Aug 24, 2018New on the Scene
As an athlete, I played basketball. I absolutely loved the game. For me, there was nothing better than going to practice every day. I was the second or third person on the court and one of the last to leave. The basketball court was my sanctuary and comfort zone — a place of pure enjoyment.
However, during a conversation with Dad about what my life after college might include, he burst my bubble by saying that I wouldn’t be playing in the NBA. I was shocked! However, he quickly added, “Have you ever thought about coaching?” And that was that. What other alternative could there be, since basketball was my passion?
Contemplating coaching, I felt confident. I had spent summers on the playground, shooting hoops and playing ball, and I thought that I “knew the game.” But that wasn’t quite true. I did know a little about man-man defense, at least for guards, since I had been one. That’s what our coach believed in and we never played a zone.
My first basketball gig after graduation was as the freshman boys’ basketball coach at a medium-sized high school. The first couple of days went okay — we worked on dribbling, shooting, and passing. But then I was confronted with the task of installing a zone offense. And even more daunting, I was expected to set up a 2-3 zone. I had no idea how to start, since I didn’t have any playing experience with a zone. So much for “knowing the game.”
Also, as the freshman coach, I was responsible for teaching 15 young men, and they weren’t all guards. More than half of them were forwards or centers! And guess what? I had no idea how to teach specific skills for these positions, because I hadn’t played them. What a scary revelation! There was a great deal that I didn’t know.
Every day, and I mean every day, I ran to find the head coach at lunch or during my prep period and peppered him with questions. “How to you teach this? How do you teach that? What are good drills for this skill?” The head coach must have wondered, “Why the heck did I hire this guy?”
Later on in my career, however, I came to a realization. While I may have been rough around the edges, I did have one thing going for me that first year: I knew I had a lot to learn.
Time went by, and after coaching for 24 years, I became an athletic administrator. Now, I was responsible for hiring and mentoring coaches. Before long, I encountered a young, inexperienced coach — very much like I had been. However, instead of seeking out a more seasoned coach and trying to learn all he could, this coach remained convinced that he knew it all. He was completely closed to suggestions and ideas for improvement. It was a frustrating situation for all involved.
Over the years, I have become convinced that the hardest part of being a young coach is realizing what you don’t know. You must understand that, regardless of your playing background, there is still a great deal to learn.
Stay in learning mode. Continually be open and receptive to advice and ideas from experienced coaches and your athletic administrator.
Study all aspects. Be a sponge and soak up as much as you can. Don’t forget that there is more to learn than technical skills. Seek out information and ideas in areas such as communication, motivation, organization, and anything else connected to coaching.
Assess yourself. Honestly analyze what aspects of your coaching need improvement. This isn’t easy, but it is essential for your continued growth and development.
Use multiple approaches. Use every vehicle possible in your effort to learn and improve. Possibilities include attending clinics, reading books, watching instructional videos, taking courses, and picking the brains of successful coaches.
Never stop learning. Remember that once you think you have all the answers, learning, growth, and development end. And once you reach this point, you stagnate.
I hope these suggestions will help you become a student of the game and lead you to the realization that there is always more to learn. In my twenty-fourth year of coaching, there were still things for me to learn. As one principal I worked for often said, learning is not a one-time destination, it is a life-long journey. Understanding this may be the hardest part of being a young coach, but once you develop a growth mindset, you are well on your way to success.