Posted tagged ‘basketball coaching’

Coaching With People of Integrity

November 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 11, 2017

                               

Yesterday I began a new adventure! It was the first day of high school basketball tryouts. I’ve been a part of high school girl basketball team staffs for eleven years. Yesterday was my first day as a member of a high school boys basketball staff.

It isn’t my first experience coaching boys, mind you! I’ve coaching boy’s basketball at Timberview Middle school in Colorado Springs for 17 years, and am in the midst of coaching The Classical Academy 8th Grade boys team for the second year. (Yes, I will coach three teams this year for those who are wondering about my sanity!)

What makes this season exciting for me is that I’m coaching with five other men who I hold in high regard. They are all men of integrity. One of them, Leo Swiontek, was my son’s JV basketball coach back in 1999-2000.

I knew this was going to be an interesting adventure when we had a coach’s meeting one evening at the home of the head coach back in October. We talked about emphasizing specific aspects of character during the season…subjects such as reliableness and selflessness. The head coach made the statement that when he meets up with a former player twenty years from now at a Starbucks, and the player is now in his mid-thirties, he wants to be able to see that his former player is a person with great character, a man of integrity.

Integrity is a word we throw around a lot these days. With the numerous cases of sexual abuse that have hit the news in recent weeks it would be nice to see a man in the headlines for his integrity instead of his indiscretions. Integrity, however, is not something that a person blows his horn in announcing.

The five men I’ll be coaching with range in age from 26 to…me! I’m the old fart at 63! Three are teachers at the school, two work in other professions, and I am kinda’ retired. My wife keeps saying those words: “I thought you were suppose to be retired!”

The six of us coach at the largest charter school in the state, a school known for its academics, high expectations, and 90% of its graduates going on to college. State championships have been numerous in track and cross country, and last year in soccer. Basketball, however, has been mediocre in its wins and losses record. One reason for that is that the school does not accept any new students for high school. Families sign up their child to be a student at birth. No one transfers in, but some transfer out!

I raise that issue as a point about integrity. I see too many high school coaches hanging out at youth athletic contests hoping to influence someone who can dunk a basketball to come to their high school. Yes, it’s against the rules, but coaches who have no integrity seem to get around that…or not be concerned by that.

At this school who we have on the 8th Grade team is who we will have on the 9th Grade team, and who we will have on the JV team the next year after that. There’s something good about that. It allows us as coaches to have a greater impact on the lives of our players. Two years ago one of the athletes at the high school died. I watched the varsity boys coach walk alongside his team during that. His availability to them in the valley of the shadow of death impressed me and made me want to be on his staff.

Two years ago when I was coaching the JV girls team at the same school I had the opportunity to coach with a young woman who was a person of integrity. Even though she was less than half my age Kasey Lucero always was consistent in how she treated and related to her players. This year my 7th Grade coach is one of her former players, and I see the handprint of Kasey’s influence upon her life. That’s a win in my book!

This morning we run about thirty young men through the second day of tryouts. Some are starting to sport facial hair. Some should give up trying in regards to that. Some have reached the limit to their height, and others are praying for a few more inches. There are some deep voices amongst them and still a few others that resemble chirping birds. I hope all of them end up making the world a better place to live! That would be a lot of wins!

What Character Qualities Will I Teach My Players?

October 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              October 11, 2017

                    

Last night I met with four other men who I will be coaching alongside this coming high school basketball season. During the course of the evening we talked about offenses and defenses, practice plans, try-outs, and schedule, but we spent the most time talking about what the foundational characteristics were that we looked to teach our players. More than just teach, to model for our players!

Twenty years from now when I meet a former player for a cup of coffee what is that I hope to see his life rooted in? What will I be overjoyed about as I talk to someone who has turned 35?

There are a lot of coaches who have been entrusted with opportunities to speak into the lives of their young athletes…who are simply scoundrels! Being a high school basketball official for years I’ve seen how their teams have often taken on their personalities…bad attitudes, sour disposition, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums.

So the men I’ll be working with are committed to emphasizing the development of character in our young players. Last night we talked about four foundations:

            Integrity

            Selfless

            Reliable

            Gracious

All four go against the flow of our culture. “Integrity” seldom makes the headlines. Scandals and conspiracies draw larger audiences.

“Selfless” gets applauded, and yet we live in a time of entitlement. During a recent sports season I had a couple of players who had missed significant practice time because of injuries. When it came to preparing for the last game of the season both of them wanted to be the running backs again. In practice I positioned one of the players at Offensive Tackle. He didn’t like it. After a few plays he asked to be subbed out because he needed to do some more stretching. The other boy kept, who had missed the previous three games, kept asking me “When am I going to run the ball?” Both of them had exhibited actions and attitudes that communicated that they did not understand concept of team. The result was they caused more trouble than they were worth. As I begin this new basketball season the character quality of “selfless” will be the first foundation I emphasize.

