Tough & Competitive

All coaches play favorites because all coaches have favorite types of players.  As a player, ultimately, you must please the coach because the coach decides who he thinks should play in order to give the team the best chance to win.  Consequently, when a coach has to give one player the benefit of the doubt over another player, I believe most likely the nod will go to the player that he trusts the most and, usually, that will be the type of player he is most comfortable with.  When asked by other coaches for advice, one thing that I always mention is “play the guys you trust”.

Now, hopefully, when coaches say, “I don’t play favorites”, they are referring to not showing partiality to a player based on factors off the court/field because I don’t know any coaches that don’t prefer certain traits from their players.  Some may prefer things related to physical talent such as size or speed while others prefer skill sets such as throwing, catching, hitting, or shooting. Many coaches favor work ethic, intelligence, and strong character traits while others prefer players who may not have the best character or work ethic but they can help the team win.  Obviously, all coaches would prefer to have players with great physical talent and great intangibles but that player rarely ever comes along so coaches have to make decisions about personnel and I believe coaches, naturally, lean toward players that exhibit the traits they admire most…they play who they trust.

For me, my favorite type of player was the one who was tough, physically and mentally, as well as competitive and there were two main reasons for this.  First of all, above all things, we were going to play defense at White Oak and, in my book, tough/competitive players make the best defenders. If you were a poor defender, then you for sure better bring some other outstanding trait to the table or the chances of you getting to play were slim.

Secondly, I always believed a tough/competitive kid could develop skills if he was willing to work hard enough at it.  I believed I was much more likely to teach a tough/competitive kid to shoot than to teach a soft kid that could shoot, how to be tough/competitive.  

Can you teach a player to get tougher and more competitive?  To a certain degree, I believe toughness can be improved, especially mentally, but it takes a conscientious effort by the player, it must be demanded by the coach, and there has to be evidence that the formula works.  If these factors are not present, and even when they are, it will always be a challenge to make players that tend to play soft learn to be tougher. I do believe the players that finished our program all got tougher throughout their 4 years at WOHS.  

Though many believe competitiveness is something you either have or don’t, I think competitiveness can improve when the amount of investment increases.  I do believe the saying, “The more you invest, the harder it is to surrender”, is accurate so to a degree, players can become more competitive. I also believe when players are placed in a more competitive environment, they often times show themselves that they can compete at a higher level.   

To me, the bottom line is this…when the talent level is close to equal, the toughest and most competitive team is going to win.  A talented team that is soft rarely defeats a team that has more talent than them. A tough and competitive team is capable of winning beyond its talent level.  So, if I had to pick between player A who had a better skill set but played soft or player B who had a slightly lesser skill level and was tough/competitive, I was going to choose player B.  Again, if a player was an exceptional shooter, my best ball handler and passer, or possessed some other higher level skill, then this could influence my decision because you have to play to win at the varsity level.  However, if my team was going to go down, I would always prefer to go down with tough/competitive kids. That’s why when I was determining if a player could compete at the varsity level, the first question I would ask myself was, “Can he hold up on the defensive end?”.

One of the best examples I can give of one of my players who learned to play tougher in order to become a better player and to do what was necessary for our team to win was Skylar Sutton. Skylar loved basketball and it showed in his skill level.  He worked tirelessly on becoming an outstanding shooter, ball handler, and passer but for the early part of his career at White Oak, though he was very competitive, he was mainly a finesse, offensive player who liked to play with a lot of flair in his game.  

As a sophomore, Skylar was a varsity prospect.  Offensively, he had the skill set to be a varsity player and that is what most people saw when they watched him play.  My concern was his lack of strength and whether or not he could hold up on the defensive end of the court. Fortunately, Skylar was a great competitor and when I explained to him during our post season conference that he hadn’t proven to me that he should be a varsity player as a sophomore, he was determined to change his game.  I know deep inside, Skylar felt he should have been on the varsity and he used this disappointment to drive him….that’s what great competitors do.

Skylar made a concerted effort to get stronger and dedicated himself to the defensive end of the court.  He valued efficiency over flair and began to take a lot more pride in his defense. In fact, by his senior year, Skylar was our best wing defender.  Many loyal patrons to the State Tournament at the Frank Erwin Special Events Center in Austin will remember the shooting display that Skylar put on during our championship game with Brock in 2013.  However, what will always stand out to me is the toughness that he played with on the defensive end of the court while guarding one of the best guards in Class 2A (now 3A), Tre Ewell of Brock.

During the postgame interview, the announcers wanted to talk about Skylar’s offense but I was determined to highlight his defense because that was the difference in his game.  Fortunately, Skylar didn’t want to just be a shooter, he wanted to be a champion and in order for this to happen, he had to get tougher….and he did.

Though I know he was disappointed and frustrated at times as a sophomore, Skylar Sutton would end up being a 2 year starter on teams that went 74-2 over that span with back to back State Championships and he never knew what it felt like to lose his last game of the season.

So what does tough and competitive look like?  To me, those elements could be identified in the following manner:

                                                                                     Traits of a Roughneck Basketball Player

 

Always exhibits TOUGHNESS:

     *Hard nosed defender

     *First on the floor for loose balls

     *Plays through contact

     *Looks to take charges

     *Refuses to give in to fatigue

     *Always looks for ways to separate himself from opponents

     *Fully engaged during workouts and games

     *Has great concentration and focus

     *Fights through inconvenient or uncomfortable circumstances

     *Distinguishes between pain/soreness & injury..always tries to get up.

     *Embraces the moment – believes in himself and the process

 

Always COMPETES:

     *Plays with great effort and intensity

     *Hard nosed defender

     *Blocks out aggressively and relentlessly pursues the ball

     *First on the floor for loose balls

     *Looks to take charges

     *Finishes the play

     *Plays with desire

     *Aggressive and confident

     *Does his part and a little bit more

     *Fights to the end

     *Hates to lose and loves to win

 

White Oak basketball was built by TOUGH & COMPETITIVE players that played on TOUGH & COMPETITIVE teams.  The pride and tradition of the White Oak basketball program will not be entrusted to “soft” players or “soft” teams. One way or another we will put a TOUGH & COMPETITIVE team on the court that is made up of TOUGH & COMPETITIVE players.       

