Who Before What: Building Relational Equity

Activate – “the warmup”

Questions To Consider:


• How do healthy relationships correlate to success on the court?


• What is relational equity and why does 


•  What if my players don’t want a relationship with me?


• How do I strike the balance between maintaining respect and building trust?


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

Dec 7, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich during the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Spurs won 119-68. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Engage – “the workout”

Engage is the ‘workout’ segment of the program – the meat and potatoes. This is the time where we will more closely explore how a particular topic affects our ability to be transformational leaders.


Ready? Here we go…


Building strong, lasting relationships is one of the keys to achieving lasting success with your team.


If we look a few of the great programs in college basketball (UConn Women, Duke Men, Michigan State Men, etc etc), one thing they all have in common is they have coaches who view relationship building as a key component to their success.


Sustained excellence is impossible without building up relational equity with your players.


So what does building relational equity look like? Why is it so critical to sustained success and how does it help your team?


Let’s find out:


Founded on Trust

The foundation of every solid relationship is built on trust. Trust is the currency that buys you relational equity with your team. Trust is crucial to building a sustained culture of excellence.


When a coach has earned a high level of trust with their players, they are able to make difficult decisions in the best interest of the team without compromising the equilibrium of the team.


A great example of this is when Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors asked former All-Star Andre Iguodala to come off the bench because it was best for the team if Harrison Barnes started the games.


Iguodala wasn’t thrilled with the idea initially, but he eventually bought into the idea because Kerr had built up relational equity with the Golden State Players even in the short time he had been with the team.


How did Kerr do that?


After Kerr was named the head coach, he assembled his coaching staff and met with all of his players (even flying to Australia to talk with Andrew Bogut).


Here’s what Curry had to say about Kerr’s relational effort:

 “Coach Kerr did a good job of reaching out to everybody on the roster over the summer explaining he wasn’t going to come in and be the hero that’s going to change everything and make us 10 times better.”


I think Kerr’s commitment to building relational equity with his guys gave him the credibility to make a difficult decision like asking Iguodala to come off the bench.


Even though Iguodala wasn’t happy with the decision he trusted that Kerr was only trying to do what was best for the team and didn’t have a personal vendetta against him.


Collective Buy-In

A strong relational foundation creates emotional points of connection that make it easier to play as a team. Strong relational ties create a collective buy-in to the central mission and purpose of the team.


Relationship is the glue that holds teams together during the ups and downs of a season; and this culture of prioritizing people over projects starts with the coach.


When the coach makes it clear that people on the team are more important than results, this encourages a collective buy-in from the players.


Everyone on the team works harder for one-another when they know that the person next to them has their best interest in mind.


Psychologists who have studied conflict management make the point that hate is not the opposite of love: rather, indifference is the opposite of love.


Anyone who has ever been in a conflict knows this to be true: it is really hard to hate someone when you get to know them as a person and learn more about their story.




It is easy to pass judgement on someone when you don’t know them personally. You can hate the person when you view them as an object instead of a person.


When people are treated as people, they work harder for each other.


Who over What


When coaches make the decision to prioritize who before what they are able to operate from a greater sense of purpose than simply winning basketball games.


•When a coach makes the decision to prioritize who over what they will watch their team play with a greater sense of intensity, unity, and passion on the floor.


•When a coach makes the decision to prioritize who over what, they will build uncommon levels of trust with their players.


•When a coach makes the decision to prioritize who over what they deposit relational equity with their players that they can withdraw during times of crisis in the season.


•When a coach makes the decision to prioritize who over what they will see their impact extend beyond the basketball court!


Start prioritizing WHO over WHAT today!!!


Assimilate – “the cool-down”

All week we’ve been talking about how to build relational equity with your players. Building this rapport with your players have very specific benefits, including:

  • Greater levels of Cohesion


  • Chemistry


  • Trust during Difficult Decisions


  • Higher levels of intensity and togetherness


  • Buy-in to the process


Next Steps

In a sense I will be “systemizing” this idea, but the key to building relational equity has to always come from a genuine concern for your players.


Effective leaders always take a hearts-first approach to investing in people.


People can spot a phony from a mile away!


So don’t be a phony…Remember this stuff only makes a difference to the extent that you have an invested interest in seeing those around you grow as players and people.


Relational Cards

Here’s the next step:


Make a list of every player/person that you want to invest in relationally and make each person on that list their own separate card.


