Chapter 2: Literacies at work, for fun, and at school

2.7.4 Communication in basketball: More vital than thought to be (research essay)

Anonymous English 102 Writer

April 2021

There are many different aspects and factors that equate into everything that goes on during a basketball game along with how successful the players and team are going to be. Basketball has long been proven as to be a team sport compared to being just a one man team. Typically, it has been proven that you can have one great player to rely on but the supporting players have also played a vital more important role that gets talked about. There are some factors as to what can bring these types of teams together but there is one starting spot for all of these teams. That starting spot for all of these teams being how well teams communicate with each other and how well it is understood by everyone on the team. Every team has different ways that they communicate between each other but the main point between all the teams is that the best ones have a bunch of communication while playing. There are some teams that will like to use non-verbal types of communication or there are other teams that will like to use verbal communication. But all in all it still just brings up how each team has a specific form of communication. This just leads to the main focus in being communication and literacy in basketball are able to play a large role in how successful a basketball team will be.  

There are different things that go on through a players and coaches’ mind not just through a game but also through practices and the season as a whole. Through my days of playing basketball, I have also had many different thoughts and feelings that have gone through my head. With some of them it makes me wonder what exactly makes great teams and what all factors into different aspects of a basketball game. This then leads me to create two main questions as for me to research and figure out more about these different aspects. These research questions being “What kind of literacy practices do basketball players use?” and “What kinds of research has currently been done on the topic of communication in basketball?” When you first hear about communication and literacy involved in basketball you will most likely wonder how these things are related in any way with basketball. To help explain this more you will see me use different sources that will explain and go into more detail as to not only answer the two previous research questions stated above but provide you with the understanding of how basketball is related with communication in basketball.  

The first thing that will be addressed is the first research question of “What kind of communication and literacy practices do basketball players use?” Basketball players use many different literacy practices along with communication practices. One example of how literacy gets used by basketball players is by the drawing of plays on whiteboards and the understanding of different words that are being used by players and coaches such as “switch” or “screen.” When it comes to communication though in basketball that is more apparent as you often see players talking to each other through games along with talking to coaches. One source that I used to help with the development of the paper is an article called, “BODILY COMMUNICATION IN BASKETBALL” through this article they did studies on how there was communication between players (13). However, communication was not that of the verbal type and was referred to as nonverbal communication. Verbal and nonverbal produce two different factors of how communication gets used through a game with each holding different types of importance for a team during a game. Typically, nonverbal will be more subtle and usually only the players of that team will be able to understand what is trying to be communicated and is used through bodily movements. Which then leads towards a second source that I used that focused more on nonverbal communication. This source was, “Using Non-Verbal Communication in Sports” the source produced different examples as to how the nonverbal and verbal communication is used in basketball (1). Timeouts are more purposely used to communicate things towards the team to discuss what type of defense that the team would want to run along with the possibility of if there is a certain play that they would want to run coming out of the timeout.  

There are other forms of communication that are used by basketball players that are along the lines of non-verbally like hand signals. One of the most commonly used hand signals is a fist raised up in the air at a 90-degree angle in this case it means that your teammate will be setting a screen on the man that is defending you. This is not only helpful in the sense that it provides you as the offensive player with an advantage over your defender. But it also may help the rest of your team as it can create havoc for the rest of defending team especially if they do not communicate very well which could then lead to your team having an easy basket to make. The use of verbal and nonverbal communication between coaches and teammates helps teams perform at a higher level. The article by James Gee, “What is Literacy?” helps explain how communication in basketball can be related to literacy in general. This is the use of “discourses” as described by Gee where there are “primary discourses” and “secondary discourses.” Communication in basketball is not something that will naturally come to people and it takes time to learn the different ins and outs of the communication factors that are required to be a successful team. Which then brings in the term of “secondary discourse” as this is described a language that does not naturally come to you and need to learn and communication in basketball would be described as something like that. It is not always easy as to learn the different terminology that is used by basketball players and coaches as there are many terms that are not always used by people.  

