Emotional Rollercoaster of The Sideline

By Paul Kelleher, Ireland U-18 Men National Team Head Coach. He writes in this post about how to deal with the Emotional Rollercoaster of The Sideline.

Like all coaches, I’ve loved the sideline and game engagement since I started coaching. Making decisions, seeing player improvement from the work at practice, the competitive cauldron, and the smiles on faces. It’s what we work hard for and practice for right? But what about the part where the sideline has been your demon for so long, where you know it is the area that needs improvement to allow the players to be the best they can on game day.

    What does that look like to you? In the 2013/14 season, I decided to work with a Sports Psychologist, Canice Kennedy. The thrust of our work centered around my role for the players and five key words “What do they need now?” I carry that on my board to this day. I still try to navigate correctly but struggle to succeed.

Canice Kennedy Quote. Coach Paul Kelleher have been working with this Sport Psychologist and he is including this reflection in the article Emotional Roller-coaster of The Sideline
Canice Kennedy quote. Coach Paul Kelleher have been working with this Sport Psychologist and he is including her reflection in his article about the Emotional Rollercoaster of The Sideline

    In this article, we’ll delve into five areas that affect the dilemmas of the “emotional rollercoaster” for a coach on the sideline to enhance the experience for player performance:

  • Player Interactions
  • Referee Interaction
  • Decision Making
  • Listening & Communication
  • Trusting Your Assistant Coaches


As a young coach, my mindset was “I know basketball, so do what I say”. Through many errors, experiences, and reaching out to other coaches, I now understand “We must know Peter and we must know basketball”. In the storm of the game, we are going to have times where a coach/player relationship ruptures. The quality of the connection built in the relationship will determine how quickly the relationship repairs itself. 

How does each player best receive the information delivered? How does the information best land with the player? As we maneuver the sideline, Do players require information thrown at them? Do they prefer coming to the sideline, having 1-To-1 conversations? Or, Do they just need us to be quiet, sit down, and be trusted that we’ve done the work? 

Coach Paul Kelleher talking with one of the players in U18M National Team.
Coach Paul Kelleher talking with one of the players in Ireland U-18 Men National Team.

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve ruptured the relationship at the wrong time of a game, for it not to repair on time for the critical moments in that game. Incorrect tone, the wrong message at the wrong time, abrasive substitutions can have a major impact on the remainder of the game and how players stay engaged. Are we constantly chirping, critiquing, talking the players through every action being led by the scoreboard, instead of trusting the work we have done at practice

I’ve come to label this “emotional Interference”, where we are so far in a player’s psyche that we are negatively affecting their performance levels, and they become to lack a connection with us coaches. But, Is there a time for “I need this from you right now, and you need this from me right now”? It is finding the balance of “what do they need right now”, and what gives the player(s) the best form of confidence to succeed.


Listening to understand Vs Listening to respond”. Are we listening to use the information correctly? Are we ok with staying silent, giving appropriate landing messages? Or, Do we always have to respond? It’s been a struggle for me. One of the major skills we require of our players is to be great listeners, to hear adjustments, and to be engaged with their teammates. But, Have we ever challenged ourselves as coaches to be great listeners?

Some players use body language to give information, others like to talk. If we are emotionally interfering or being overly assertive during games and not managing the “emotional rollercoaster”, How can we communicate to deliver appropriate landing messages to guide players’ performance? How can we keep a clear mind during timeouts and half-time? When we are on the negative side of the emotional rollercoaster, our inability to listen and communicate usually stems from what we perceive to be somebody else’s mistake.

Paul Kelleher in Time Out with the U18M National Team; experiencing the emotional Roller-coaster of The Sideline
Paul Kelleher during a timeout with the Ireland U-18 Men National Team, dealing with the emotional Rollercoaster of The Sideline


We’ve all been there. Getting on the referee’s hard. We’ve heard many time’s it never helps. But let’s look at it a different way. How does it affect the players? Are we creating some emotional interference with referees that transfers to the players? Does negative energy towards referees transfer over to affect the performance level’s of the players? Engaging negatively with the whistle affects our ability to identify the reality of “was it a foul?


Our ability to navigate the emotional rollercoaster of the sideline aids our ability as coaches to manage our decisions, from “scheme calling” to “substitutions”, and the timing of calling timeouts. Does our unconscious bias towards players kick in when we are on that emotional rollercoaster and see no wrong, or flip it the other way and only see the wrong of players that irks coaches?

Before the game, we visualize our ability to handle the storm helping our ability to make appropriate decisions throughout the game and to give messages that land right on the players to aid their performance. Picture ourselves being brave with our questions, “What are you seeing out there?”, “What can we do to help you in that match-up?”, “Are we ready to press right now?”, and get your feel for the game from the players. Allow them to offer solutions and listen to understand those solutions! “What do they need now!


As head coaches, we’ve all been through the assistant coach role. Remember sitting on the bench, sitting down, and having a clear mind. Did you have the same pressure when offering advice to the head coach? What were you focused on as an assistant coach to help you be an asset to aid the head coach’s emotional rollercoaster and give the players “what they need now?” As a head coach now, What does it need to happen for you to handle the storm, see the choices available to you, and make the appropriate decisions? Are you allowing yourself to receive suggestions?


I’ve found that when I’ve had blurred vision because of frustration it has really affected my own performance in the game and most likely emotionally interfered with the player’s psyche Vs when I’ve smiled, had a clear mind, and even during errors it gave players trust. Is the scoreboard a barrier to managing your stability of being on that rollercoaster of emotions, and being blind to “what do they need now?

When you have confirmation bias, Do you have the trust in your assistants that they can see your bias? Is your relationship strong enough that you are able to receive the landing message from assistants to bring an even keel back to your emotions? I’ve had that struggle, A LOT. Knowing what I know now, if I trusted assistant coaches that I was around and the messages they were landing with me, maybe things would have been different. But we’ll never know. How do your players trust you, if you are constantly up and down on that emotional rollercoaster?

What do they need now?” I still haven’t mastered that. I look forward to the day I get it right more than not. 

Twitter: @bballirl    @Neptune1BC    @PaulTKelleher

Thank you Coach Kelleher, and we hope to see you soon!

Recommended training: Youth Procoach

Recommended post: Coaching the perfect game

26 diciembre, 2021

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