Those kinds of choices will catch up to us given enough possessions. 

If two friends trust each other with many of their private thoughts they can go further in their friendship. 

If you can only talk about surface level stuff - never the serious things that make life so challenging - you will have a shallow relationship.

If a team trusts each other with many of their passes they can get any shot they want. 

If you only throw it to them when they are wide open you'll just get decent looks. 

If you drive to draw their defender and then drop it off - in other words you created for them - that team can be hard to guard.

If you want to Win Games and Influence Teammates I suggest you pass first. I hope for your sake that they return the secret. 


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