By Ed Fry
Having spent three years as an assistant basketball coach at the varsity level, I was so eager to get my first head coaching job that I took the first one that came along. Of course, it was also a job no one else wanted. The school hadn't had a winning season in its 25-year existence, but I came in armed with my own self-recognized brilliance and my college playbook! After three unimpressive seasons, I was totally frustrated.
At the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Basketball Tournament, I ran into an old friend and respected colleague. He asked me how things were going. I told him we couldn’t win because of my incompetent players, their idiot parents and my unsupportive administrators. My friend listened patiently until I was finished. He then began asking me some tough questions that I wasn’t prepared to answer.
On the way home from the tournament, I began to rethink my coaching philosophy and the way I dealt with players, parents and administrators. I compiled the following list of questions that every coach should ask himself from time to time in order to stay focused on what is important:
- How bad do you really want to coach?
Stu Aberdeen, former head basketball coach of Marshall University, gave me this advice, “If you can live without it, don't get into it.” What he meant was that coaching is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week and 365-days-a-year job. A good coach will make countless sacrifices of time, money and effort in order to do the job the way it has to be done. Can your family handle these demands? How will they handle picking up the newspaper and reading what a loser their loved one is when things aren't going well? Will they understand why he or she doesn't get credit when things go right? Can you handle it?
- Are you willing to accept full responsibility for the success or failure of your program?
It's easy to say you can't win because you don't have talented players, but what are you doing to develop the players you do have? You may feel there's no support for your program, but what are you doing to promote your program? No one said this would be easy. You are the coach. It is your program!
- How do you define success?
The coach must sell the players on the idea that it is the quality of their performance that is most important. Play the games and then correct the mistakes. After a while, there won’t be as much to correct. Use the season to get ready for postseason play. People will always remember what you did last. Many times, the best coaching jobs are done by coaches who were able to win seven or eight games with a team that, talent-wise, should have won only three or four.
- Are you a survivor?
One of the keys to being successful in the coaching profession is surviving long enough to establish your program. To do this, you must understand parents and administrators. Things will go much easier for the coach who acknowledges the following two rules:
Parent Rule: “Parents don't care if you win or lose, just how much their kid plays.”
Administrator Rule: “When you fight the gorilla, you can't quit when you want to; you quit when the gorilla wants to.”
5. Are you well organized?
Does your program reflect the utmost attention to detail in your practice plan, scouting reports, bench decorum, etc.? Do you have an organizational blueprint dividing tasks into off-season, preseason, in-season, and postseason segments with assigned dates of completion? What are your program goals, season goals and game goals? Is there a daily “to-do” list? Look into a mirror at the end of each day and ask yourself, “What did I do for my program today?”
- Does your philosophy of how to play the game stand up to the best teams on your schedule?
Don't create an illusion for your team of being satisfied with their performance against inferior competition. What happens when a good team takes away your first and second options? Can your team execute your offense and defense under pressure?
- Is your program grounded in the fundamentals of the game?
Morgan Wooten, former head basketball coach of DeMatha High School, once called fundamentals “the wheels of basketball.” He explained that you could be driving the most expensive car on the road but if you are running on four flat tires you are not going to get very far. Do you teach the fundamentals of your sport on a daily basis? The best offensive and defensive schemes ever devised are useless without proper execution of the fundamentals.
- What kind of a motivator are you?
The key to motivating the people involved in your program lies in your day-to-day interaction with them. Show them you have a genuine concern for what's going on in their lives and that you care about their future. If you do this, they will respond to you in a positive way.
- Do you have discipline in your program?
Discipline not as punishment, but as in order and self-control. A lot of written rules – and consequences for violating them – tend to tie your hands when dealing with individual differences in kids. Have only a few rules that you will not compromise, and never take a step backwards when dealing with a player. No one player is worth your entire program. With discipline, you have a great chance of succeeding. Without it, nothing else matters.
- What are you doing to become a better coach?
Summer camps are a great place to learn and make contacts that can advance your career. Do you attend coaching clinics? As a young coach, I'd have money for either the clinic fee or a room, but not both. I would pack a cooler full of soda and peanut butter sandwiches and tell the other coaches I was staying at a hotel across town. I was really sleeping in my car. It was worth every minute!
Are you reading enough and watching DVDs? Study the works of the great coaches of your sport, but don't limit yourself. You can learn a great deal from outstanding coaches in other sports, as well as successful military and business leaders.
Coaching is the noblest profession, but it is not for everybody. If you are in it for fame and fortune, you should begin seeking other employment. But if you are the type of person who desires to change the world one child at a time, we need you and the profession needs you. There is nothing more rewarding than getting a call from a former player on Father’s Day or running into someone who is so excited to introduce you to his wife and kids as “my coach.” I encourage you to get on the bus, climb into the first seat on the right – the one reserved for “coach,” – and enjoy the ride of your life.
About the Author: Edmond H. Fry is an instructor in the Athletic Leadership Department at Clemson University. He has 30 years experience teaching and coaching at the middle school, high school, and college levels. Fry received his B.A. and M.S. in Health and Physical Education from Marshall University and is completing his Ed.D. in Adult Education and Higher Learning from Walden University.