Guide Them: The Power of Guided Discovery

Activate – “the warmup”

Coaching can be stressful. The pressure to win and a desire to be successful in a competitive environment can be difficult to handle.


Many coaches will resort to “controlling” their teams instead of “guiding” them. Ultimately, your team needs someone to provide a framework that will guide them on the path to success.


Here are a few of the questions we will tackle this week:


  • What are the dangers of exerting high control?


  • What are the possibilities of a team that is guided instead of controlled?


  •  How do I become a coach who guides my players?


  • Are there times when I need to control a situation?


To get the wheels turning, check out this quote by NBA legend Greg Popovich.


 Kerr 1


Engage – “the workout”

Engage is the ‘workout’ segment of the program – the meat and potatoes. 


We are talking about the Power of Guided Discovery and giving up control makes your team better in the long run.
Ready? Here we go…


The Power of Guided Discover

Coaching can be stressful. The pressure to win and a desire to be successful in a competitive environment can be difficult to handle.


Many coaches will resort to “controlling” their teams instead of “guiding” them. Ultimately, your team needs someone to provide a framework that will guide them on the path to success.


There are three phases that every coach needs to go through in order to relinquish control and create an culture of guided discovery.


(1) Start with Perspective

The ability to loosen your grip over your team’s actions comes from adopting a holistic perspective about the role basketball plays in your life. 


The pursuit of success has a way of blinding us to the realities of our job as coaches. Success causes us to lose perspective and pushes other aspects of our lives to the peripheral.


Perspective doesn’t mean we don’t work hard. Perspective simply gives us the freedom to be human again.


When we understand that life exists outside of basketball it allows us to coach with more freedom. Here’s an interesting anecdote from NBA coach of the year Steve Kerr (per 


“Kerr drives from shootaround in downtown Oakland to CorePower Yoga in Berkeley to Summer Kitchen Bake Shop on College Avenue for his preferred Dailey Method Salad. After games, even losses, he doesn’t dive immediately into video on the plane. He cracks open a book, or plays Scrabble on his computer, while slow-sipping a Modelo Especial. Only then does he queue up the video.”


Coaching through control can be like trying to grab a fistful of water. The harder you try the more unsuccessful you are.


But coaching though guided discovery is like using your hands to scoop the water. The more you open-handed you are the more water you can hold.


(2) Encourage Discovery

Think about all the things that you have learned throughout your life: how did you do it?


Was it by sitting in a classroom or through listening to a lecture? 


Maybe those kinds of academic exercises gave you some context for what you would learn later, but I know that you learned the majority of your skills by doing them.


Writers learn how to write by writing, artists learn how to paint by painting, and basketball players learn how to play by playing. 


We have to fail over and over and over again by practicing a skill until we learn how to improve. We start to build a network of contextual clues that create new neural pathways as we acquire a new skill. And the only way this framework can be built is through repetition.


Even in the highly academic field of medicine, doctors have to go into clinical rotations where they can apply their academic knowledge in a clinic framework. They learn by doing.


Learning through discovery is how we were made to acquire skills. 


Consider how children learn to walk (per Huffington Post): 

“Think about essential life skills, such as walking. A child starts with sitting, turning over, crawling, managing to stand with some support, taking the first step, breaking into running, fumbling, balancing and finally, mastering the art of walking. Learning to walk takes a lot of practice, patience and time. Children do not get frustrated by thousands of failed attempts and decide that they are not going to walk anymore. In fact, each failure seems to motivate them to do better next time. Every child is capable of acquiring this skill on their own by trial and error over a period of time. This is how actual learning takes place — learning by doing.”


(3) Embrace the Joy

If we were created to learn by discovering, then why don’t more coaches embrace this method of coaching?


Its simple: because believe they get more “results” when they control the learning process.


It makes them feel like they are being more effective when they have influence over every detail of the learning process! This couldn’t be further from the truth.


Everything about how we were created tells us that discovery is the best way to learn.


From the time we are born to the time we die life tells us that we learn most effectively by doing! It is the coaches job to guide their players through that process. 


And guess what…


Discovering a new skill is a whole lot of fun. It is exhilarating when we feel like we have accomplished something.


Think about when you were a kid and you learned a new skill like jumping on a pogo-stick. What happened after you learned how to jump on that pogo-stick?


You wanted to show anyone and everyone that would watch. You were so proud that you had to share it with someone.


This is the joy that comes from guided discovery. Embrace it and celebrate it.


Change happens by guiding, not controlling.


Assimilate – “the cool-down”

All week we’ve been talking about how your players will perform at a higher level when you approach coaching with a “guides” mentality.

When you learn to be a guide instead of a general, you will see amazing progress from your players. Generals give orders, but guides illuminate the path.

Building this rapport with your players have very specific benefits, including:

  • Joy in Learning


  • Higher levels of trust 


  • The ability to pick up new skills quickly


  • Problem solving skills


Next Steps

The power of guided discovery only works if you learn to relinquish control and get out of your own way. How many teachers or coaches do you know that love to hear themselves talk? That love to go on and on about “how to do” something? That try to control every single aspect of how their players play?

Here are two simple exercises that will help you relinquish control and start guiding.


Guiding Phraseology

Take a note card and write a line through the center dividing it into two columns.


On one side write “Guide phrases”, on the other side write “Control Phrases”. 


Make a vocal list of each type of word in the column, then think about which words you tend to use when you address your team.


Some guide phrases include…


“Think about”


“What if you…”


“Maybe next time”


“I was noticing” 


“Here’s something I observed”


Some control phrases include…


“I can’t believe…”


“You never”


“You always”




“I have never seen anything…”
Keep the notecard during practice or team functions then look at the card to see what kind of phraseology has been dominating your vocabulary during the day. Think about how you can substitute “control phrases” for “guide phrases”



Saying More with Less


This exercise will be really hard for a lot of you. And truthfully most of you won’t do it.



The truth of the matter is that people who like to control their situations talk for a long time. Guides say more with less. To become a Guide you need to learn to talk less and listen more. When you talk less the weight of your words carries greater influence.



Its like eating a great steak. When you eat a great steak after weeks of eating dry chicken and cheap beef, that great steak tastes amazing. But if you had great steak every night of the week, then you would never be able to tell the difference.



In the same way, if you are always talking your players will never be able to recognize when you make an important point. But when you talk less, your comments become more powerful and your message gets through.



So here’s the exercise:



1. Take a stop watch with you and time how long you talk during each practice.



2. Compare your times over the course of a week and find your average.



3. Do the same thing the next week while making a determination to try and talk less. See if you can bring your average down.



This will cause you to choose your words more carefully and operate as a guide.



If you want a PDF of this entire post (including the template for “player cards” send me an email at


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