I’ve created a PDF of a player card with three sections: If you want a copy of this PDF for your own personal use send me an email at quinn.mcdowell@aretehoops.com


  1. Personal
  2. Interests
  3. Growth


As you grow through your interactions with each person (during practice, games, film sessions, etc) look for small details that could fit in each category.


Keep an ongoing list with tidbits of information that you pickup from listening to conversations, talking with the player, or just by observation.


DON’T TELL them about the card!


This card serves a purely administrative purpose.


It is a way for you to actively notice things about their life that you could bring up or ask them about in future conversations.


You really are becoming a STUDENT of your players by learning more about their:


Personal Life – their family background, relationships, home situation, friends. If they come from another culture what about their culture to do appreciate? What parts are difficult?


Interests – what they like to do in their free time, if they weren’t playing basketball what would they be doing instead. What parts of culture interest them, who do they view the world.


Growth – areas that you can help them grow in both as a person and on the basketball court, you can find a space to encourage in the progress they’ve made and challenge them to places they’ve never been before!


Small Touches

Make it a point to find small times of relational interaction outside the context of the basketball court.


Try to set a time to grab coffee, meet in your office, interact in a separate setting at another sporting or school event, etc.


Find and Schedule small touches!


The more that you can build these times of relational connectivity, the more relational equity you can build.


Remember when you prioritize WHO over WHAT you will see a massive change in the chemistry and cohesion within your program. You will earn the trust of your players and it will bring the entire team closer together as a group.


Finally, jot down the times when you’ve been able to make these small touches and don’t let yourself go any longer than a few weeks without finding time to do this with each player.


This might seem like a lot of work, but in the long-run it will reap huge dividends both on and off the court.


Your team will not only start to perform better ON the COURT but your impact as a coach will be extended long after the players step OFF the COURT as well.


If you want a PDF of this entire post (including the template for “player cards” send me an email at quinn.mcdowell@aretehoops.com)


Thanks for reading. Here are some more ways to connect with Arete Hoops:





Tweet at us@AreteHoops

Facebook usArete Hoops

The Golden Rule of Coaching Communication

Communication is the lifeblood of every team; and teams are filled with individuals who must come together to achieve their common goals. Coaches must learn to communicate to their players effectively and just as players must learn to communicate in a respectful way with their coaches. It is the coach’s job to set the precedent for how communication will operate within the team context. Part of their job is to nurture relationships and foster quality communication. In short, the Golden Rule of Coaching Communication is this: All great communication happens first-hand, with honesty, and in the context of a relationship.




Honesty is the most important aspect of great coaching communication. If your players have trouble believing the validity of what you say, it will be that much harder for them to take ownership of your system. Honest communication is at the heart of creating healthy relationships and developing team chemistry. When coaches communicate poorly or dishonestly, they inhibit team growth, and create barriers between themselves and their player. However, when coaches communicate well they help they become a catalyst for team development.

When players believe that a coach is being straightforward with them, a relationship of trust will begin to grow. But if players feel deceived, doubts about the trustworthiness of their coach will start to creep in. Regardless of the topic of communication – even difficult topic like playing time, role on team, personal development, etc – must always be handled truthfully so that a spirit of hypocrisy does not take hold. A precedent must be set that difficult conversations are not something to be avoided, but embraced. Although awkward at first, in the long run the fruit of these honest conversations creates a healthy respect between all parties involved.



One of the most neglected aspects of great communication is the power of relationship. Many coaches fail to leverage the incredible access they have into their players lives by making a concerted effort to develop a relationship with them.5524419083_89ec639f01_z The countless hours of practice, film study, and team activities are prime opportunities for a coach to take an interest in his/her players lives beyond basketball. As a coach learns the interests, problems, and circumstances of their players lives, their credibility grows and a relationship develops.

Anytime a player feels like a coach genuinely has their best interest in mind, communication about difficult topics becomes much easier. When a coach has made an concerted effort to show interest in a player, they have earned relational equity that makes the communication process much easier and smoother. It almost goes without saying that, all great communication takes place face-to-face. Digital technology is incredibly useful for certain types of communication, but first-hand communication has the amazing power of personal presence. Body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions give first-hand communication valuable context that other types of communication does not.


  • Honest communication builds chemistry and creates trust
  • Relationships are key to great communication
  • Coaches gain credibility by investing in their players off the court
  • Communication is the lifeblood of any team!

Arete Logo 10