Building A Small School Program – Part 3

If you want your program to be exceptional, then everyone involved must be willing to be the exception….they must be willing to do what others won’t do.  In some schools, the goal may be to make basketball relevant in comparison to football and baseball. In other schools, it may be to raise the level of expectation within your district, region, or classification.  Whatever your situation, I believe the role of the head coach is to set the standard for how hard you are willing to compete along with establishing the ethics by which your program will compete.  The goal should be to build your program without cutting the legs out from under other programs.  In the small school setting, where sharing athletes is instrumental to everyone’s success, this can be a major challenge amongst people who are naturally competitive.   

The following are concepts and ideas that I used at White Oak in order to attempt to set our program apart from other programs. First of all, for 22 of my 25 years, I ran the Little Dribbler program for our 3rd-6th grade.  It was during this phase of our program that we began to introduce our “I Believe” philosophy and to ingrain the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, and shooting into our players. Because of the dedication of our parents, players, and coaches, this program set the foundation for skill development within our program especially in regards to shooting technique.  When our players entered the 7th grade, I believe they were as prepared as any from a fundamental standpoint.  Of course, over the years, many of the kids who had come through Little Dribblers would eventually decide to pursue other things, but I would always get a bit of a laugh when I would walk through our high school PE classes and see kids shooting the ball with solid technique.  I could always tell who had been a Little Dribbler!  I’ll go into the details of our Little Dribbler program in a later entry.

Another crucial component of our program was our summer basketball camp.  We wanted our camp to be fun but we also saw it as another opportunity to get a jump on our competition.  First of all, we only allowed kids from WOISD to attend.  We weren’t trying to get rich, we wanted to keep our player to coach ratio around 6 to 1, and we saw it as a part of our program so we only wanted to coach our kids.  Secondly, we tried to make it a cut above…multi-colored t-shirt with front/back logo instead of 1 color shirt, camp basketballs, medals for competition winners, post camp awards, certificate of completion, parent day on the last day of camp, camp picture and award winners in the local paper. We wanted our camp to be the best in the area and do so at an affordable cost.  

Like any other part of our program, basketball camp had its role in the grand scheme of things.  Our morning session was 5th/6th grade from 8:00-11:00 with 2 hours of fundamentals and an hour of competition.  Our afternoon session was 7th/8th grade from 1:00-4:00 with an emphasis on developing a 4 dimensional offensive player (dribble drive, mid range, post up, 3 pt. shot) for 2 hours per day and an hour of competition.  During most years, I worked with our 9th graders separately during a different week of summer in order to introduce them to our transition offense and other offenses we used in our high school program.  Since many of our freshmen basketball players also played football, this camp helped to speed up the teaching process once basketball season arrived. Basketball camp was never glorified baby sitting to supplement our income, it was an integral part of our program.

I believe one of our most productive parts of our program was our open gym sessions.  We would normally start open gym after the district track meet in the spring since most of our players were in a spring sport.  The gym would be open after school for 2 hours, 4 days per week until the end of school. There were several things that I believe separated our open gym sessions from others.

First of all, the first 30 minutes was for skill development work….no games were played until this time expired. Each player had an individual workout that we used during off-season so most used this as a guide during this 30 minutes.  Now, before you jump to conclusions, I’m not coaching them during this time and attendance was not required.  However, our players knew what was expected and I was always in the gym observing.  Though I rarely said a word, I was always present and this did make a difference in the level of intensity.

Secondly, we always had a large number of our Alumni at open gym, especially once the college kids got home.  This did a couple of things.  One, they helped the younger kids with their skill development and secondly, it made our games very competitive.  I also opened the gym 4 days per week in June and 3 days per week in July.  I will cover the in/outs of our summer program in a later entry.

Finally, at the end of June, I would send a letter to all our players who participated in our summer league. Though there are several more advanced methods of communicating with kids these days, I still preferred to send a letter for a couple of reasons.  For one, a letter was something you can hold in your hand, hang on the wall, or put in scrap book.  It’s something you could read over and over again. Second, I believe the written word can be very powerful and inspiring.  None of our players ever got the same letter, anyone can send a stock letter to everyone…that’s not exceptional.  Depending on whether or not a player was projected as a JV player, varsity complimentary role player, varsity primary role player, or senior, the letter would have different components directed to that specific individual.  This could be a time consuming process but I believed it was worth it and I believe our players, especially as a senior, looked forward to receiving this letter each summer.

In summary, these are a few areas of our program that I believe made a difference for us and helped to make us competitive on a yearly basis.  Like most things, it’s not what you do but how you do it that makes the difference. As the head coach, part of my job was to set the example for how hard we would work to be successful.  Never expect anyone associated with your program to work harder than you are willing to work.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

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