A Season On The Sideline
Oops, I did it again. I agreed to coach one of my kids’ sports. I had sworn off coaching several years ago after two seasons with my older daughters, but I couldn’t resist my little one’s request. So, I agreed. But … this time, I had an entirely new outlook on it. Three-plus years after co-founding ILTWYP, I was going to approach this SOO dramatically differently. The first two teams I coached were all about the W. Yes, winning was the only goal (and spending time with my kids). Truly. This is embarrassing to say now, but winning was my numero uno, my jam, my reason for coaching. Yes, I wanted players to improve … duh, how else would we win?! Flash forward to today, and I have a completely different mindset and approach. So, I decided to document my experience, the lessons I learned, what worked, what didn’t, and most importantly, how my new growth mindset changed the experience. The first thing I did … panicked and reached out for help from all of my coaching friends. Slightly embarrassing, yes, but I emailed coaches of past, present, and those I admire, many of whom are very successful and seasoned. This turned out to be a great exercise and very helpful, particularly to set my team’s tone and culture. I would periodically re-read these great words of wisdom throughout the season.
JOURNAL ENTRY #1 – Other Coaches’ Advice
- I always ask each player to write down why they are playing for the season and what their goal for themselves, and what the goal for the team should be. This gives me great insight. Then I have a short meeting with the team to understand our individual goals and our team objective. This also helps direct how I will coach the team.
- Skills are developed with practice in anything you find a passion in; cheering others while pursuing their passion makes you part of something bigger than yourself. Not everyone is great all the time, but there is greatness in everyone. Together as teammates and friends, they won’t remember a lot of scores. However, from the beginning, to look each other in the eyes and know what we are working towards makes us a team.
- Three tips I tend to coach by are:
1. Be firm but fair. Don’t be too strict or too soft. Find a balance.
2. Stick to 3 simple keys for a successful game. Don’t over-talk a pregame or halftime speech.
3. Start with fundamentals in practice and finish with a mini scrimmage in the final 5-10 minutes so they can implement what you taught.
- For me, coaching kids early about the difference between winning and loving the game…why we play, why we watch with our family, our friends, and others. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s why we honor the courage of those who give 100%, the inspiration of sportsmanship, and the glory in the win.
- This is sport and sports matters. Show them your passion. Take it seriously, professionally at all times.
● It is fair to expect the most out of your players every single moment they are together as a team.
● You will have to accept what you get; few players are likely to be great athletes or even fully committed.
● Player development should take priority over winning games.
● Player development means ALL players on the team.
● The one exception is your own kid – ignore her at all times. Never coach your own kid in front of the other kids.
● The solution is to have an assistant coach do the explicit coaching of your own child; in return, you can do the explicit coaching of his or her daughter.
- You are there to serve the community in a volunteer capacity. As a coach, your objective is to build a practice in which the challenges are play-based, the players stay in motion at all times, and the ball does the teaching. Not easy, but when it works, it really works. Any time kids are standing in line, and you find yourself talking/shouting, that is the definition of a bad practice.
- Always keep in mind that you are coaching an individual to find their potential in a team environment
- helping athletes realize their individual responsibility as it relates to team chemistry and team success.
- Every athlete has a different style of learning and assessing personal worth. Finding and cultivating that individualism should be a high priority when motivating your players.
- Not one style fits all athletes. Develop a system for reward and/or punishment that is as consistent as possible.
- Athletes will not always appreciate your decisions but will respect fairness in the treatment of them.
- Get to know your players. Developing trust and respect starts with a relationship.
- Remember you are coaching athletes and future adults; sometimes, your role will include much more than sport.
Journal Entry #2 – Team Culture
Since this season was going to be different, I wanted to have intention. I decided not to let things happen, but to create the team culture with a purpose. So the first thing I did was call a parent meeting and schedule a mini-practice. I also passed out journals for every girl and asked them to keep track of their practices at home and reflect on this journey (a little over-the-top, and we never really brought them out again or did much with them).
The parent meeting allowed me to set up my expectations for the season. I also followed up with an email of our team/parent goals. Here’s a section of that email.
We are partners in this. I will expect every parent to be a role model for our girls. This means only positive behavior towards the refs, coaches, players, and league officials. This will be a classy team (win or lose) and I can’t say this any stronger. I also want to express my goals for this season. Please read them and make sure yours match up and if they don’t, reach out to me so we can discuss.
They are in order of importance!
1-The most important goal I have is for every single girl to want to sign up for basketball again, AKA HAVE FUN!