Without a doubt, I know the players that had the hardest time playing for me were the players that were not tough and competitive by nature. Some responded better than others to improving in these areas and because of this it was always important to me that I convey to them as they left our program, that what took place on the court was never personal.  Though all coaches have players that fit their mold for the type of player they trust to play the most, this is never a reflection on the person.  Some of my players never got to the point of being as tough or competitive as I wanted them to be. However, I have no doubt, for those that are not already, they will go on to be fine husbands and fathers.  Finally, when the time comes that life punches them in the face, I’ll know it’s not the first time they’ve been asked to be tough and to compete.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Finish

I always liked having senior laden teams.  Seniors were my comfort zone…they were battle tested, knew our system, and had proven their loyalty to our program.  But most of all, I firmly believed it always meant a little more to you when you know it’s your last time around the block.  “Next year” can be two of the most enabling words a coach or athlete can utter and can set a dangerous precedent for any program.  As the Head Coach, it was my responsibility to make sure that I always stayed in the present and gave each senior class my best effort as well as doing my best to maximize our chances to win that year.  Out of loyalty to our seniors, I never believed in “playing for next year”.

Most years, we had between 2-5 seniors on our team but I had teams with as few as 1 senior and as many as 8.  Whatever the case may have been, the tradition of our program dictated that the primary role of leadership fell upon our seniors and I would expect more of them than the underclassmen.  It was the seniors job to pass on our culture and I knew they all took this responsibility seriously. They never wanted to be the class that didn’t measure up to the expectations of our program.  Without a doubt, I believe it was this part of our culture that helped our program to maintain high expectations despite fluctuations in talent level. When a senior class was passed the torch, they never wanted to let down the ones that had come before them.  The road had been paved for them by their predecessors and it was their job to do the same.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to share a piece that I wrote for our seniors in 2013 and, consequently, to other teams that followed.  I also adapted the wording to apply to my daughter, Haley, as she entered her senior volleyball season and our WOHS volleyball team when they went to state in 2014.  The title of the piece is “FINISH” and I wrote it to our class of 2013 (Kris Anderson, Skylar Sutton, and Levi Yancy) as they were coming off a State Championship year in 2012.  Though we graduated 4 seniors (Caleb Carr, Chadd Johnston, Ian Story, and Jerred Whisenhunt) off the 2012 State Champions, I knew we had a solid nucleus returning with a chance to win it all in 2013.  As we entered the 2013 season, one of my biggest concerns was complacency…the enemy of any champion. I had addressed this in a couple of ways previously, but I felt my seniors needed a jolt if we were going to have a chance to repeat as State Champions.  The following was taped to their lockers the final and most demanding day of Phase I (conditioning phase) of fall offseason in 2013:

                                                                                      FINISH

As an athlete approaches a finish line, whether he realizes it or not, he is making a conscience choice….how is he going to finish?  Some athletes conveniently stroll down the home stretch feeling as if they are entitled to coast to the finish. After all, they have proven their worth in the past and they have the right to rest on past accomplishments.  In a word, he is complacent but, surely, it won’t make much difference if he takes it easy and just cruises across the line. There is a word that describes this athlete…LOSER. He’s lost his edge and he’s out of the game.

On the other hand, some athletes turn the final corner with their ears pinned back focused on the prize that awaits PAST the finish.  He pushes with all his might as he bears down on the finish, leaving nothing to chance. He knows that the prize does not come to him…he must go get it! It is with this attitude that he bursts THROUGH the line.  There is a word that describes this athlete….WINNER. He’s maxed out, given all he’s capable of giving, and he’s finished with no regrets.

There are many “finish” points in life and you are constantly forming habits of how you “finish”.  As you approach your senior year, you approach one of these “finish” points in life. How you “finish” is not based on whether or not you win or lose….every competitor loses at some point in time. How you “finish” is based on your approach…did you go after it or were you complacent and full of excuses? Don’t ever be fooled, there are winners and there are losers, and it has nothing to do with the result! It’s your last time around the block and you have a choice to make…How do you finish?

On our best teams, our seniors embraced this philosophy and left our program with no regrets.  As a senior, that’s how you want to leave it.

In life, that’s how you want to leave it…Finish.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Tournament Time

Without a doubt, the most exciting part of high school athletics is the playoffs…. Tournament Time!  For all the pre-season preparation, summer workouts, offseason workouts, non district games and invitational tournaments, and the grind of the district race, the reward for some is a birth in the State Playoffs.  

Obviously, as the number of playoff teams has increased over the years, some of the luster of making the playoffs has been diminished but nonetheless, it’s still the playoffs and the gateway to the State Championship.  Football now crowns 12 State Champions and baseball has gone to a best 2 of 3 format in many cases but basketball has stayed the course…1 State Champion per classification in a single elimination tournament. Play’em all and win or go home!  It’s the pursuit of this goal that has driven thousands of coaches and players for decades and provided lifelong memories for many communities and schools along the way. There’s nothing like it.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I’ll be giving my thoughts for coaching during the playoffs in order to give your team the best chance for success.  Hopefully, these ideas will give you some things to consider as you prepare your team to reach their potential.

1) Warm Up Game

When scheduling, my general rule was to leave room for a warm up game.  However, we did not always choose to play one. If we had been in a very competitive district race, I would often choose not to play a warm up game.  The rationale was to give our team a break from the grind, usually mentally more than physically. In other years, if we had not had many competitive games in district, we would play a warm up game in order to sharpen us heading into the playoffs.

If I was coaching a team that had not been to the playoffs recently or had much success I would strongly consider playing a warm up game in order to simulate the atmosphere and format of a playoff game.  This allows for a trial run on pregame, warmup, and game conditions which I believe is very beneficial especially if several players have been moved up from the sub-varsity teams. Many times this can be a distraction if not handled correctly so a warmup game gives the opportunity for a trial run.

2) Playoff Practices

How long to practice and the format of practice during the playoffs is constantly debated amongst coaches and there are strong opinions on each side of the argument.  Personally, I am more concerned about mental fatigue during this time of the season than I am physical fatigue. Granted, we start to shorten our workouts during the 2nd round of district and during the playoffs but, again, this is as much for mental reasons as physical.  One thing I have learned over the years about the playoffs is no matter how far you advance there is one constant…kids love to play during this time of the year but they don’t necessarily look forward to practice.  For this reason, I always wanted us to get our work done then get off the court. We would still do most of our drill work but we would reduce the number of reps and use the move ups to do all the training for the varsity.