“Reliable” is a word that we used to take for granted. An employee was expected to be at work…and working! My son, who is a chef, often talks about his frustrations with workers who just didn’t show up for work. The effect of such an absence puts more pressure and work on those who are there. There’s a lot of people who float in and out of our lives who can not be relied upon. “Dr. Phil” makes a living out of telling life stories of people who aren’t reliable, and the ripple effect of such.

“Gracious” goes to one of my favorite words…grace! I’ve encountered a lot of players who stepped out of line when grace was being handed out. They criticize and demean their teammates. Wouldn’t it be awesome to play on a team where there is a recognition of everyone trying their hardest, committed to a team effort, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs the grace of their teammates? Grace, on an athletic team, means picking someone up off the ground instead of making them want to sink into the ground.

So this basketball season we’ll seek to lead our teams to victories, but we will also seek to lead them on a path towards being young men of character.

I’ve been out of high school for…Good Lord!…45 years now, but I still remember the people I went to school with who were jerks. Perhaps they’ve changed since 1972, but since I now live five states away I don’t know. My impression was etched in my memory a long time ago. I will strive to take my players on a journey this season that will help lead them towards young men of exceptional character.

And then when we sit at table in Starbucks in 2037 sipping some medium roast together I’ll attempt to hold back tears of gratitude over who this young man has become!

Coaching a School Sports Team In a Club-Infatuated Culture

April 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 5, 2017

            

I love coaching basketball, especially middle-school basketball, but coaching a school team, no matter whether it is a middle school or a high school team, has changed in the past few years. Club teams have skewed the picture and the experience!

It started a few years ago when a mom was irate about the fact that her son did not make the school interscholastic team. She shouted, “He’s playing on the Gold Crown team!” (Gold Crown is the state-wide league for club teams in Colorado.) She thought that there was something wrong with the fact that he was a player on that club team, but didn’t make the school roster.

It brings in the first problem with club sports teams: the financial resources of some versus the lack of resources of others. Money opens doors…and the lack of money keeps doors closed. I remember growing up in a family where “discretionary funds” was a foreign term. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered that “eating out” meant more than getting a few lawn chairs set up around the grill in the backyard.

I learned to play baseball with the neighborhood kids in the side yard of the Bookman’s house in Williamstown, West Virginia. I learned to play basketball at the outdoor basketball courts at the community park. My friends and I played on teams in the Williamstown summer baseball league and Saturday morning basketball program at the high school in the winter time. The cost was minimal because the town underwrote most of the costs.

That was a different time, I guess! Parents are now willing to shell out thousands of dollars for their son or daughter to play club hockey, club volleyball, club baseball, club soccer, club basketball, club lacrosse, Pop Warner football, or club softball.

But others can’t! Whereas many club teams do fundraising projects, like car washes or garage sales, it does not make their teams free. Thus, club sports teams in many ways are guilty of creating this two-tiered system of athletes- the haves and the have nots!

That ties into the next ripple effect. Many parents believe that if they are paying all that money for their child to be on the team then they have expectations that need to be met. The first expectation is that he/she will play. Playing time, in their eyes, is guaranteed. The second expectation is that their child will progress to the next level. In other words, many parents believe the money they shell out for their child’s club team is like a down payment for a future college scholarship. Their child’s love, or lack of love, for the game is of minimal concern. Never mind the fact that there is a good chance their child will be injured at some point along the line that will result in college no longer being an option; or the even better chance that he/she will become totally burned out and no longer interested in playing.

That brings in a problem that I as a school sports team coach now deal with. If a club team is mostly comprised of athletes who want to be offered college scholarships then it is important that they stand out on the court or on the field. They need to be noticed! To be noticed often gets translated into meaning a player has to stand out from his/her teammates. It becomes about him! It becomes about her! Connecticut women’s basketball coach Gino Auriemma sees this happening and he shakes his head. He says that when he goes to a club tournament he watches to see how a player relates to her teammates, and he watches to see what her demeanor is when she is on the bench. Is a player is so self-absorbed with her personal stats, and disengaged from her teammates she won’t someday be wearing a Connecticut uniform.

I find this “all about me” attitude filtering down into the middle school ranks. When I watched that interview with Auriemma it made me think about how I will build future teams that I coach, because some of the players I’ve coached, who also play club basketball and are very good players, don’t mesh very well into a team concept that believes it takes a team to experience success. If you don’t believe me just take notice next school year of all the high school players who transfer from one school to another! Many of them are willing to sit out half of a sports season because they think should be playing more.

And don’t get me started on the parents!

Getting Comfortable With Disappointment

April 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 4, 2017

                                

Recently I interviewed for a head coaching position at a high school in our area. They were looking to hire someone for the Girl’s Varsity Basketball team. In talking to the athletic director of the school I’ve coached at for the past four years, three of which were as the Girl’s JV coach, he thought I was a perfect fit for the position. In fact, the school’s chief administrator had called him to talk about me.

