Basketball Coaching - Team Building Strategies - by Ari Fisher

The Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
Ari Fisher has coached on all levels except professionally. He started his career as the third assistant at LSU during the tenure of Dale Brown. He was on staff for four seasons; two as a GA and two as restricted earnings coach from 2003-06.

Coach Fisher was also the Head Boys' Basketball Coach and Associate Athletic Director at University Lab School from 1997-2008. His teams won Louisiana High School Class AA State Championships in 2002 and 2004. He was selected district coach of the year four times (1998, 2002 – 2004) and state coach of the year in 2004. His 2004 team finished ranked # 17 nationally.

Coach Ari Fisher
Coach Ari Fisher


The hardest thing for basketball coaches to accomplish is taking 12-15 kids whom all possess different views of life and mold a cohesive unit with a shared vision of what the coach wants to accomplish during a season. Many coaches talk about 'family'; however building that feeling is more than a coach saying "you must become close" or "pick one teammate and know everything about them by practice tomorrow."

Knowing another human requires group members to be vulnerable and share life events which make them who they are. Accomplishing this activity termed 'personal (or cultural) mapping' works well. One day during most seasons I cancel practice after ten minutes and order pizzas for a team meeting in a quiet classroom. I ask players to ponder and write answers for the following:

  • Describe and explain five personal defining moments that shaped who you are and why.
  • Describe and explain five global (planetary) defining moments that shaped you and why.
  • Describe three strategies you utilize when dealing with other human beings.

'Defining' moment is an event, situation, or circumstance which occurs during the life course permanently altering someone's view about life, usually making one stronger. Examples might include: obtaining first driving license, first time playing on a team, a death or divorce, first broken romantic relationship, etc.

'Global defining moments' are events that happened worldwide (even before birth) impacting the individual. Examples might include: living through a natural disaster, the election of a black United States President, the technology boom, a national or worldwide recession, the Holocaust, wars, etc.

A strategy used to interact with other human beings might include: a firm handshake, eye contact, courtesy, respect for elders, treat others the way one would like to be treated, etc.

The paramount part of the exercise is having each player explain answers in detail; not simply reading a list three or five events or strategies. After the written activity is completed; each player must share everything with the team. The primary goal is having team members learn what makes the others tick and view teammates as human beings, not simply players.

Once people know life history of another; they search for commonalities. The result is they fight harder for each other, help one another improve, and develop trust between ALL members of the team. If a coach can create this type of environment- reaching team goals and maximizing potential becomes something that can be accomplished and not simply given lip service.

Fifteen team members knowing each other personally and having the trust to share it will create that family environment and allow everyone to maintain and share the exact vision of team goals.

I did this exercise with my teams that had a majority of new players whom didn't know each other well. A few of my teams already had a sense of family because they had known each other a decade or more. It takes a commitment from a coach; but it's worth it and provides much beauty as kids transform from self-centered to selfless teammates.

  Copyright © 2001 - 2021, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.

More info