Early in my career, one of the mistakes that I felt I made during workouts was neglecting to continue to do our normal drill work in order to reduce our time on the court.  Looking back, I think this led to slippage in our games. So, my best advice now is to continue the basic drills but limit the reps…get your work done and get off the court.  Often times, on our best teams, the kids would stay on their own to do some individual work or play some on their own. These were the kids who loved the game and these were the teams who excelled the most. There’s no substitute for love.

3) Game Mentality

I believe this is the most important concept to winning in the playoffs…the mental approach.  Throughout our non-district schedule, I would constantly remind our teams how these games were preparing us for our district schedule.  Throughout district play, we would attempt to play each game with the same mentality regardless of our opponent. Many times during our best years, this would lead to very lopsided victories and its fair share of criticism.  We didn’t press inferior teams but we would pick them up ¾ court to not allow them to walk the ball up the court during the first half. During the first round of district, we would play our entire bench roughly half the game in lopsided contests.  In the 2nd round, we would play the starters 2/3 of the time in order to prepare them for the extended minutes they would get in the playoffs.

As the coach, my job was to do what I felt was necessary to give our team the best chance to win regardless of how others felt it should be done.  If other coaches, players, or fans were offended, then I just had to take the criticism. During our run to the State Championship in 2012 and 2013, I know our mentality was one of our greatest strengths and this was developed throughout the season.  Regardless of the circumstances or opponent, we were going to prepare and play with the same mentality. By following this process, we were always in our comfort zone and that’s when teams play their best.

Consequently, during our playoff runs, we kept our routine and procedures as close to the same as possible.  We prepared the same (except for less time on court), we kept our pregame and warmup the same, we dressed the same, and we attempted to play the same.  Our approach was that we prepared every game to play our best and for this reason we didn’t need to change this mentality as we advanced in the playoffs…we trusted the process.

Part of maintaining this consistency was to make sure that, as the head coach, I stayed consistent with my approach.  I wore the same maroon shirt and khaki pants during the state championship games that I did in our district games. I made a conscious effort to keep everything as close to the same as I could.  If I started changing things because of our opponent or the circumstances then I would be sending a message…what we had been doing wasn’t good enough. I wanted to make sure I sent just the opposite message…what we had been doing was good enough, just go play.  

I particularly paid attention to my body language and my words to the team.  I always wanted them to know that I believed in them and trusted our system. That wasn’t hard to do because I did believe those things but I wanted to make sure I didn’t appear nervous or in awe of the circumstances.  As the coach, your team will take their cues from you…verbal and non-verbal, tangible and intangible. Particularly on game day, I wanted them to see me as steady and confident. I believe getting caught up in the hoopla of the playoffs leads to the downfall of many teams and it’s very easy to do.  As the head coach, one of the biggest challenges during the playoffs is to keep your team in the moment and the best way to do this, is to block out the temptation to concentrate on the results and to trust the process. Like many things, this is much easier to say than to do. For those who can, half the battle is already won.

The beauty of the playoffs is that you have to bring it that night, under the given set of circumstances with no second chances.  It’s competition in its purest form. In a society that teaches “everyone gets a trophy”, the playoffs are the truth…there is a winner and a loser. But more than that, there are competitors…those who dare to step into the arena to determine who is the best.

In summary, during my 25 year tenure as a head coach, I coached 7 seasons before ever having the opportunity to coach a playoff team so I know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in and wondering whether or not our teams would ever get over the hump.  Once getting there, I’ve suffered painful losses along the way that stuck with me for years and made me question whether the pain was worth it. Finally, I’ve been blessed to experience what only a few coaches have the opportunity to experience…winning a state championship.  As I reflect back, I know that every step along the way helped to shape me and I hope sharing these experiences will help to shape you to be your best.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

Prepare To Win

I believe one of the common traits amongst successful coaches is a love for practice.  Personally, the preparation that went into putting an overall plan together for a season, breaking it down into parts, then working daily to put it into play was one of the most enjoyable aspects of coaching.  I always loved practice and felt that our preparation was definitely one of the keys to our success.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will outline my thoughts about practice and how it fits into the overall concept of developing a Championship Culture.  

Upon becoming a head coach, one of my first undertakings was to develop a practice plan sheet for each level of our program…middle school, freshman, JV/Var.  These plan sheets fit the objectives for each level (see Program Progression) and developed a plan specifically for that part of our program. The plan sheet was broken into offense, defense, and special situations with the drills we would use for each aspect of these.  For example, each man offense would be broken into the individual and group drills we would use to develop that offense.

By providing a specific plan sheet for each level of our program, these coaches had a constant reminder of the objectives that needed to be accomplished at their level and helped to keep everyone focused on their piece of the puzzle.  

Once the plan sheet was developed, I used this to design each specific practice and it provided a blueprint to make sure that we were staying on track for each phase of our program.  Additionally, I was always a believer in keeping a copy of each practice so that I could reference our workouts at the end of each season if necessary. To this day, I have a copy of every workout for the 25 years I was the head coach at White Oak.

Our normal overall game plan was to play at a fast pace so in order to do this, I felt I needed to design practices that could be conducted at a fast pace.  For this reason, I was never a believer in teaching a bunch of different drills to work on the same skill. I wanted to develop drills specific to our schemes, have our players understand the purpose of the drill, and then be able to perfect the skills the drill was designed to teach.  Once a player got to the varsity level, we should be able to conduct fast paced practices as a result of them being familiar with the drills. I never wanted to waste practice time by constantly teaching new drills that trained the same skills. For some coaches, I know they would be concerned about practice becoming stagnant or becoming bored themselves with the same drills.  I was just always more concerned about efficiency and I think our kids functioned better by knowing the general format of workout along with the expectations of each drill.

In order to keep practice efficient and from becoming stagnant, we incorporated 3 concepts…encouragement, accountability, and competition.

“A quiet gym is a losing gym” is a quote I agree with so one of the aspects we emphasized during practice was to be a good teammate by constantly encouraging one another.  Whether it be through clapping, physical touch (high fives, fist bumps, etc) or verbal communication, we expect our players to be encouraging each other throughout workout.  If I jumped on someone pretty hard for something, then there needed to be 4 or 5 teammates offering this player encouragement afterwards. I know not all coaches agree with this, but my rule during practice/games was that I was the only one allowed to offer negative criticism.  If someone needed a butt chewing then I was more than qualified to deliver it but teammates were to always be positive with each other. I never wanted players chewing out each other.