The interview was okay, but it felt a bit impersonal, kind of like the two people interviewing me were just going through the process.  A week later I received an email thanking me for interviewing, but they were not moving me on in the process. I was disappointed, mainly because it DID look like a situation that I would have been a good fit for.

It was the fourth varsity coaching position I’ve interviewed for in the past few years, and I’m 0 for 4! One of the four I probably wasn’t ready for…and they are on their third coach since that took place four years ago, but the other three I thought I would have fit well into.

I can look at that recent disappointment and pout like a two year old, or go into a personal cocoon for a while…or I can get comfortable with it!

I remember when I was pastoring in Michigan, and pastoring at a church that was wonderful to my family and me, that a search committee showed up in church one Sunday. About a month later Carol and I went and met with the committee in the suburban Detroit community they were located. The interview went well, and one of the committee members even said, probably to the horror of the chairperson, “Why do we even have to interview the other person? This is our guy right here!” We left there thinking that we’d be relocating in a couple of months…and then a couple of weeks later we got the call that they had chosen the other candidate. Once again we were disappointed, but I chose to look at the upside…that we were still a part of a great church family where I ended up pastoring for 15 years.

Disappointment is a part of the life journey for each one of us, but sometimes disappointment clouds over the blessings of where we are in the present. In terms of my coaching I’m still blessed to coach three different middle school teams- one football and two basketball. One of those school basketball teams I’ve now coached for 16 years!

Disappointment can hit us like a prom date rejection, or we can look around at where our path may be redirected. Perhaps our wants are not what God needs! I can look at my latest coaching position rejection and believe that they made a mistake, but I’ve been able to release it and move on. And sometimes…sometimes…the flaws of the position aren’t able to be seen by our starry eyes until we get a distance away from it. That happened in regards to the Michigan church. Some things happened in the next few years in that congregation that were unsettling. In fact, I felt kind of sorry for the person they DID call to come there and be their pastor.

What trumpets in my soul is the fact that I follow a God who desires to bless my life, not shower me with hailstorms of disappointment. My ways are not his ways, and, like an open bag of Hershey’s chocolate bars, my wants are not what he knows I need!

Memo to Coaches…Especially Coaches of Young People

November 6, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             November 6, 2016

               

Dear Coaches,

Thank you for giving of your time, energies, and experience in the coaching of young athletes. I appreciate that! You are an invaluable resource for the teaching of the skills of each sport, the fundamentals, and the understanding of how a team functions.

Now I’ve got to say something on the other side of matters.

Quit it! Stop being jerks on the sidelines! Stop blaming the officials for the fact that some of your players can’t properly execute a pivot yet! Quit it! Knock it off!

As a basketball official for fifteen years now, blowing the whistle for everything from clueless kindergarteners all the way up to college basketball, I’ve seen my share of great coaches and coaches that take on other personalities when the game starts. It’s taught me a few things that I’d like to pass on to you.

Players follow the lead of their coach! If the coach questions every referee decision that goes against him his players follow suit. I recently had a middle school game where one coach was calm and controlled. His players, although not very skilled, were just as controlled as their coach. On the other bench was a man who was combative, yelled constantly, and demeaning. Some of his players followed the lead of their coach. They were out of control, overly aggressive, debated each call against them, and even less skilled than their opponents. The example of the coach got channeled through his players and through some of his parents. Two of his players fouled out, and I think a third player had four fouls. Meanwhile, the calmness of the first coach got transmitted through everyone connected to his team. The first coach questioned one of my whistles late in the game. He was calm and I walked over to him. “I thought he traveled before he got fouled.” I responded with a smile on my face. “Coach, you’re probably right.” He smiled at me. Meanwhile the other coach…”the boy who cried “Wolf!”…used up all of our hearing and we became deaf to his constant complaints.

Coaches, think about how you are acting!

Coaches, who have the opportunity to teach your players about more than a game. You have the incredible privilege of being able to teach them about life! If your view of life gets communicated through a sour disposition, your players, who look up to you, will begin to look at life through that kind of lens. Some of the best coaches are tough on players in preparing them for games, and also educators of the important lessons of life. The greatest coaches understand that the game revolves around life, not life around the game. Some of the worst coaches- that is, coaches who have screwed up priorities- think the game is everything!

As an official, who has also coached basketball for over twenty years, I see this “win at all costs mindset” being displayed in players to the point that they are not above injuring a player on the other team if it improves their chances of winning. The question is where did they learn that from? Who has the responsibility, and opportunity, to teach them sportsmanship and fair play? Who has the privilege of shaping their understanding of how the game is played?

The coach!

So, coaches, ask yourself a few questions. What are you going to teach your players about the game? What fundamental skills are you going to emphasize to them over and over again through different drills? What are you going to teach them about teamwork and team roles? What are you going to teach them about sportsmanship and having a good attitude? And, most importantly, what are you going to teach them about life?