KINGSTON, Ont. – Every player is different.
Whether it’s during mid-game situations, in practice, or away from basketball in the classroom, players are wired differently. It takes time to understand what makes players tick, and that can pose significant challenges for coaches as they try to build chemistry within their team and systems for a season.
Caroline Hummell is learning that first-hand this year. The 2019-20 season marks the first season as an Assistant Coach with the Queen’s Gaels women’s basketball program. Hummell has made the move to coaching after four seasons as a player in the NCAA with the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers of the Northeast Conference.
The transition has come with its share of challenges, but Hummell is taking it all in stride.
“I think the biggest challenge going from playing to coaching is not wanting to run on the court and do everything you see happening,” said Hummell. “It’s been great, but it’s also been a bit of a struggle because it’s sometimes hard to communicate the things you see on the court from the sidelines to your players in certain ways.”
“But, it’s also been great in the sense that it’s really opened my eyes up to a whole other side of basketball.”
There has been some ease in the transition for Hummell. When she was in high school, current Queen’s Head Coach James Bambury was trying to recruit her to join the Gaels. While Hummell ultimately chose the NCAA route, the relationship she’s had with Bambury has made life easier on the sidelines.
“Naturally, coming to Queen’s with him was an easy transition for me because we’re very familiar with each other and already have that good relationship,” continued Hummell.
In addition to coaching, Hummell is working towards a Master’s degree while at Queen’s. Studying Sport Psychology, Hummell is focusing on interpersonal relationships with coaches and players. Her position on the Gaels coaching staff has put her in a position to gain first-hand experience that she might not get otherwise.
“I’m seeing a lot of it first-hand, which is great because I’m learning by seeing it in action,” said Hummell, when asked about her research and the impact it’s had on her role. “It makes a lot of difference, going from reading things and reading through all of these research papers, hearing about different things and then actually seeing it in-person.”
She has heard the stories, both good and bad, in terms of player-coach relationships.
Hummell has heard of head coaches who won’t allow their players to come to them directly for questions or concerns. Rather, players had to go through a designated Assistant Coach, who would then relay the message onto the Head Coach. Messages get lost in translation and lose their impact when they have to go through a chain of command, and it has a negative effect on the team culture.
Interpersonal relationships and the interpersonal side of coaching is an area that has piqued the interest of Hummell for some time. Always cognizant of the relationships she’s had with coaches as she’s made her way through the ranks in basketball, it’s something that Hummell has wanted to dive deeper into and help others become more effective in that area.
“Interpersonal relationships are really important to the players because when you have those quality relationships, you’re building a foundation of trust and respect,” said Hummell. “When you gain the trust and respect with your players, they are more willing to buy into your program and what you’re selling, essentially.”
“When you have a good relationship with anybody, they’re willing to go the extra mile for you. They are willing to open up to you about things that they may be as comfortable talking to other people about.”
In a society where mental health is at the forefront of most conversations, especially with sports, interpersonal relationships between coaches and players are more important than ever.
Hummell gave the perfect example of how these interpersonal relationships can positively impact a player’s life, while also helping with the overall team culture.
“Say a player’s energy is a bit off in practice and you aren’t sure why. If you have that connection with them already established and they’re willing to open up, you may find out something that you realize is really important that you know this piece of information, and sometimes those outside factors affect our players performance-wise. If we’re cognizant of those types of things, we can adjust our coaching style to that player, which is what we would refer to as Individualized Consideration from a research perspective.”
Balancing both her education and role as an Assistant Coach with the women’s basketball program at Queen’s has resulted in Hummell orchestrating a juggling act at times. Education is her top priority, but her role on the coaching staff has given her a closer look at how her research can impact a team culture and the players on the team, both positively and negatively.
When asked about her different roles and responsibilities, Hummell was quick to praise Bambury for his support from the outset of her tenure as a member of the Gaels.
“James has been very lenient with me and understanding in the sense that he recognizes that I’m still in graduate school,” said Hummell. “He’s been through the process himself before, so he recognizes how time consuming and stressful graduate school can be sometimes. He’s been very up front with me from the start, saying that if I need to be away for some time for data collection or I can’t make certain games because I’m leading coaching workshops or anything research related, that the work holds precedence over my role with the team.”
“Knowing that I have that kind of support from him in terms of being able to prioritize my research but then still be part of the team, it’s comforting knowing that I have that support from him.”