The article by Jeff Haefner, “How to Develop Great Defensive Communication” helps provide some examples of different forms of communication terms that are used by players (1). Such as yelling “shot” or “skip” and by doing this it helps your teammates know and have a better understanding of what is going on (1). By yelling “shot” it alerts your teammates on defense that the offensive team has taken a shot and that they need to begin boxing out their man to have better position to get the rebound. The term “skip” is also another defensive communication term as by yelling this term of “skip” it tells your teammates that the ball is being passed across the court sideways in the half court and that they now need to make a full shift of their defensive position rather than only having to move one position at a time defensively. Another article by Kyle Ohman, “The Value of Communication in Basketball” relates towards communication also by not using examples but of words used for communication but how and when the communication should come (1). While most coaches want their teams to communicate often and have a lot of it, it’s not always best to communicate if what is going to be said is not going to have very much meaning with it. There are many times when there has been communication between a teammate and myself where what was said did not have much of a purpose to it and just lead to creating more confusion on the court. However as described by Ohman when there is going to be communication it needs to be “early,” “loud,” and “often” (1). By doing these three things it allows for you and your teammates to be prepared for what is going on and know how to handle it. An article by Christopher Riches “Defining Communication Between Half Court Defenders” like the previous two articles is focusing on communication on defense (1). It also provides even more examples of terms used on defense between teammates. Yelling “cutter” for example is a term that is not going to be used usually when teams are in a man defense. However, typically will be used between teammates when they are running a zone defense instead. By yelling “cutter” it alerts your teammates of a man running across the court letting them know that there is another guy that they need to be aware of while defending their zone of the defense.  

As seen continuously throughout the previous paragraph it is imperative that on defense teams are communicating with one another so that way they are all on the same page and no one is confused. While even on offense it is important for communication more times than not teammates are going to have an idea of what is going to need to be, or the communication is nonverbal. Defensively you do not have much of an idea as to what the other team is going to do or try to do it. So, to ensure that you and your teammates are on the same page and being in sync having a lot of communication will help make sure that there are not any errors that would help the other team score on you easier.  

Players and coaches have many different forms of communication whether it be through literature or through communication. So often people think that the best teams are all talent related while in all reality and facets of the game talent has some effect on how good a team is, but they must be able to communicate effectively with each other also. This then leads to the next research question that I have presented which is “What kinds of research have been done on communication in basketball?” 

There have been many studies on communication in basketball much so like most any other topic that you may think of. With many of them presenting different findings and examples of how communication in basketball in basketball can affect not just the game but also how it affects the chemistry that is brought about between a team of players along with coaches. Research that is being done on this kind of topic that is relating to sports has become more apparent than ever as some of the things that are being found are now being used more and more in sports. Analytics is something that used to be overlooked by many coaches and other positions throughout a sports organization. Now it seems as if coaches and these other members cannot do without being able to see the different stats that are being found and observed. With all of this being led by the researchers that are finding and presenting this sort of information as to topics such as communication in basketball.  

Examples of the different areas that these researchers are looking towards in how communication in a basketball game are who is communicating with who on a team as there are often certain positions that will be communicating with one another more often than that of another position. Typically, it will be your forwards which are the center, power forward, and small forward who will communicate with each other more often than they would communicate with the guards which is the point guard and shooting guard. The reason for this being that the guards play similar positions to that of what the forwards would play. Guards are usually smaller and more agile so they stay more on the outside of the perimeter or arc, while the forwards will be more inside of the arc and perimeter because they are bigger and utilized more around the basket. Another area that these researchers have looked more into was the affect that the game is having on the amount of communication that is being used between the players and coaches. When teams are at their best in winning the game, they are communicating the most but when they are losing, especially by a larger margin, they will not communicate as much. Not even having to look or read about the research on this I could tell you from all the games that I have played that this finding is especially true. As when you are winning you and the rest of your team is playing free and loose while communicating, but when you are losing all of those changes as everyone is up tight and just creates a feeling that leads to no one wanting to talk and communicate with one another. This just makes it even harder for teams to come back and want to win.  

