There are a few sounds that are synonymous with basketball: a ball being dribbled, the squeak of rubber on the gym floor, the thunderous applause and stomping feet from bleachers, and the shrill high pitch of the coach’s whistle during practice time (ref’s whistle during a game).

“knowing when to blow the whistle is the science of officiating. Knowing when not to blow the whistle is the art.” (Source).

Basketball Whistle

The whistle means: ATTENTION! As a coach it should be your last resort, but it is a necessary tool to have in your arsenal. Make sure that the whistle around your neck is a good one, like the one Hustle Fitness recommends, the Crown Sporting Goods SCOA-001 Stainless Steel Whistle. It has all the right components of what you want hanging around your neck:

  • It is loud and clear and has a bold and crisp sound that is easy to blow
  • It is solid stainless steel that is resistant to corrosion and has a lanyard for hands-free use
  • It has a great length, which can be adjusted by an included bead that allows you to set your preferred link and lock it in place

So when you need to blow it, blow! But the best coaches do not overuse the whistle. In fact, they rarely ever do. This is because they command the respect and attention of their team without a whistle and so every player knows that when that whistle blows it is really important.

Don’t Use a Whistle This Way

Think about it this way. One of Aesop’s fables is called the Boy Who Cried Wolf. If you need a refresher, basically the shepherd boy decided one day to cry out for the villagers despite the fact that there was no wolf threatening the flock. He did this again and again. Then one day a real wolf came and when Peter called for help no one came to his assistance. The same can be said for the sound of a coach’s whistle. If you blow it too frequently the kids on your team will begin to tune it out.

One of the alternatives to using the whistle for everything is the so called “clap method” in which as the coach you clap once and the players respond in kind, but with two claps to show they are paying attention. If you use this during practice and drills you will train their ears to hear you clap and their minds to respond to that in much the same way that a teacher will raise their hand to get attention in a classroom.

There is a whole debate on whether to ever use a whistle during practice. On the one hand you have, “Phil Martelli (14 Ways to Build Mental and Physical Toughness in Practice) who says he never uses a whistle because you don't use a whistle in games to communicate with players. It's not like you jump up off the bench and blow your whistle to talk to them about changing defenses or closing out better. You use only your voice in those situations.” (Source). On the other hand, there are “many coaches who say they use a whistle for drills because that is what stops play in a real game. We've all heard the phrase "play till you hear the whistle." (Source).

Whistles Are Part of the Game

Our word on this is, “When all else fails to get your team’s attention, you need something to cut through the noise and the chitter chatter. Enter this ultra-loud, undersized stainless steel whistle that comes complete with a lanyard. Get the attention you deserve with this coach’s whistle. Unfortunately, the respect of your team is sold separately.” (Source).

In all seriousness, though, there are very important reasons for a coach to have and use a whistle. The most important is communication. During any practice or game it is important that you be able to communicate with the players, their parents, the other coach, and the referees or officials. There are times that your voice can do this quite effectively, times that you can use hand signals and then times that you need that whistle to get attention. As a coach it is incumbent on you to learn when each of these communication styles is appropriate and relevant. For instance, there are many times during a game when it is absolutely not appropriate for you to blow that shiny loud whistle you wear around your neck. And there are times when your voice will never carry.

This is a different kind of communication skill than you may be used to practicing, but it is also very similar to any mindfulness or intentionality in communications that is normative in the 21st century. Remember, the whistle is a tool. The youth athletes on your team need to know what it means when they hear a whistle (stop, look, listen). The kids will hear whistles during games and they must respond appropriately or they will be penalized. It would be really difficult to teach them this without using a whistle during practice and drills, but your use must be carefully planned out and administered correctly to help you help your team be the best they can be.

For more tips and tricks on coaching youth basketball follow Hustle Fitness.