trusting the process

Dealing With Referees

I feel like many coaches have a very negative viewpoint of referees. Since I started coaching in 2004, the relationship between coaches and referees has deteriorated quite a bit. If you look at the shortage of referees that we currently have, a lot of it can be traced back to the treatment of referees by coaches.

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By no means am I trying to come across as a referee apologist; however, I think that we have a problem that exists in basketball that needs to be addressed. I’ve had games where I felt that referees did a poor job; however, I can look book at some games that I have coached where I didn’t do a very good job either. The point is, we all have off-days and it doesn’t help to have the mistakes magnified and to be publicly embarrassed.

As coaches, we are going to have to work with referees during games and it is much more effective to make this an amicable relationship. Think about human nature when you are talking with a referee. If you scream and berate a referee and you later in the game have a close call, who do you think they will make the call for.

Additionally, I encourage you to have referees help your team out in the pre-season. Invite a referee to come and talk with your team as a way to help players understand what referees are looking for and how to tailor the game in a way to avoid foul calls and violations.

Look To Give Back

As a coach, it is important to ensure that you are doing the job for the right reasons. I will post at a later date about some of the different reasons that people get into coaching. If you are truly in it for the right reasons and want to lead by example (refer back to my post on this), then I encourage you to give back to the community.

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Over the past few seasons, I have made an effort to volunteer at events in the community. Finding different charitable groups who do great work locally is one excellent way to become a valuable member of your school community and the local community outside of the school. We have had some great programs in our area as well as fundraising drives to help out local organizations as well.

An even better way to support your community is to host free basketball clinics for young children in your community. This obviously depends on the facilities at your school and how flexible your district is about allowing you to do this. My district requires charging children to attend and I do not think that is right due to the camp not being available then to all students. Therefore, I have offered my coaching abilities at other facilities and do not do it through my school. In order to give back, I think it is crucial to do so to everyone in the community.

Keep Your Word

Last week I posted about the importance of being honest with your athletes. In my post for today I am going to keep along similar tones and encourage coaches to keep their word. This includes keeping your word to school administrators, athletes, opposing coaches, and your own assistant coaches. Sometimes it may be difficult to stand by something that you have promised; however, to keep your integrity and any semblance of trust that you have earned, you need to always keep your word.

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When it comes to school administrators, they are going to ask your help with things. Examples would be supervising school events, attending school functions, and dealing with administrative issues that might arise. It is  good idea to try to volunteer when possible as it is good for the school and your image. However, if you agree to something, you must follow through on the agreement. On occasions I have found myself frustrated because I agreed to supervise a school event ahead of time and had a lot of other things pop up the day of the event. It would look very poorly upon me if I backed out at the last-minute, especially if it was not for an emergency. Do not agree to something with your administration unless you plan to follow through.

When dealing with your athletes, it is always important to keep your word and this can be both for rewards and punishments. When you want to incentivize something for your team, it can be an excellent idea to offer a reward such as a team dinner in lieu of a conditioning workout. If you promise something, no matter what circumstances might change, you need to follow through on what was promised. On the other hand, if you have a punishment in place for violation of a team rule, you need to follow through on this as well.

A great example of a tough situation for me was when I had a player disrespect the crowd in a game right before Christmas. She was assessed a technical foul and to make matters worse, we lost the game by the two points that the opponent earned on the free throws. My rule that year was that any technical foul earned by an athlete for a behavioral issue would result in a one game suspension. The really tough part was that the technical foul was earned by my top scorer. If I sat her out for the next game, we risked losing the opening game of a tournament. In the end, I valued my integrity and keeping my word over winning a basketball game and sat her out. As a teacher, this was a teachable moment where I wanted to show everyone that actions do have consequences.

