Understand The Psyche
Understanding players is as easy as understanding people. Motivations and egos are a little different with athletes, as are insecurities and fears but in the big picture, players are people first, athletes second. Treat them as such.
The first thing we have to understand is that you cannot MAKE anyone do anything. People make decisions to do things because they want to, not because of any outside motivation. All the yelling and screaming that we do really has limited effect outside of building up a powder keg ready to explode. In our coaching and motivation, we have to get the players to believe that what we say is the best thing for them. We have to convince them that way we present to our team will allow them to have the most success. How do we do that?
Show your players that you have an interest in them. People take information from people that they trust. You don't have to be best friends but you do have to convince them that you are there through good times and bad. You have to show that their value as people is not determined by whether of not they make a jumpshot.
It was once said of Vince Lombardi, great coach of the Green Bay Packers, that he treated all his players the same, "like dogs." I agree, players should be treated like dogs. Here is what I mean. I had a dog I was trying to train. Whenever I called him and he did not come, I would get upset and angry. A professional dog trainer asked me how quickly I would go to someone who I know was going to be upset at me. I think we can all say, "Not very quickly." I learned that to get him to come, my dog had to associate being near me with good feelings. When he anticipates that, he will come immediately. It is more productive to push people toward something as opposed to pulling them away. In basketball, mistakes are made on every play. If you are going to coach away from mistakes as opposed to toward solutions you are going to have a long road and short-term results. Teach and re-teach the proper ways to do things. Give solutions, players know when there are problems.
Your players have to know who you are. They have to know what you will accept and what you won't. If your standards and reactions change from day to day players become confused and resentful. Only change your behavior in drastic situations when you really need to get their attention.
If you want your players to believe what you say, you have to say what you believe. Don't say things just for effect. If you make rules, keep them. Treat players equall, but that does not mean treat them the same. Recognize the differences in people. Some people you can yell at, some you have to talk to. But, if you say "on time" and they are late, the ramifications have to be the same.
Again, the greatest motivation is success. Players will do anything if you can convince them they will be successful. They also think they have better ideas than you. Listen to what they have to say. Allow your players to have some input. It will help give them ownership of what they do. The ideas may or may not be better or worse but they will be different and you will both be better for learning different ideas and insights into the way others think. As a coach, it is your job to make the decision. Teaching players how and why they will be more successful one way as opposed to another as opposed to dictating will allow the players to buy into your ideas more easily.
Players play harder for ideas they believe in. Teach them to believe in what they are doing and you will not see any other team play harder.