NEW CASTLE —
“You have a nice team, Coach.”
I used to HATE hearing that while shaking our opponents’ hands following a game.
You may as well question my manhood.
Or insult my mama.
Or try to take my lunch money.
Them’s fightin’ words, you know.
At least I used to think so.
I don’t anymore.
"Simplify the game as much as possible. When you add, you must subtract." — Don Meyer
“You have a nice team, Coach.”
I used to view that phrase by an opposing coach as code for: “I outcoached you big-time today and we would have kicked your butt, but you have better players.”
But pondering that phrase led me to think a bit more deeply about the role of a coach, especially in youth sports.
First, some questions I wrestled with:
•Does a good youth coach run dozens of sets for his team and focus on executing patterns for much of practice?
•Does a good youth coach focus primarily on his kids mastering the fundamentals of the game?
•Does a good youth coach focus primarily on creating a love for the game in his players?
•Does a good youth coach focus primarily on building young men and women and teach life lessons?
•Does a good youth coach stay quiet on the sideline as a game progresses?
•Does a good youth coach continually correct his team as a game progresses?
•Does a good youth coach deliver continuous encouragement to his team as a game progresses?
Seven different questions. Hit any upcoming AAU basketball tournament and you’re likely to see these seven different philosophies in play by seven different coaches.
So, which one is correct?
A cool and collected Brad Stevens? Or Shaka Smart getting down in a defensive stance and sliding along with his players?
It depends. It really does.
On your personality. On the personality of your kids. And the reason you became a coach in the first place.
That said, there are three phrases that guide each of my practices and game days as I work with young men and women on the basketball court. If you find them helpful, feel free to attach them to your clipboard as well.
1) Basketball is overcoached and undertaught — Hall of Famer Pete Newell expressed this sentiment years ago, and it continues to impact me today.
I now focus far more on teaching kids HOW to play than teaching them plays. From my years of experience in youth coaching, I’d venture to guess that most set plays break down after the first or second pass. If a player doesn’t know how to beat her defender off the dribble at that point, she’s toast.
And so is your team.
The Lesson: Go heavy on the fundamentals and principles of the game. If your kids are carrying those in their gym bag, they’re always going to be OK.
2) There is a BIG difference between structure and discipline — To me, structure is manipulating five robots on the court who are only concerned about getting to the right spot so they don’t get yelled at. What happens once they get to that spot is anyone’s guess.
Discipline, on the other hand, is about proper spacing, creating angles and using the necessary footwork and fundamentals each time down the floor.
The Lesson: You can be a disciplined team and be free flowing — and isn’t that why most kids play? A structured team becomes a slave to the system, and I really hate to see youngsters THINKING the game too much instead of reading and reacting.
3) There’s a BIG difference between control and guidance — Oftentimes, the greatest lessons a coach can learn come from watching his players during practice and games.
For example, a coach sets up a tip play for the beginning of the game. However, the young man jumping spots a hole and, after tipping the ball, races to the block for a pass and score.
•Control — Coach screams at his player for not following his initial plan. By doing so, he has put shackles on the kid and will cause him to think very hard about improvising in the future.
•Guidance — Coach jots down what happens and commends his player for creating a scoring opportunity. By doing so, the kid feels empowered and now takes on more of a leadership role on the floor.
The Lesson: Let’s guide our players at every step without trying to control their every move.
"Coaching and teaching are two different things. The coaching never turned me on that much, but I always enjoyed the teaching, the practice sessions." — Pete Newell
So, what do you think? Anything you would add to my list?
I’m not saying my way is the only way to coach — the final score doesn’t always agree with me either — but I know it’s the right fit for me and those I’m entrusted to lead.
If nothing else, focusing on those three guidelines has helped to remove the insecurity I used to lug to the sideline before each game. So now, when another team’s coach says, “You have a nice team,” I can honestly answer: “Thank you. These kids ARE pretty special ... and I’m having a blast coaching them.”
I really am.
But even more important is a kid coming back five years later and telling me I made an impact on his life.
Now that’s ALWAYS a win in my scrapbook.
No matter what the scoreboard — or the opposing coach — says.
No matter how many victories we earn as youth coaches,
we are all winners if our former players remember us like this.