With your assistant coaches it is a no-brainer that you must be honest with them and follow through on what you promise them. Even when it comes to opposing coaches, you need to follow through on promises made. I had a year where I got a scout tape from the coach of another school and promised to give them any film they asked for in exchange at any point in the year. Sure enough, we ended up playing this opponent in the first round of the playoffs. The opposing coach called in the favor and asked me for a film of my own team. Even though I knew it would hurt my chances, I felt the importance of keeping my word was far more valuable than winning that ball game. We lost in overtime but I kept my integrity and honor in the process.

 

Honesty Is The Best Policy

I am a true believer in being honest with the athletes on your team. Other coaches at my school think that I take this a bit far and find my commitment to honesty controversial. The reason that they do not like my stance is because I am very realistic going into games. We have had games where we are playing against teams that are far superior to us in every facet of the game. In these types of games some coaches might be tempted to tell their athletes that they can win if they play well and work hard. I have no problem telling my players that their is a very strong chance that we will lose that game.

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Many might say that I am being pessimistic and showing no trust in my team by telling them that their is a strong likelihood that we will lose. I believe that the opposite is true and players will respect my candor and honesty. By being honest with them and their chances going into a game it gets them to buy in to everything I tell them. When I tell them that harder work in defense in practice will give us a shot to beat a top three team in our league, they know that I am not lying to motivate them.

This is not to say that I don’t set goals for games that seem insurmountable. In these difficult games I lay out goals that I believe are attainable and would show an excellent effort from us. These goals can include the following examples:

  1. Holding opponent to a certain number of points.
  2. Limiting turnovers to a certain number.
  3. Meeting a rebounding goal.
  4. Executing an offensive set successfully a certain number of times.

It may be difficult to tell your teams the truth but in the end it will instill a trust in what you are doing. If you want the trust of your athletes and them to believe what you are teaching, you need to be 100% honest with them.

Footwork

One of the first things that you can do to help improve your athletes skills is to emphasize footwork. In my first few seasons at Ontario, I jumped right into basic skills like ball handling, passing, defense, shooting, and rebounding. These are all great skills but without proper footwork, your teams will not have the building blocks necessary to compete at their best. This past offseason, with all of my athletes including those with years of experience, we committed to spending part of each practice learning and improving our footwork.

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The result of my offseason emphasis has shown on the court and we improved greatly over the summer in virtually every statistical category. Most noticeably, we lowered our number of turnovers per game which I see as a result of our new found understanding of footwork.

Some coaches might wonder how I can spend an entire post talking about footwork as it only applies to one or two aspects of the game. I counter with the fact that footwork plays a key role in every basic fundamental as I will outline below:

Ball Handling- When dribbling the ball at full speed in a game, I am sure that most coaches have told their players to jump stop. Teaching players how to jump stop and pivot will help reduce the number of turnovers on a fast break. Additionally, learning how to jab step and use fakes with footwork will help players become better scorers.

Passing- Many player will turn the ball over because they do not step into passes on the outside. Step right to throw right and step left to throw left. When trying to get a pass into the paint, you need to be able to step through with your opposite foot to protect the ball and create a passing angle.

Shooting- I have coached a lot of players who do not set their feet before they shoot. When working on jump shots I like to teach players to keep a back foot down and step in with their lead foot to power into a shot. Also, footwork on lay-ups (a euro-step is an excellent move to teach starting in high school) also plays a role in player skill development.

Defense- Pushing off the back foot when sliding is a basic technique when discussing footwork but I also point out the fact that you want to teach your athletes to keep their toe pointing forward and not out to the side because you want to use big muscles like glutes and hamstrings to power your slide. Sticking your toe out to the side works the adductors which do not have as much power and ability to provide you with a quick slide.

Rebounding-Using your feet to seal someone on  a box-out is a great technique to teach when rebounding on defense. On offense you can teach a jab and spin to help improve your offensive rebounding as well.

As you can see from the above that using attention to detail when going over footwork will help your teams get better and also further develop the skills of your athletes. I incorporate footwork into every practice and see it as a huge benefit to us.

