As I have mentioned a couple of times in previous entries of Building A Small School Program, the mutli-sport athlete is crucial in many schools and requires cooperation between coaches and players to maximize the experience for all involved. In these situations, there will always be differing opinions on the amount of time needed for skill development and overall athletic development. These differing opinions have pitted coaches against coaches, players against players, and players/parents against coaches. It can be a nightmare or it can be a great opportunity for an athlete at a small school and most of that, in my opinion, is determined by the coaches…we set the standard. In part 4 of Building A Small School Program, I will address coaching the multi-sport athlete.
As a coach, it’s never hard for players to figure out our priorities. If your program counts on mutli-sport players, they can quickly determine if you care about them or if you care about what they can do for you. At White Oak, about 50% of our basketball players also played football, and most of them played a spring sport as well. To eventually play varsity basketball at White Oak, I believed players had to fit into 1 of 2 categories, you either had to love basketball or love to compete. Either way would work, and obviously in our best years many were both, but you had to understand…you win with lovers, not likers! In many cases, our multi-sport athletes were those kids that loved to compete. Basketball may or may not have been their favorite sport, but they loved to compete and they loved to win. For this kid, he was going to find out a lot more about how I truly felt about him during the fall and spring then he would in the winter.
Because of our situation, our multi-sport players had to understand how important the months of May, June, and July were to our success. From a coach’s perspective, I had to understand the demands that were placed on our multi-sport athletes and respect the fact that their time was spread thin.
For us to be successful, our multi-sport players had understand time management. They had to be willing to WORK at multiple sports, not just participate. So, they may stay after school to lift and play 7 on 7 during May then come for the last hour of open gym. During summer 7 on 7 they may need to work 30 minutes in the gym then jump in the car to go play 7 on 7 or a baseball game. Throw in strength and conditioning workouts, summer leagues, camps, and tournaments, and our multi-sport athletes had quite a few demands on their time. Fortunately, at White Oak, many of our kids embraced the opportunity to compete in various sports.
On my end, as the head basketball coach, I had to understand the demand on kids’ time. I had to understand they wouldn’t be able to do the same things as my players who only played basketball. This was one of the opportunities for me to show my multi-sport players that I cared about them and that I wasn’t selfish. I had to understand he might be late to open gym, he may not be able to stay the entire time because of 7 on 7, and that he needed to concentrate on football as we get closer to August. So how do you let them know you understand and that you care? You don’t hassle them when they say they have a conflict, you encourage them to do their best at baseball or 7 on 7, and you show up at some of their 7 on 7 games or baseball games. It’s during these times, that they will find out how much you care, and you can’t fake it….they know.
During the fall, I did my best to respect the time that my players are in football. I didn’t talk basketball with them, we talked football. I would send them encouragement during the season via text or in the halls, our off-season basketball players would lead the student section, I would be at their games, and they would see me coaching my butt off for my 7th grade team…I’d be All In. I owed them that. Consequently, when it was basketball season, I’d expect them to be All In and they would be. Furthermore, I expected our football coaches and spring coaches to respect the time that they were in basketball. It was my job to set the example and for them to know that the person was always more important to me than the player.
As a coach, I believe it was my responsibility to set the example for how I would treat players who decided not to play my sport. Every year, just like football and baseball, I would have kids not play basketball in order to put more time into another sport. This was always a tough situation and can be very frustrating as a coach, especially if you believed the player was being influenced by someone with selfish motives or missing an opportunity to be successful. However, I believe this was another opportunity to show the player that I cared more about him than I did about what he could do for me. Almost every year, around graduation time, I would have a senior approach me and say, “Coach, I wish now I had stuck with basketball. However, I appreciate you never treating me differently even though I did not play.” You don’t ever fool kids.
Finally, in order for multi-sport players to succeed, there must be cooperation between the coaches on the staff and each coach must see the big picture. As I’ve stated a couple of times, the real challenge at small schools is to be successful in your own program without cutting the legs from under someone else’s program. So how is this done?
First of all, as coaches, we must respect the sports that are in season. In basketball, we wanted our football teammates to know we supported them. As I said, my offseason players would lead the student section during football and consequently, our football team would be there for us come basketball season. When basketball practice began in November, we would be excited but we didn’t talk up basketball in the halls during football season…we would wait our turn and not try to steal their thunder. Once we started playing games, we would always adjust our schedule in order to not conflict with football and volleyball playoff games. We had supported them all year, it made no sense to me to abandon them during the most important part of their seasons…the playoffs! Next, if we had enough players, we would play our scheduled games during the football playoffs but we didn’t wear the varsity uniforms. We wouldn’t have a varsity until football season was over and we had our complete team. This was a little thing but I think it kept us humble while we waited our turn and I believe it was respectful to the players/coaches who were in season.
In return, I believe that it is important for the sport in season to respect the sports that follow them. One way is to only keep as many sub-varsity players as necessary for practice once the playoffs start and let the remainder go to their next sport. As coaches, with 4 teams in each sport going to the playoffs, I believe we must try to make sure our success does not hinder the sport that follows us to the best of our ability. Simply put, we can’t be selfish.
In summation, as a player, being a multi-sport athlete is one of the main advantages that a small school setting offers…play the sport or support the one’s who do. As a coach, sharing athletes can be one of the most challenging aspects of the small school setting…support your multi-sport athletes and never attempt to benefit yourself at someone else’s expense.
Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!