In addition to the endless support, Bambury has also given Hummell an up-close look at how her research can be put into practice from a Head Coaching perspective. Hummell has seen her research in action through Bambury’s coaching style, and she has been able to learn a lot from how he runs the team on a daily basis.
“He is what we would classify as a Grade A Transformational Coach,” said Hummell on Bambury. “When simply explaining a drill in practice to the girls, he’ll ask them questions and elicit input from them, involving them in the coaching process by giving them choices.”
“There have been times where he won’t explain a drill, but he’ll designate one of the players to explain it to the team, and its little behaviours like that that make such a difference in the culture you create on a team.”
Reading research papers and collecting research from workshops is one thing, but gaining first-hand experience and seeing your research in-action is another. With the Gaels, Hummell is able to see the research in action, and then she can take her findings back to her workshops and help other coaches around the country be successful at what they do.
Given her research path and current endeavours, the end goal for Hummell shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone.
“My dream career path would be to get into coaching development, working for a known organization as their head of Coaching Development,” said Hummell. “I’m currently the Head of Coach Development with the National Basketball Youth Mentorship Program (NBYMP), and that’s a great starting position.”
“We’re currently in the works of trying to add in some more professional development opportunities for coaches through that, as well as incorporating some leadership workshops for the youth athletes. That’s a great organization I’m with right now to give me first-hand experience working in that field.”
The NBYMP is an innovative platform for youth that provides strong and valid mentorship from high-level professional basketball athletes, university basketball athletes, and college / university coaches (all with Canadian ties). This platform also provides youth with unlimited access to financial literacy, academic tutoring, and to sport psychology services, along with access to various strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, spiritual development coaches, and sport physicians. Youth also have access to college grants through the NBYMP Foundation.
Between her research, coaching with the Gaels, and her work with NBYMP, it’s safe to say that Hummell has a lot on her plate. When she’s not traveling with the Gaels, she’s working on her next workshop and collecting more data that will help towards her Master’s degree.
Currently, Hummell is in the data collection stage of her research.
“What that looks like is we run transformational coaching clinics and workshops for free in my lab for sports organizations across Ontario and Canada,” explained Hummell. “I’m doing an evaluation of those workshops to ensure that they are effectively changing coaching behaviours.”
While her background is in basketball, these workshops are open for any and all sport organizations.
“They’re called Transformational Coaching Workshops,” added Hummell. “They were co-developed by my supervisor, Dr. Jean Cote, who is one of the leading, if not the leading researcher in the coach development field, along with our postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Jennifer Turnnidge.”
“We run them based off interest. Typically, I’ll send out emails to organizations explaining what the workshop is, and what their interest may be. They’re open to all sports and all coaches ages 18 and older.”
“A lot of coaches are very competent when it comes to their professional knowledge, but they kind of lack in their ability to form quality relationships with their players.”
Having seen both the positive and negative effects of the interpersonal side in coaching, Hummell has set out to change the game for coaches. By looking at coaching effectiveness and the impact that interpersonal relationships have on an individual and a team, she is hoping to change the mindset of coaches over time.
“Having high interpersonal knowledge, in addition to that professional knowledge that a lot of coaches possess, is a key element of coaching effectiveness,” added Hummell. “Now that I’m in a coaching position myself, that’s kind of the approach that I have personally tried to take.”
When making the transition from player to coach, the professional knowledge is different. Hummell understands that her understanding of the Xs and Os of basketball, from a coaching standpoint, will come with experience. Hummell was quick to point out that she’s learning a ton from a professional standpoint from watching Bambury on a regular basis.
But, she wants to leave her mark on players from the interpersonal side of things.
“That’s the angle that I’ve been trying to take, applying everything that I’ve been researching about the interpersonal side and how to effectively build those relationships with players and put it into practice through coaching,” concluded Hummell.
Interpersonal relationships can have a lasting impact long after basketball has come and gone, both on a player and a coach. They help to bring a team closer together, and having those relationships make both the individual and team better in the long run.
Hummell and her research team have shown that these relationships are essential to success, and it starts by changing how coaches look at building relationships with their players. Coaches need to utilize the concept of Individualized Consideration when working with players as they try to build these close-knit relationships with their team.
After all, every player is different.
– T. Bennett
Coaches or organizations who are interested in learning more about the Transformational Coaching Workshops are asked to email Caroline Hummell directly through email.