One of the most common questions I have been asked over the years is, “How do you get those guys to play so hard.”  It’s really very simple…not easy, but simple. For us, it was about demanding a certain level of effort and intensity then refusing to accept anything less . One of the main ways this was accomplished was through our accountability system. We kept a simple chart during each practice with 2 columns “Marks” and “Bank”….a plus/minus system.  There were usually 3 things that would get a mark (negative) on the chart….lack of concentration, lack of effort, or no encouragement. Don’t block out, don’t dive for a loose ball, don’t communicate…that’s unacceptable. When these situations would occur, I would simply say “Give us a mark” and our manager would record it. A mark consisted of a down/back to be done after conditioning at the conclusion of workout. By using this method, we were able to have accountability without having to stop practice.    

Conversely, when players would show extraordinary effort or take a charge in practice, I would tell our manager to “Put one in the bank” which negated one of the marks on the chart.  We used the phrase, “Put one in the bank” because this phrase coincided with making an investment which is something we spoke about often.

Being responsible for having marks put on the chart could make you public enemy #1 so players worked diligently to meet our standard for effort and intensity.  Consequently, taking a charge or doing something else to gain a “bank” always led to cheers and a desire for more. We all need accountability and I believe our plus/minus chart for practice helped to keep our workouts meeting the standard we had set.  Once we started district play, our plus/minus chart would determine conditioning for Mon/Thur workouts so our players knew if we had a good workout they would have limited or no conditioning on those days.

The third area of emphasis for us in order to have an efficient workout was to make it competitive during drill work.  We almost exclusively practiced the JV/Var together. Each varsity player was assigned (they don’t get to choose) a JV partner for drill work and the varsity is split into 2 groups.  When we split up for drill work, varsity Group 1 (along with their JV partner) would start on my end of court and the 2nd varsity group (with JV partner) would work on the other end of the court with our JV coach.  If we were doing a defensive drill, then the 1st varsity group (which was on my end of the court) would be on defense with the JV being their training partner. To make the drill competitive, the varsity would get 1 point for stops and the JV would get 2 or 3 points for baskets.  At the conclusion of the drill, the winners would get a “bank” and the losers would get a “mark” on the plus/minus chart then we would start the score over for the next drill.

On the other end of the court, the JV would be on defense with the varsity being the training group.  However, we didn’t score their end of the court. After Group 1 had completed its defensive drill work, we would switch ends.  We would score our offensive drill work in the same manner except the varsity received 1 point for baskets while the JV will get 2 or 3 points for stops based on the drill. Because of the weighted scoring system (which helps the JV), our drill work was normally very competitive yet we still competed within our teams.  Early in the season, we would do some work with varsity on varsity, especially if some positions were still up for grabs, but I didn’t like to do much of this once we got to district play. I preferred them to be competing together at this point rather than against each other.

As far as having an efficient, fast paced workout, I believe the elements I have mentioned so far were critical for success.  However, none of this would work unless the workout was organized, well thought out, and structured. We didn’t post our workouts before practice, but by the time they got to the varsity, most of our players knew the drills and the format that we used and I believe they liked the structure (not necessarily all the drills!).  

One final element as far as having a fast paced, efficient workout was not having designated water breaks.  Each of our players was issued a water bottle and they took this with them during drill work. Any time they were not in a drill, they could get a drink.  Otherwise, we didn’t take breaks during workout. Inexperienced players learned quickly the value of that water bottle so they learn to keep it close.

As far as the structure of our workouts, I always looked forward to district play so that we had 3 practices per week and 2 games. Tournaments were fun, they served a good purpose early in the year and the kids loved them, but I hated the slippage that could occur during this time of the season.  I believe our workouts during district play allowed us to continue to get better which coincides with peaking at the right time.

Once we entered district play our practice format was generally as follows:  Monday and Thursday would pretty much mirror each other. Our athletic period was the last period of the day so we allowed the first 30 minutes for our varsity scouting report.  During this time, our JV would work on their team offense against our freshman team because they mainly became the scout team for the varsity during the team portion of workout once we started district play.  

After scouting report, we always started with our fundamental period which consisted of dribbling, passing, and shooting drills.  Next, we would go into the our individual and group defensive work followed by our individual and group offensive drills. After all drill work was complete, we would go into the team portion of our workout which was always Varsity vs. JV.  We may work half court set plays for 5 minutes but everything else during our team portion of workout included transition offense and defense. So, for example, the varsity would run an offensive set then transition to defense then run transition offense which put us back on the same end of the court that we started. We would stop the action at this point and players would rotate in.  I would line out the rotation before practice then the players were responsible for rotating themselves in during workout, I didn’t rotate them.

Once we completed the team portion of workout, we would do team conditioning.  Before district play, we would do some form of conditioning after each workout.  Once district play began, we would do team conditioning on Wednesdays. I believe conditioning after workout accomplished 2 things.  First of all, it allowed us to end practice doing something physically demanding as a team. Secondly, it built mental toughness. We finished practice doing something that required no talent, just effort.  It’s was an opportunity to remind ourselves that we were building toughness and that no one would outwork us. There was no doubt in my mind, we gained as much or more mentally from conditioning as we did physically.

For us, Wednesday was a day to get in more shooting and work on special situations or prepare for something we would see later in the year.  For example, in 2013, we worked press break every Wednesday during the district portion of our schedule even though Tatum would be our only district opponent that would press us.  However, if we wanted to get out of our region, we knew we would have to go through Tatum, Kountze, or both and that meant facing relentless full court pressure. Consequently, we did our best to prepare for this situation long before we faced it. Wednesday was also one of our weight lifting days and was usually our shortest workout of the week since we had a game the night before.  

Finally, at the conclusion of workout each day, we would break our huddle with “I Believe” and each player was required to say something encouraging to every teammate before leaving the huddle area.  I believe this was a good way to remind each other that we all have a role in our success and everyone and every role needed to be respected…different roles, same status, shared result!

