A Compilation of My Thoughts On Coaching

Posted: November 23, 2019 in Coaching, Opinion, Sports
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Over the past few years I’ve posted some of my thoughts regarding coaching, so since basketball season is ready to commence I thought I’d combine them into one compilation. Remember that these are just my personal opinions and nothing more.

THE TRUTH ABOUT COACHING

When I first began coaching over 30-years ago, a lot was different.coaching-1

Everything was sort of black and white for me then, and there has since been a lot more grays. How did that happen? Experience, I guess.

I’ve always loved kids, ever since the first day I set foot in that classroom at Greenfield Middle School back in 1984. Not once did I regret the profession I chose. But teaching and coaching, although similar in a lot of ways, can also be very different. Students are there because the have to be, players are there largely because they want to be.

You have to encourage kids in both the classroom and on the basketball court, and you have to push them as well. However, coaching takes place in a much more public forum.

In the beginning, I’m sure part of the reason I coached was ego driven. It was a way to replace my playing days, a way to compete in front of a crowd. There was that initial thrill of working the sidelines as the fans cheered for your team.

Over time, that changes.

I learned the game from a lot of old school, in-your-face style coaches, great coaches like Rick VanMatre at Greenfield McClain, Gary Williams at the University of Maryland and Bob Huggins at the University of Cincinnati and now West Virginia. By the way, I just checked and those three have a winning percentage of almost .700. That’s 7 of every 10 games they coached. Pretty damn good. I’m not nearly the coach any of those guys are, not by a long shot, but I’ve sure learned a lot from all of them.

You know one of the most important things I learned in my 30+ years of coaching? It’s that kids can handle anything if they know you care about them. Seems simple but it’s true. If they know you love them they don’t take the criticism personally. They know you’re trying to help them.

Quick note – People aren’t completely rational when their relatives are involved, and they shouldn’t be. You can’t take it personally when mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles criticize you. Love is blind, man, and it’s OK.

And as a young coach, if you feel like you’re going through a bad time or being criticized unjustly, go talk to another coach. They’ll top your story every time. We’ve all been there, buddy. Many times. It’s all a part of the game, and it’s all a part of coaching.

I’ve seen guys who thought they wanted to coach start and not last more than a few years, mainly because of the pressures that come with the job.

Of the 33-years I coached, only 13 of them were as a high school basketball coach. I spent time as a coach at the Junior High, JV, Little League, and AAU levels. I’ve also spent a zillion hours as a college camp coach and scout, and I’ve been the international coach of a team from the Caribbean on the beautiful island called Montserrat.

And as coaching has brought me to all these places, to college campuses and incredibly exotic locations like the one in the Caribbean, I’ve also seen the game save lives. I’ve seen basketball take kids from the inner-city to the bright lights, and I’ve seen it literally give young players a reason to live.

That’s not an exaggeration, believe me. I’ve seen basketball save lives.

Being allowed to coach is a gift, one of the greatest you can be given. And you know why? Because as great as all the wins are (and I’ve been on both sides, believe me), that’s not what ultimately makes it all worthwhile.

Ultimately, it’s about relationships.

It’s about developing relationships with your players, because that’s what lasts and that’s what matters. Sure, you remember the big wins, the upsets where you won a big game you weren’t supposed to win. You remember those trips to The Convo, the ultimate goal for teams from our area. But what is lasting, what is important, are the relationships. In comparison, the victories don’t mean so much.

Not really.

I’ve loved every player I ever coached, and I hope they know that. How could I not after everything I put them through? How could I not after they stuck with me through it all, through the tough practices, through the blood and sweat and tears, through all the wins and the losses?

Think about it. What would bring you more satisfaction and fulfillment, winning a District Championship or having a former player ask you to be the Godfather to his son?

No contest, man. And it’s not even close.

SOME THOUGHTS ON COACHING

I’ve been a coach for over 30-years now and have experienced just about everything the game can throw at you, a lot of it good and a little of it bad. Honestly, I’d say that my experiences in coaching have been 99.9% positive and I mean that sincerely.

And if I’ve said this once I’ve said it a thousand times: Since I began coaching, kids haven’t changed. Not a bit. However, something has changed, and that is parenting.

Years ago parents let the teacher or coach make decisions and they backed them nearly 100% of the time. Today? Not so much. A lot of parents want to jump in and save their child from any type of adversity, not understanding that letting their kid deal with most of their problems on his/her own is what builds character.

NEWSFLASH: Mom won’t be there to save you when you’re 28-years old and your boss rips you for being late for work. Then again, I’m guessing a lot of these kids will still be living at home, so maybe she’ll try.

But hey, I’ve been lucky enough to have some unbelievably great, supportive parents over the years and I appreciate them more than they’ll ever know. The parents I’ve had since I’ve returned to high school coaching a few years ago have been remarkably supportive. Over the years, however, there have been a few . . .

One year I had a mom rip into me after a game, infuriated that I wouldn’t let her son shoot 3-pointers. Then the following conversation ensued:

Mom: “Why won’t you let Billy shoot the ball! He’s open all the time! Let him shoot it!”

Me: “Uh, you know why he’s open, right? The other team wants him to shoot it.”

Yeah, that didn’t go over too well. When irrational people are faced with logic it’s sometimes hard for them to handle, trust me.