In an article by Phillip Furley and Geoffrey Schweizer, “I’m Pretty Sure that We Will Win! The Influence of Score-Related Nonverbal Behavior Changes on the Confidence in Winning a Basketball Game” it was found throughout a study of how the progress in a game can help determine what players and coaches’ reactions will be both verbally and non-verbally (317). While I have already discussed this topic a little in previous paragraphs it is still an important thing for a team as a whole to have good communication even if your team is not winning. Furley and Schweizer adds another aspect as to what might influence communication and that is “confidence” (317). That feeling of “confidence” can do many things not only just for your game but for your communication as a whole. While you will not be able to always have a lot of “confidence” because that is just the way that basketball works. Most often teams that have a lot of “confidence” may lose it for a short amount of time but always will get it back. Another article by Michael J. Rifenburg, “The Literate Practices of a Division II Men’s Team” actually follows a men’s college basketball team and watches all the different communication and literary practices that were performed by the basketball team (55). The drawing up of plays in timeouts and discussions of how to improve things like plays or defenses are all examples of communication and literacy that was noticed by Rifenburg (61). While to the average spectator it may seem as if teams go as the coach says that they should, in the sense that plays are ran the way that the coach says, or defenses being called. In actuality though coaches quite often will ask the players and other coaches their opinions on what they think about certain plays or what they think could be improved with it. During games it is not as much communication about plays but more about defenses that the team may want to run because it is not always apparent to the coach as to what the team may be comfortable or confident in running. This helps show how communication can be an important part of a team’s success even though it is not directly a part of the game and happening during the game but more so during time outs and breaks.  

Another set of research that has been performed regarding communication in basketball has not been so much of what effects on the game that communication can have but what it has on players and coaches psychologically. One study by Danielle Alexander, et al. “Coaches’ Use of Positive Tactile Communication in Collegiate Basketball” went through and analyzed how the use of encouraging words in communication can either positively or negatively affect a team and their performance (91). I believe that there are certain moments when this type of non-verbal communication can and will be affective for your team. However, always deciding to be using positive behavior even when it is not warranted such as when your team makes a mistake it is not necessarily something that should be used. I think that if you are always using positive behavior even on mistakes then you will leave you and your team with very little room to grow as they will not think that they need to improve on anything because you are not pointing out things that need to be fixed. Alexander, et al. bring another point as to what the non-verbal positive behavior can lead to and that is mentally defeating your opponent (91). This does prove true most of the time as an opponent when you see the other team celebrating and high fiving one another it usually means that they are doing things right and doing better than what you are doing. Jerome Bourbousson, et al. article “Team Coordination in Basketball: Description of Cognitive Connections Among Teammates” is along the lines of Alexander, et al. article of communication between players and coaches (150). The article by Bourbousson, et al. looks specifically at just the players (150). The players together were found communicating as a whole was lacking however certain people would communicate better with another than another player would communicate with that same person. So, when you see this, especially if it goes on for an entirety of a game it will slowly mentally defeat you proving how the use of positive non-verbal behavior can be very useful at times. Games are able to mentally wear on a team and their coaches especially when you begin to start having multiple games which lead to you having to game plan more and more for multiples of teams. In having to game plan for multiple games and teams it becomes a strain so by teams during these games mentally challenging you and your team it only gives that other team an advantage over you due to you already having a struggling mindset from the other factors that are going into each of the games.   

