In this day and age, kids have an unbelievable number of options for how to spend their time. With this in mind, one of the most challenging aspects of athletics in general is selling kids on the value of athletics and in particular for each head coach, the challenge of selling their program. One of the most popular methods for doing this today is through the use of color schemes, new uniform styles, and accessories. This buys into the theory of “If you look good, you’ll play good” which is fine if that is what you believe.
Personally, I put more stock into being concerned with how you play than how you look. I believe these 2 different theories are both examples of how coaches attempt to “sell their program” to kids and also show there are many different ways in which to accomplish this goal. The methods of selling the program may evolve and revert back over time but one thing won’t change…kids have to buy what you are selling or your program won’t survive.
In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I want to share my thoughts on selling your program. As I’ve stated in other entries, the objective should be to sell your own program without cutting the legs out from under other programs. Coaches who degrade other programs to benefit themselves are a cancer to the overall athletic program and they obviously care more about themselves than kids.
Similar to our program progression, I wanted to start selling our program from the ground up. One of the best ways to do this was for our varsity players to be involved with our Little Dribbler program during our basketball season. Kids admire NBA players like Steph Curry and LeBron James but they also looked up to our varsity players and best of all, they could actually talk and interact with our players. For a youth player, there is nothing like cheering on your hero on the varsity team on a Friday night then being able to talk about the game with him at Little Dribblers on Saturday.
Many times, our players would come up to Little Dribblers after getting in their weight workouts on Saturday morning to interact with the kids during their workout, officiate their games, or coach their games. The young kids loved interacting with the varsity players and the varsity players got to see the impact they had on young lives so it opened the door for me to explain to them how their actions on and off the court affect others. Nothing sold our program better to the next generation than our current players. This was a great example of why I was responsible for putting a team on the court who represented our community, school, and program in the right way.
Also, for our youth players who also played in the Longview city league, I would try to make at least a game or two during their season so they could see I was interested in them and noticed they were making an investment in basketball. If the head basketball coach takes the time to go to one of their games on a Saturday, then it must be important. I can still the looks on their face when they would see me walk into the gym to watch them. It meant something that Coach Boyett came to watch them play.
For us, the next step would be our summer camp. I was always blessed to have graduates of our program come back to coach at our basketball camp. Many times, they wanted to be coaches themselves, but it also gave the campers a chance to see the finished product and to interact with them.
When Levi Yancy (2 time state champion and 2013 Class 2A Player of the Year) showed up at basketball camp, the smiles on our campers faces would light up the gym…they loved him! Part of this was because they had seen him play basketball for White Oak but the largest part of this was that Levi spent countless hours during the “flex” period of his senior year down at our Elementary school. He just loves kids and has a God given gift for interacting with them. Finally, at White Oak, dunking can make you popular because we don’t have many players who can do it so that was another thing Levi had going for him. “Dunk it, Levi!” was always a popular line at basketball camp!
Also, at the conclusion of camp, I would always send a camp picture to the local paper along with all of our contest winners and a list of our camp awards. Our camp shirts would always have one of our slogans on it as well as our overall program philosophy of “I Believe”. Many years we gave out White Oak basketball camp balls as well.
Once our kids moved into Junior High, it was important for our coaches to know they were expected to sell our program to our kids…even if basketball wasn’t their main sport. If a kid would be better suited for offseason than basketball, then that talk needed to come from me and not our Junior High coaches. As I stated in other entries, we don’t cut kids in Junior High so if a kid wanted to try basketball, he would get that chance. Fortunately, for most of my tenure, I had Junior High coaches who knew their role.
Secondly, I would always make as many Junior High games as I could. I would attend all of our home games and tournament games unless I had a conflict with our High School schedule. I always thought it was important that I be at their games and this included our “B” team games. It was not uncommon at all for a Junior High “B” team player to eventually become a contributor on our varsity. Over the years, I believe we would have almost one per class who just happened to be a late bloomer or eventually worked his way into being a player. Some of my hardest workers were “B” team players in Junior High…don’t slam the barn door shut too soon.
Also, I would always make it a priority to talk to our Junior High teams after their season was over to give them a brief synopsis of how their season went as well as to encourage them to participate in a spring sport. It was important they know I supported them in all of their athletic endeavors and not just basketball.
As our kids moved into our High School program, my basic philosophy was if we were playing then I would be there. This included open gym, summer league games, team camps, and summer tournaments…if it was important enough for them to be there, then it was important enough for me to be there. Now, I know many larger school programs have kids that play AAU most of the summer instead of with their high school team. Obviously, this makes it much more difficult to attend their games but I would definitely have made it a priority to make it to at least 1 of their tournaments. Nothing speaks louder than being there.
For many years, I wrote a weekly column (Coach’s Corner) for our local newspaper which allowed me to highlight the teams in our program, give short scouting reports on our upcoming opponents, shed insight on our coaches, share about our players (Player of the Week), as well as any other items pertaining to our basketball season or program. Later, we had a basketball blog and added a twitter account the past couple of years.
Before we ever won our 2 state championships in 2012 and 2013, almost all of those kids had attended numerous state tournaments with their families or with friends. They had a dream and we were fortunate enough to have families willing to invest in that dream. I can still remember seeing almost every player on our 2012 team sitting on the first row above the ropes in one of the vacated fan sections at the Frank Erwin Center during the 2011 state tournament. They weren’t saying a word, they just seemed to be silently watching the game, but I knew it was more than that…they had a dream. Fortunately, we also had a plan and everything fell into place but there is no doubt it starts with the dream and nothing stokes that dream like being at the State Basketball Tournament.
Finally, nothing sells better than a tradition of winning and being a part of something that is respected and valuable…kids want to be associated with a winner. I believe this will always trump any flashy uniform or the latest catch phrase…gravy is no good without the meat and taters.
In summary, everyone involved with your program has a role and how they perform that role will also go into selling your program to future players. Personally, as the head coach, it was by job to set the example, fight for our basketball program if necessary, and hold others within our program accountable. There are many methods in which to sell your program and I have tried to share with you some of the ways that I feel worked for us at White Oak. Hopefully, some of these will be beneficial to you.
Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!