In summary, there is no doubt in my mind that much of the success we had at White Oak could be attributed to our preparation.  Once we entered district play, we prepared for each opponent specifically, kept working to improve ourselves, and went into each game knowing we had a plan.  No doubt, I was a much bigger fan of practice than my players (which is understandable) and was probably the one guy in the gym that enjoyed practice as much as the games.  I think the words of 2013 alum Levi Yancy summed up the feelings of most of my players when he would say, “The best thing about game day is not having to practice!” For me, the best part about game day was knowing we were prepared.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Outside The Lines

On the first day of school each year in my math or history class, I would always see the same look on many faces that sat in the desks in front of me, especially the faces of the girls that I did not know.  The look on their face, many times, said “I’m about to have this maniac as my teacher? This is the guy that screams and yells at the top of his lungs during basketball games. He never sits down. He just rants and raves up and down the sideline!  Is he going to yell at me????”

Many of the kids that I would have in class only knew the guy they had seen at basketball games or at practice when they walked through the gym.  I’ll be the first to admit…that guy is pretty intense! I had coached many of the boys in Junior High athletics so they knew a little more about me, but I could always tell some of the girls were terrified so I would spend the first couple of days going overboard to convince them that I wasn’t going to tell them to get on the line!  Almost yearly, once we were a couple of weeks into class, I would have a student come up to me after class and say, “You’re a lot different in class than I thought you would be.”

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to share my thoughts on the role of the coach off the court.  Without a doubt, I believe this is one of the most important and impactful aspects of coaching because it shows there is a distinction between the player and the person. On the court, I had to always do what was best for the team. Off the court, I would do my best to do what was best for the player. In my opinion, when these 2 roles become clouded it is difficult for the coach and the player and it leads to problems for all involved.  

Whether it be the coach that is too loose with players on the court or the coach that is too rigid with players off the court, I believe the effectiveness and impact that a coach can have will suffer.  As a coach, especially a demanding coach, the students must be able to see that you know there is a difference between being on and off the court.

One of the ways that I tried to send this message to my players was to make it mandatory for each player to see me (or their coach) before they left to go home after practices or games.  This was something that I learned from my high school coach, Dan Noll, who was a master of relationships. By having the players come by the office before leaving, there were several things being accomplished.  First of all, if I had to get on a player hard during practice it was an opportunity to let them know before they went home that it was never personal.

Also, on occasion  when a player did not play at all or played very little in a game it gave me an opportunity to get a feel for their understanding of the situation and whether or not I needed to talk with them before they left.  I never wanted them to think them not playing was a reflection on them personally.

Finally, I would have a chance to convey any thoughts that I wanted to leave with them before they went home for the evening, just tell them “good job”, or offer a few tidbits of advice.  Finally, depending on the circumstances, there were times when it would have been easier for both me and the player to just ignore the situation by just going our separate ways but that is not the lesson I wanted our program to teach. We would face each other face to face each day before they left regardless of the circumstances. Easy doesn’t make it right.

When I had one of my players in class, I rarely talked to them about basketball.  I just tried to treat them like any other student when they were in my class. For one reason, I wanted them to know that there was more to me than being their basketball coach.  I was also their classroom teacher and I took that responsibility seriously.

Secondly, I wanted them to know there was more to life than athletics and that I respected their time off the court.  I believe one of the biggest mistakes coaches can make is trying to monopolize the time of their athletes and not respect their time outside of their sport. Without a doubt, all successful programs are demanding and commitment of an athlete’s time to their sport is up towards the top of the list of demands. However, as coaches, I believe we should respect our players time to be a student, time with their family, and just time to be a kid. As I’ve stated in several other entries of Coach With A Purpose, players can always tell if you care for them or care what they can do for you.

Thirdly, I always wanted my players to know that I supported them in their other interests outside of basketball.  Whether they were involved in other sports, band, theatre, FFA, or activities outside of school, I did my best to support them.  Whether it be by attending these events, offering encouragement in the hallways, giving shoutouts on twitter, or a quick text message, there are so many ways to let your players know that you support them.

Finally, I want to share with you what I believe is one of the unique aspects of White Oak High School…the coaches fist bump.  Many years ago I read a book by Coach K at Duke University that talked about using the “fist” as a symbol of unity within their program.  The first was made up of 5 individual parts (fingers) but it was much more effective when clinched than as separate parts. As we adopted this philosophy into our own basketball program, the fist became a symbol for unity…Five As One.  Consequently, when our players would leave after practice or games we would exchange fist bumps instead of shaking hands to symbolize this unity.

Over time, when I would pass my players in the hallways, we would exchange a fist bump as well and other students would see this and I could tell they looked perplexed.  Consequently, we just started to exchange fist bumps as well. As fortune would have it, my classroom in the high school was located by the classrooms of several of our other coaches so as we would stand in the hallways between classes and chat, over the years we started giving fist bumps to all the kids who would pass by us in the hallway.  

Fast forward a decade or so and one of the traditions at WOHS is the kids – all kids – getting a fist bump as they passed the coaches at the end of the hall.  As coaches, we took pride in just offering this small gesture that said “you matter” and it is these 4 minutes between classes that I missed as much as anything when I moved to the Middle School campus.  

In conclusion, there is much wisdom in the saying, “They will never care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  As coaches, we show how much we care by our actions off the court/field and by our actions after a player’s playing days are over.  As much as any other time, coaches show who we are when players take the jersey off.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

C’mon Ref!

The refs sucked.  We got “homered”. Call it both ways, ref! How could the ref not see that?  Or as Coach Boone says in Remember The Titans, “Are you trying to cheat my boys out of the game?…Cheater! Cheater!“

To some coaches, officials are just a necessary evil.  As a whole, they are lazy, arrogant, incompetent, and power hungry.  In fact, if you listen to some coaches, they never lost…they just got cheated.  Now, as I write these words, I can anticipate some coaches who read this thinking, “That’s easy for you to say.  The refs always favored White Oak!” I’ve heard it from opposing fans and coaches plenty of times in various forms or fashions.  Consequently, I know our fans and parents always thought the officials gave us the shaft. White Oak’s E.B. Carrington Gymnasium was always a tough place for officials because of the close proximity to the court, a rowdy student section, and a crowd that expected every call to go our way.  And on the road, of course the refs hated us!

If it were possible, I believe it would be a good requirement that all coaches spend time officiating before they are allowed to coach. Personally, I know time I spent officiating basketball and softball games while in college gave me a better perspective on what it was like to wear a striped shirt and be public enemy #1!  Consequently, it would also be good for officials to experience what it is like to coach and try to stay in that dang coaching box! Now, I know this is not feasible for this role reversal to take place and I believe the UIL has made valiant attempts to improve the relationship between officials and coaches.