Lead By Example

If you are going to ask your athletes to do something it truly helps to lead by example. I have learned through experience that if your athletes see you as the hardest working member of the team, it makes it hard for them to question what you are doing or complain. This has been a great area of growth for me over the past couple of years, especially when it comes to strength and conditioning. I first want to preface that although it helps if you have been around the game of basketball, it is not crucial that every coach have played the game of basketball growing up.

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My first couple of seasons at Ontario, I was horribly out of shape and it was difficult to get my athletes to completely commit to our strength and conditioning program. A couple of years ago I committed to fitness for myself and lost over 150 pounds and am now in the greatest shape of my life (shockingly, diet and exercise actually works). Now when we have conditioning before or during practice, I will get out there and do the workouts with my athletes and I no longer get any complaints and notice a guilty look from students who sit out a conditioning workout that I am doing with the team. This is just one example of a way that I have been able to lead by example.

Another great way to lead by example is make sure that you are at the gym before any of your athletes and you are the last one to leave. I make an effort to be in the gym reviewing game film when my athletes arrive and stay in the gym after practice to meet with my assistant coaches. Athletes notice these things and will respect you more if they see that you are committed to working hard and devoting time to the program. Being knowledgeable about your offense and defense will help them respect your knowledge of the game as well. Whenever a question gets brought up about something we are doing on offense or defense, I make an effort to give a solution or answer that has depth and shows that I am in complete understanding of what we are doing, how we need to do it, and what the expected outcome is.

Overall, it’s a great idea to lead by example because you are a role model to these athletes and it will help you be more successful as a coach. I am always open to suggestions so if you have any ideas, suggestions, or questions, please feel free to comment on this post or send me an e-mail.

Who You Surround Yourself With Matters

I used to have a business partner who was a good friend of mine for a number of years. In our business we were extremely successful and I always strived to be as attentive to all of my clients as possible. My partner was brilliant but unfortunately he had a knack for not returning client phone calls and e-mails. Even though I would go above and beyond when dealing with my clients, the lack of customer service that my partner showed toward clients tarnished my reputation as well.

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With coaching, you need to select athletes for your team that will best represent your school. Also, you need to have assistant coaches that share your philosophy of professionalism as well. Nothing can sink a program faster than having an assistant coach who creates a negative image of your program.

A couple of seasons ago I had an assistant coach with my program who had a pretty solid knowledge of the game and he had experience as a head varsity coach. He brought a lot to the table as an assistant coach and his knowledge of the game proved helpful during games. However, this same assistant coach created drama off-the-court by stirring up issues with athletes and he created a very negative image of the program with our administration based on his lack of professionalism. Even though I did my best to be a professional and positive role model, my assistant coach whom I chose to work with our program brought a slightly negative image to what we were doing. In spite of his great knowledge, we had to part ways a couple of years ago and even though I lost someone with a great knowledge of the game, we have a staff and athletes with great values and are looked upon in a positive light by our administration.

With anything in life, you need to surround yourself with people who are positive and work hard. That same business partner that I spoke of in the opening paragraph used to always speak down to me, be disrespectful of my time, and not treat me with the respect that I deserved. In spite of our past friendship and his great education, parting ways with him was the greatest business and life decision that I have ever made. I know have more self-confidence than ever before, am more relaxed, and have achieved more business success than I had ever had with our partnership.

Your athletes on the team will also reflect upon you as a coach. When picking teams, difficult decisions will need to be made sometimes when you have a student who is talented but may reflect poorly upon your school and program. Even if you are winning ball games having a negative image can potentially cost you a job. I am all about teaching and second chances but tread very carefully when working with students who have attitude issues and don’t mesh well with their teammates (I have lived through this mistake on more than one occasion).

This past season I had some of the nicest young ladies on my team. They worked hard in the classroom, had positive attitudes, and  were very supportive of each other on and off the court. My coaching staff was extremely loyal and did an excellent job of helping to build our program. Even though we were not as talented as years past and we finished slightly under .500, it was one of the most relaxing and fun seasons that I have coached in a long time.