Dec 15, 2017
Maintaining Composure

Coaching high school athletes means there are a lot of things that come before winning. One of the most important is teaching your team good sportsmanship.

Brian Roper, Head Boys’ Basketball Coach at Lynden (Wash.) High School, has led his teams to two state titles and won nearly 400 games. But he is also recognized as a coach who exemplifies great sportsmanship.

In the following Q&A, we asked him how he keeps calm and teaches his players to do the same — no matter how heated the game becomes.

You are known for being composed on the sidelines. What led you to this?

I learned early on that you have to be true to your personality. Twenty-five years ago, I went to Kentucky and watched Rick Pitino conduct three practices. He had so much energy and was so intense, but I realized that’s not me.

I also realized that when I started getting on officials, my players started getting on officials. The attention span of most 16- and 17-year-olds is not that great, and they need to focus on playing the game.

And it’s a conscious choice I’ve made. We have a phrase we repeat a lot: “We want to compete with class.” Officials and opponents are there so we can have a good game. For us to demean or belittle them goes against our core values on showing class on the court.

How do you handle a player who doesn’t keep his cool?

We teach respectful behavior intentionally. We hold players accountable for their actions, and we model what an appropriate response looks like — handing the ball to the official and putting on a positive face. At the same time, we recognize it’s not easy. Basketball is an emotional game and we’re asking players to invest a lot. But that’s one of the positive life skills you can get out of playing sports — showing poise under pressure.

What do you do when you feel yourself getting angry during a game?

One of the best phrases I have ever heard in coaching is, “What are we going to do next?” Whether it’s a big win, a tough loss, a bad call, or the other team going on a 10-0 run, I ask, what are we going to do next? I’ve trained myself to think that way and I teach my players to think that way.

What is your advice on developing a coaching staff that exhibits good sportsmanship?

The key is to surround yourself with good people and let them do their jobs. Give them ownership of their roles. In a leadership position, there’s a difference between strategies and tactics. The overall strategy should be laid out by the head coach in terms of style of play. But the specific tactics of how to rebound a basketball or how to teach a close out should be delegated to assistant coaches. If good assistants are given ownership, they’ll be more focused on those things.

We have talented assistant coaches here and so I would be foolish not to give them responsibility and ownership. Plus, it’s more fun to share in the teaching, which allows everyone to share in the success.

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