Dealing with officials can be one of the most frustrating parts of coaching and, as coaches, if we don’t learn to deal with officials in a respectful and humane way, we only make it harder on ourselves.  In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will share my thoughts on how to deal with the men/women in striped shirts.

1) Have An Officials Perspective

As I mentioned earlier, officiating in college gave me a new found respect for the job of being an official as well as a better perspective on how difficult this job can be.  The amount of concentration that is required, the speed of the game, the various skill levels of the teams, the split second judgments, the challenge of dealing with hostile crowds, and having a constant barrage of questioning/complaining from coaches makes officiating a very challenging job.  As coaches, if we remind ourselves of this before our games, I believe it forces us to be more understanding of the difficulty of officiating and leads to more constructive interaction with officials during competition. Along these same lines, hopefully, before officials take the court, they discuss between themselves how difficult it is to coach and what is at stake for the players/coaches.  Like many things in life, being able to see things from someone else’s perspective is a very valuable trait to acquire.

2) Players Will Mimic The Coach

Coaches who complain about every call that goes against them, act as if the officials are out to get them, and spend more time complaining than coaching, send the wrong message to their team and fans.  Personally, I always preferred to have these types of coaches in the other coaching box because I knew it would eventually be to their detriment. When opposing coaches, players, and fans complained about having to play in White Oak, I knew we already had an advantage because they had convinced themselves they would be cheated when they came to White Oak.  The first call that went against them, I could always see it in the body language of the players and coaches along with the reaction of the fans, “Here we go again, getting cheated in White Oak.” The coach would start complaining, the players would do the same, and usually at some point, the coach or players would earn a technical. Often times, I can recall telling my assistants prior to the game, “So and So will get a technical tonight.”  It was an easy prediction because I knew their mindset when they came to White Oak.

As a coach, I always tried to pick my spots of when to complain to officials.  Sometimes, it was if I believed the official could be influenced or if I felt like I needed to stand up for one of my players.  The most common time for this was on block/charge calls. Most years at White Oak, we didn’t have shot blockers so we had to defend the paint with body position.  If I had a player attempt to take a charge and it was called a block, I would often praise the player any way, especially if the player was not naturally a contact player.  If this was the case, it wasn’t going to matter if the official was right or wrong.

Most of the time, I tried not to complain because I knew it would have a negative effect on my players.  If I constantly complained, they would be more likely to take on the mindset that we were getting cheated instead of bearing down to fight through the adversity.  This was the mindset I wanted us to have and it started with me. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, there were times I was better at this than others and with having a demonstrative coaching style, it wasn’t hard to tell when I wasn’t pleased.  However, particularly if I knew it would be a very competitive game, I always tried to control my emotions toward the officials and let them do their job. Fortunately, we usually had a strong fan base, especially at home, so the student section and crowd were very capable of voicing our collective displeasure with what didn’t go our way!

3) Give & Take

I think most officials (not all) will work with coaches as long as the coach is willing to work with them.  For example, I never liked to sit down during games. My coaching style was very demonstrative at times and I often paced the sidelines.  Honestly, when I coached, I just need some space (maybe I’m just claustrophobic) so I tend to roam up/down the sidelines and even venture out onto the court slightly at times. Over the years, most officials have worked with me on this as long as I worked with them, which means not griping/complaining at every call. For the most part, I will usually tend to make my way back to the coaching box if I have a complaint out of respect for the official and for this give and take.  Obviously, being at the same school and using the same officiating chapters for 25 years helped develop this relationship.

4) Scratching Officials

Coaches have varying philosophies on scratching officials.  Some coaches will scratch any official they do not think will give them an advantage and some will even scratch an entire chapter when playing on the road.  During my initial season as the Head Coach at White Oak, we played a road game during the first round of district in which I accepted the 2 assigned officials only to have the opposing coach scratch our entire home chapter when it was time to come to White Oak in the second round!  The art of agreeing upon officials was one of the many lessons I had to learn along the way. Other coaches will not scratch any officials because they feel like the will be “blackballed” by the officials association if they do.

I always felt it was necessary to use the scratch if needed but to be selective and respect the difficulty of assigning officials to district games. I also felt if I was going to scratch an official then I needed to be willing to explain why and to have, in my opinion, a good reason for doing so. My first criteria was to consider our style of play and my personality.  If I felt there was a direct problem with either of these, then I would scratch an official at the beginning of the year and it was usually no more than 3.

Secondly, if I felt like the opposing coach was trying to hand pick the officials for our game, then I would scratch officials if necessary.  Again, this was an advantage I had at being at the same school for 25 years. I knew if coaches were trying to manipulate the process and I owed it to our team to do all I could to intervene if I felt this was the case.  I never felt it was appropriate to contact the assigning secretary to request specific officials and I wasn’t going to allow it to be done to us either.

Thirdly, in my opinion, if I was given an unwarranted technical foul I was going to scratch that official for 2 years.  Early in my career, it took me awhile to figure out all of the things that I am explaining now, so I received my fair share of technical fouls.  Looking back on it, most of that was my fault and justified. However, as I gained a greater understanding for the job of officiating, I made a concerted effort not to cross the line.  Consequently, I wasn’t very understanding about what I believed were unwarranted technical fouls. Like I said, I would scratch that official for 2 years minimum and make sure coaches from other areas knew the situation when they called for advice on officials for playoff games.  I was never a believer in getting a technical to “fire up” the team or any other reason so I took technical fouls very seriously.

5) It’s Never Personal

Of all that I have mentioned, this is the most important concept for coaches and officials to understand…it should never be personal.  Like I stated at the beginning, I have great respect for people who choose to officiate because I know how hard it can be and I know how important their role is.  For this reason, if you don’t see any relevance up until this point, please, as a coach, strongly consider the next few points.

First of all, as a coach, greet the officials in a respectful manner before the game and respect their space.  Some small talk is fine, but respect the fact that they have a job to do. Because of our lack of dressing facilities at White Oak, the officials had to dress in our coaches office.  I always tried to make sure my stuff was done before they arrived so they could have some privacy.