2-I want to see progress and growth in every player. It doesn’t matter if you are experienced or have never played.
3-I like winning and it’s more fun to win. So, we will also have winning as a goal. But not the most important one.
If your child hasn’t played basketball or is relatively new to the sport, it’s imperative that they do some work on their own at home and with your help.
Journal Entry #3 – Struggles On The Sideline
So I underestimated my assistant coach’s desire to be involved. I sorta wrongly assumed he would be my backup and that he would “cover” for me when I couldn’t be there.
No, my assistant was ALL-IN!
And because I didn’t discuss/outline responsibilities or even chat about how we’d both like to handle our new relationship before the season, I found myself in a challenging situation.
(When you ask a former UCLA basketball player, former Pepperdine assistant coach, and current ESPN basketball analyst to be your assistant coach, you should think about what that really means. This is not a man who will quietly slide into a backup role; no, this is an alpha male coach with a lot to say AND a lot to teach.) *But even if your assistant coach doesn’t come with said resume, it’s still imperative to your success that you outline roles/responsibilities to have a smooth season.
I was armed with a positive agenda: to grow the person, the player, and the team. I had a purpose and a plan on how to do it. But none of that mattered much when I walked onto the court.
At the first practice, no one could hear me yelling or explaining my first drill. With his loud booming voice and very large presence, my assistant coach immediately cut through the gym noise and got their attention. Did I mention he knows WAY more about basketball and teaches better too? (He also coaches his son’s club team.) Okay, yes, I may have played college hoops and have coached a few of my kids’ rec-leagues, but let’s be honest here, he was A LOT more qualified for the job. So, at the very first practice, as we both were doing a dance of power and positioning, I could feel my confidence slipping and my entire practice plan starting to go down the drain. This unexpected challenge set me off course. As I stood there, fumbling around, trying to organize a drill with a high-pitched yell that only dogs can hear (not kidding), my ‘assistant’ easily organized the girls and commanded their attention. I was starting to feel deflated. We managed to get through that practice, not without some serious posturing and stepping on each other, but let’s say it didn’t exactly go as planned. Then later that night, my daughter finished me off with, “Why did you let him take over?” – a dagger right in the heart. I was foolishly hoping it wasn’t that obvious.
That night, I did some serious soul searching about the season and my goals and expectations and plans for the team, and I knew that there was truly only one question that needed to be answered…
“What is best for the team and the girls’ development?”
So, I checked my ego at the door and decided the right thing to do was to allow my pretty awesome assistant to be my co-coach and, more times than not, take the lead. The truth is, he’s an exceptional coach; the girls would learn A LOT from him, and so would I. From that point on, I stopped worrying about who was in charge and focused on what the girls were learning and how to help support the process in its entirety.
Journal Entry #4 – The Best Part
We ended up winning the championship in dramatic fashion; as the 4th seed team, we had to bite and scratch and claw our way to the top. But we did it, and we couldn’t have been more proud or pumped for our kids. But there were many lessons and much growth along the way. Here are the 2 that stick out in my mind and that will hopefully help other coaches.
- Coaching your own kid: After a big loss – a nail biter to the end, my daughter was drained. She had left it all on the court. And she sobbed and cried, and I held her there on the gym floor for at least five minutes before I was able to get her to move to the side. During this meltdown, I realized just how much they truly want to please us and how much they seek and need our approval. My typically stoic daughter, who never cries during games of any kind, wanted this so badly because she knew how much I loved the sport and how much I had been putting into this team. Please, please take caution when coaching your own kid. Even when you think you are presenting a laid-back attitude towards your own child, they are absorbing EVERYTHING, and they can see through our good-faith attempts to downplay it. If you want them to be happy and well adjusted in the sport, ease off any undue pressure or too much energy around them or the game itself.
- What really matters: I call it the Lin Sisters’ effect. I had two players who had never played before, they were best friends, and the park accidentally put them down as sisters. Nobody wanted to draft them because they had never played before and showed little athletic skill in the evaluations. And at the time of the draft, the league said they were a package deal because they were sisters. I took them on, and they became one of the brightest spots of the entire season. Their desire to improve and their hard work was inspiring to me, and I think to the other girls as well. To watch them grow and develop each week was truly a gift. The joy I felt in their successes was ten-fold to even my own kid, AND they both signed up for the next season!
After it was all said and done, it was an amazing season! BUT … as I have said before, I have sworn off coaching for eternity. My hats go off to all of you men and women who do this consistently for your job or as volunteers. There are few jobs as difficult or rewarding!