One year I had a parent tell me that I played favorites, and she was a little surprised when I agreed with her 100%.

“You mean you admit to playing favorites?”

“Of course. It’s my job to pick my favorites. And my favorites are the guys who work the hardest and smartest and do what I ask them to do. My favorites are the players that can help us be the most successful.”

Trust me, I’ve rarely known a coach that didn’t put the guys that he thought were his best players on the floor. Most coaches wouldn’t play their own son if they had better players to put out there. To think otherwise is ridiculous.

Another common refrain I’ve heard over the years is this:

“Tommy’s thinking about quitting. He’s not having fun.”

Sigh. Listen up, folks. As Coach Norman Dale said in the movie Hoosiers:

“My practices aren’t designed for your enjoyment.”

Amen.

See, the fun part comes when your hard work pays off and you winThat’s the fun part. Oh, you can have a little fun at practice but if that’s all you do you’ll never achieve that ultimate satisfaction. Oh sure, practice will be fun, but when you play an actual game? Not so much.

That’s not too hard to understand now, is it?

I always tell my guys that you can’t take anything I say personally at practice or games. I may be angry at the way you’re playing, but I’m not angry at you. I love my players. How could I not after the way I push and prod them while they hang in there, listen, and keep working towards getting better?

Players almost always get it. Parents usually do, but not always.

So thanks to those parents who understand, those who know that most coaches really do have their player’s best interests at heart, and that we really do care about them.

Because we do. Promise.

A FEW (MORE) THOUGHTS ON COACHING

Over the years I’ve written a few articles about coaching and my opinions and outlook on various aspects of it. Among these were two called The Truth About Coaching and Some Thoughts On Coaching.

As many of you know I’m not coaching this year so I’ve had the opportunity to watch games and practices all over Southern Ohio, and as I watch thoughts inevitably come to mind. When that happens I jot down some notes with the idea that when I gathered enough I’d publish another article.

Keep in mind I’m not critiquing any coach in particular, and just because I believe what you’re about to read doesn’t mean it’s necessarily correct.

It’s just my personal opinion, kids. Chillax.

Bottom line, times have changed and kids have changed. Actually, parenting has changed and as a result kids have changed. It’s w-a-a-a-y different than it was when I began coaching all the way back in the Fall of 1983. If I tried to coach in 2015 the way I coached in 1991 I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did, trust me.

As I’ve said many times before on this site and when I speak to teams, coaching is about relationships. That’s always been the case to some extent but it’s exponentially more important today. There has to be some sort of a relationship between player and coach. Your players have to believe in you. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “Coaching is 90% creating an environment and 10% strategy.”

That is 100% true.

Some coaches believe that showing compassion for their players is a sign of weakness, as if they’re giving up some essential part of their power as leader of the team. The fact is that yelling and berating without compassion will get old really quickly with today’s athlete, and at some point the coach will lose the team.

The ironic part of all this, of course, is that if your players know you love them you can yell at them all you want because they know you’re coming from a good place.

So showing compassion is not a weakness, but a strength.

Another thing I’ve noticed while attending games is that coaches, especially at the smaller schools, are successful when they adjust to their talent. Some coaches have their “systems” or style they like and expect their players to fit into it regardless. Here’s the deal – you can’t recruit players at a small school.  So, you have to adjust and run an offense and defense that fits your team’s abilities and strengths.

Over my last 4-years of coaching I had a very talented 6′-11″, 305 pound center. It wouldn’t have been real bright of me to run a fast break and beat him down the floor just because I liked a running style, right? Therefore we mostly (but not always) walked it up and ran our offense through him. Defensively we mostly played a zone where we kept our big man guarding the rim while our guards got out and pressured the perimeter. Hey, you have the luxury of getting out and pressuring when you have a rim protector backing you up.

My point is that just because you, as a coach, like running and pressing doesn’t mean you can – set your ego aside and do what works best for your team.

And that whole “hey, we do what we do and don’t worry about our opponents” argument is about as dumb as it gets. Of course you have to adjust to your opponents. To not is a path to failure.

College, and some high schools, are different because you can recruit or have the numbers to pick and choose your team. At small schools that’s just not possible,

Collegiately it can go both ways. A coach like Bob Huggins at West Virginia or Jim Boeheim at Syracuse recruit their players to fit their system. Same for the majority of college coaches. On the other hand, guys at the really elite programs like Coach K at Duke, Coach Cal at Kentucky or Coach Self at Kansas grab the best players available and adjust their offense and defense accordingly.

But at small high schools? As I mentioned, you have to set your ego and your favorite style aside and play the hand your dealt.

And hell, there are a thousand different ways to coach. Bobby Knight and Jim Valvano were as opposite as night and day but both won National Championships. Be yourself, man.

Finally, if there’s one thing I learned over the years it’s that the best coaches never, ever stop learning. The day you think you know everything is the day to quit. The game, and the players, are constantly changing and coaches have to change with it.

If you don’t, the game will soon pass you by.

PS- As I’ve mentioned before, many of the basic philosophies of coaching – developing relationships, being able to communicate, and more – apply to teaching as well as coaching. They’re closely related.

PPS- One more thing. Team success depends on many variables like team chemistry, injuries, players getting sick, interfering administrators, etc. Bottom line, they’re all a part of sports. Using them as an excuse will only give your team an excuse to fail. As the great Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.” 

Gimme a holler.

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