Secondly, acknowledge the officials after the game out of respect for their work and their role in the game.  For me, this meant saying “thanks” to the officials after as many games as I could….win or lose. Obviously, after a tough loss, particularly a loss as a result of  a call not going your way at the end, this was very tough to do. However, I felt it was necessary for me to briefly go into my office where the officials dressed, say “thanks”, and shake their hand.  I needed to do it out of respect, I needed to model for my players the correct way to handle disappointment, and I needed to do it to remind myself that it was never personal. Very hard at times, but never personal.  Now, if I felt the officials were lazy, disrespectful, or trying to make it all about them, then I would just avoid them after the game, but this was very rare.

Thirdly, outside of the lines, work to let officials know that it’s never personal.  If I see an official that I have scratched at a summer league game or out in public, I’m going to be just as nice, courteous, and respectful to them as I would any other officials.  Why? Because it’s never personal on my end. It may be on their end of things, but I can only control how I conduct myself so that’s what I’m concerned about.

During my tenure at White Oak, I was very proud of the relationships that I had with the officials who called the majority of our games, mainly the Longview and Tyler Chapters.  For the most part, I believe they knew I respected the way in which they did their job and they respected the job I had to do. I feel that the points I have made in this entry of Coach With A Purpose have a lot to do with this mutual respect.

So, in summary, as a coach, try to see things from an officials perspective and respect the fact that officiating is a difficult job.  Secondly, don’t be a whiner and a complainer. It reflects bad on you, your team, and it sends the wrong message to your players. Finally, leave it between the lines.  Don’t let it get to the point of being personal and know that most the time our point of view of how well the officials did has mostly to do with whether or not our team won or lost.

In conclusion, the years that we had good teams, it seemed like the officiating was ok.  The years that our teams struggled it seemed like I did a lot more whining and complaining to the officials.  I feel certain it had a lot more to do with our team than it did the officials.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

Raising Expectations

Would you rather be the perennial favorite or are you more comfortable in the role of the underdog?  As a coach, in my opinion, how you answer this question says a lot about your expectations. For those who prefer to be the underdog, I believe it ultimately falls back on being scared of expectations.  There’s no “pressure” and you can play loose and free. As the underdog, if you lose, that’s what was supposed to happen. Everyone pats you on the back, tells you how hard your kids played, and the other team was just better than you.  No doubt, in many cases, that is exactly the case. However, as a coach, if you are satisfied with this scenario then I believe your teams or program will never reach their potential for one simple reason…it’s ok to lose.

In the event that you win as the underdog, then there is great euphoria…you did something you weren’t expected to do. The fans storm the court/field, the team goes nuts, and the band breaks into the Rocky theme song!  There are few feelings in sport that can match such moments. That’s why everyone (at least most everyone) cheers for the underdog. So why wouldn’t you want to be in this scenario of consistently being in position to pull the upset?  It seems like there’s nothing but an upside.

To a competitor, I think the answer is simple.  When the underdog wins, that’s the exception. If they do win often then you guessed it, they probably weren’t as much of an underdog as they wanted to believe. Being the underdog is always safe.

If you’re a perennial favorite, the game changes.  There are expectations…you’re expected to win. In my mind, there is no other place you would rather be.  To me, if I could choose to be the underdog or the favorite, it’s a no brainer every single time…I wanted to be the favorite! In my analysis, being the favorite means one simple thing, in most knowledgeable people‘s opinion, my team should be better than yours. That’s a good thing!  So, why wouldn’t everyone want to be in that spot? One word…fear.

What’s there to be scared of?  Expectations. More precisely, the fear of not meeting those expectations. Of course, the easiest way to solve that problem in some coach’s mind is scheduling.  I believe you can always look at a team’s non-district schedule and tell how much a coach believes in his team. Programs that constantly schedule inferior teams in order to avoid competition or sugar coat their record deal in fool’s gold.  Their teams don’t improve throughout the year, they develop bad habits, and are not battle tested once their team plays someone of equal or better talent in district or the playoffs. When you play bad but still win, it’s not because your team was good, it’s because the other team just happened to be worse.  Consequently, when you play a good team and lose it’s usually because you played “bad” when in many cases that was the same “bad” you had been winning with when playing inferior teams.

So, how do you gauge how good your team is or was?  A good measuring stick for any program is the number of teams you beat that have equal or better talent than your team.  Or better yet. Want to know how good your team was? Ask yourself, “Who is the best team or teams we beat?” This is a much more accurate assessment of how good a team is than their record, or in some cases, how far the team advanced in the playoffs.  Soft scheduling is the simplest way to be perceived as meeting expectations. However, that’s a very low bar and not the point of this writing.

As a coach, if you want to develop a championship program, one of the first steps is to develop the mindset of embracing expectations rather than fearing them.  You want to be expected to win…you want to be the favorite. Like most things of any substantial value, this is a step by step process with the goal of eventually being able to consistently compete to your talent level and beyond.

The first step in this process of moving from being the constant underdog to being a perennial favorite is being able to consistently beat the people you are supposed to beat.  Who is that? It’s the teams that have inferior talent to yours…you don’t lose to the underdog. During my tenure at White Oak, I believe we rarely lost to teams that were less talented than us.  My team’s heard me say constantly, “In order to win, you must first eliminate the things that make you lose.” By eliminating those factors, a team is less likely to beat itself. In other words, you don’t lose, the other team must beat you.  In the grand scheme of raising expectations, beating less talented teams must be a constant.

The second step of this process is being able to beat teams that have more talent than your team. Whether it is through execution, work ethic, intelligence, toughness, coaching, or a combination of these factors and others, your team doesn’t cave in just because the other team is more talented.  The problem for some programs is they never get past the first step in the process because they are scared to lose and this is normally indicated by non-district scheduling. The rationale that is normally given for this is not wanting to crush your players or team’s confidence. Your team will not meet its potential unless you push the limits and the coach must believe in his players and team enough to do this.

One of my goals with scheduling was to make sure we played opponents in non-district that were capable of exposing our weaknesses. Usually for us, that meant playing teams with speed and quickness. If we wanted to be able to defeat these types of teams when it counted, we had to play them in non-district. Consequently, I wanted to play a handful of games against teams that put us in the position of having to perform at a high level under the toughest conditions for us and, if we didn’t, then we would lose.  