The final section of how communication in basketball can affect a team and the team’s success is another part that is not part of the game directly but how it can bring together a team. The use of communication between all sections of the team can prove to be a lot larger of an effect on a team and the way they perform in the sense that it creates a sense of belonging throughout the whole team. Rather than just the main players only communicating with each other, by communicating with the whole team it allows for everyone to feel like they are part of the team and incorporate something into the success of the team. From the teams that I have played on in basketball we have all known each other, which helps us already because we already have that sense of bonding and communicating with each other. With this communication through one another it helped us create the type of locker room where there was not one guy that could not contribute towards the team success. In doing so even the guys that did not get a whole lot of playing time still were being involved in the game by communicating from the bench. This may seem overrated but when the bench is helping with communication it only makes the team stronger as a whole because of more sets of eyes watching what the other team is doing.  

Robin Bell and Carlos F. Riol’s article, “The Impact of Cross Cultural Communication on Collective Efficacy in NCAA Basketball Teams” helps demonstrate how important it can be for teams that bond together to allow for them to perform at their highest level of potential (176). It may not seem like much of a problem for teams to communicate with one another. However, it can be even more difficult for those teams that have people of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds to communicate effectively and can lead to struggles for teams as they may not want to communicate. Through Bell and Riol along with their studies it was found that those teams with different cultures on their team that those that could communicate well were able to be successful on the court while communicating with one another (178). While the different cultures of players have nothing to do with the amount of talent each player or team is going to have. It can be difficult sometimes to get the communication factor down but once these teams do end up getting the communication factor figured out it can usually allow for them to connect with one another more. In having them connect better it only strengthens the chances of allowing for you and your team to be able to win.  

While there have been many different factors demonstrated on how teams can be successful in playing basketball communication has been a very important one for teams to have. Through the paper answering the two research questions of “What kind of literacy practices do basketball players use” and “What kinds of research have been done on the communication in basketball” has helped demonstrate the importance of ensuring that teams have communication as it can help create success for not just the team but also can help teams bond together and form a more closely knit team. Just through communication you are able to go through the different aspects and find all different types of factors that could contribute towards a team be effective or ineffective while trying to communicate with one another. Such factors include verbal and nonverbal communication which were the two main types of communication used in basketball and then there are some literary types of communication that are used between a team such as the drawing of plays in timeouts or the use of film in film sessions. But through all these different factors in communication in basketball it all plays an important role in how successful a team is going to be. 

Works Cited 

Alexander, Danielle, et al. “Coaches’ Use of Positive Tactile Communication in Collegiate Basketball.” International Sport Coaching Journal (2021): 91-100 

Bell, Robin and Carlos F. Riol. “The Impact of Cross-Cultural Communication on Collective Efficacy in NCAA Basketball Teams.” International Journal of Cross Cultural Management (2017): 175-195 

Bourbousson, Jerome, et al. “Team Coordination in Basketball: Description of Cognitive Connections Among Teammates.” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (2010): 150-166. 

Furley, Phillip and Geoffrey Schweizer. “I’m Pretty Sure that We Will Win! The Influence of Score-Related Nonverbal Behavior Changes on the Confidence in Winning a Basketball Game.” Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology (2014): 316-320. 

Gee, James. “What is Literacy.” Journal of Education (1989): 18-25 

Haefner, Jeff. “How to Develop Great Defensive Communication.” 1 February 2010. USA Basketball. 15 March 2021. 

Ohman, Kyle. “The Value of Communication in Basketball.” n.d. Basketball HQ. 15 March 2021. 

Raiola, Gaetano, et al. “BODILY COMMUNICATION IN BASKETBALL” Sport Science 8 (2015):13-18. 

Riches, Christopher. “Defining Communication Between Half Court Defenders.” n.d. Functional Basketball Coaching. 15 March 2021. 

Rifenburg, Michael J. “The Literate Practices of a Division II Men’s Basketball Team.” Grassroots Writing Research Journal (2016): 55-64 

“Using Non-Verbal Communication in Sports.” 17 April 2009. Communication in the Sports World. 15 March 2021. 


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Understanding Literacy in Our Lives by Anonymous English 102 Writer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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