Teams that don’t get challenged enough usually lose to the first team with equal talent that is more battle tested.  No doubt, there is an art to scheduling and, obviously, you don’t want to play a vastly superior team every night but a coach must challenge his team to make them better. If I had ever had a team go through non-district undefeated, then I would have considered it to be my fault. If your goal is to raise your expectations to a championship level, then a coach must be willing to challenge his team. A culture of being scared to compete is not a championship culture.  

The third step is being able to defeat teams that are equal or slightly better than your team.  To me, this is different than teams with just superior talent. By talent, I’m referring to mainly physical superiority in strength, speed, quickness, height, and jumping ability.  So in step three, I’m referring to teams that are as talented and skilled, for the most part, as your team. At this level, I believe there are 3 difference makers…toughness, defense, and coaching.  As the coach, it’s my job to have my team prepared to perform their best and a big part of this is training them to be tough (later blog entry) and that happens in various ways, one of which is being battle tested going into district play and the playoffs.  

I also believe that in equally matched games, the best defensive team normally wins and for this reason, the defensive end of the court is where most championship programs hang their hat. There will always be nights when the shots just don’t seem to fall or the offensive execution is just not there and it’s these nights when defense keeps a team in the game.  I also firmly believe that putting an emphasis on defense always heightens awareness and concentration which leads to better offensive execution. I always wanted our teams to play with a “defense first” mentality because I knew this would carry over to our concentration on the offensive end as well.

At level 3, I believe coaching becomes much more of a factor.  To me, most of this took place in preparation beginning with practice as well as scouting, game planning, and being prepared for special situations.  However, a coach’s in game decision making is also heightened during games at this level. Without a doubt, players have the most dramatic effect on the outcome of a game but coaching is a difference maker when teams are evenly matched.

Also, at this point, there is the element of being able to perform on a bigger stage.  The underdog has the luxury of playing loose and free because of a lack of expectations.  The favorite learns to play loose and free by embracing the expectations and having developed the mindset of playing one way all the time regardless of the opponent or circumstances.  

During our state championship seasons of 2012 and 2013, at times, I would get questioned as to why I would continue to push our team hard during some of our district games in which the opponent was clearly over matched.  We would be up 40 points or more and I would still be coaching them just as hard as I would if we were in a nip and tuck game. The reason for this was to develop our mindset. We were going to play to the best of our ability for 32 minutes regardless of the opponent or circumstances.  

We wouldn’t press and we played all our kids but we didn’t change the intensity level or the level of expectation for execution.  Though we were criticized by some for beating some of these district opponents by large margins, I was willing to take the criticism for the sake of developing the mindset I believe we needed.  More than anything, especially in 2012 when we were the playing the defending state champions in the state semi-finals, I wanted us to have the security of knowing we didn’t have to change the way we played just because we were at the state tournament.  We had trained to play at a championship level all year and the state tournament would be no different. I believe it was this mindset that helped us the most going into these unchartered waters.

So, in conclusion, once a program has gotten to the point of being able to perform consistently beyond its talent level and on the occasions when your team is the underdog, there is not the element of surprise when they pull out a victory, then I believe the program is at the point of embracing high expectations.  There is only one type of underdog that is able to make this transition…the one that is tired of being the underdog.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

There’s No Place Like Home

As early as my junior year in high school, I knew I wanted to someday be the Head Basketball Coach at White Oak High School.  For that reason, when I graduated from SFA in the spring of 1988 I applied at one place…White Oak High School. It was my alma mater and the only place I wanted to be.  Unfortunately, there were no openings at WOHS in the spring of 1988 and I learned quickly that when applying for a job, it helps if there is an opening! So with my 4 year degree in my back pocket, I had to make a choice…apply for a teaching/coaching job somewhere else or continue to work at my summer job on the maintenance crew for Longview ISD until a spot opened up at WOHS.  For me, the choice was a no-brainer…I chose carpet cleaning. I hadn’t gotten a degree to just teach/coach, I had gotten my degree in order to teach/coach at WOHS and I was determined. Thankfully, it was God who had placed this determination within me and finally, in August after 2-a-days had already begun, a position opened up at WOHS and I was hired. The coach I was replacing gave me some advice upon his departure, “Never stay at one place over 4-5 years.  If you do, they get to know too much about you.” Well, I didn’t listen very well.

In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will be discussing the pros and cons of going home as a coach.  Within the coaching fraternity, there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate as to whether or not, from a professional standpoint, coaching at your alma mater is a good decision.  For me, I’d never have it any other way but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been challenging in some aspects. So, for those of you reading who might be considering going home, I would like to share my experience with you.

When I was hired, I was 22 years old, single, and very naive.  Almost every teacher on the high school campus had taught me as well as almost every coach on staff having coached me.  Many of the high school students had family members I had grown up with or that I knew them from having been in WO since kindergarten.  In fact, many of the high school students knew me as “Ron” and weren’t too sure about this “Coach Boyett” stuff. Finally, one of my students was married and had a young child and though I was the teacher, I’m sure in many ways she knew much more about life than I did.  

So, I knew the situation I was going into would be awkward in some ways…for me, the students, and the staff.  When you go home, that’s part of it. Consequently, if you intend to stay at your alma mater, you have to avoid some pitfalls right out of the gate.  

First of all, if any of this is going to work, it is crucial to have laid a solid foundation because when you go home, there are people who know pretty much everything about you….the teachers, many of the students, and the community.  If you were lazy in the classroom, gave poor effort or had a bad attitude as an athlete, or lacked character while you were in school then going home is probably not for you and mainly because you most likely wouldn’t get hired! So, if you are currently a student and ever have thoughts about wanting to come home to coach, please be aware that you’re writing your resume right now.  If you go home, you can’t run from your past.

Secondly, particularly because of my age, I had to be diligent about establishing boundaries with the students…I was no longer their friend, their sister’s former boyfriend, a friend of the family, or in a couple of instances, your cousin…at least as school.  I couldn’t be Ron anymore. I knew this process could be confusing for many of the kids I had grown up knowing but I had to cut the chord and at times it was painful for me and the students. However, it was necessary and I can’t emphasize enough the importance of establishing these boundaries right off the bat for young coaches that go home.  If you don’t, you are only making it harder on yourself and your students.

Thirdly, though in my case this was never a problem, it is necessary to establish with the staff that you are no longer their student but a peer. Of all the things I dealt with when I started out, this was the easiest for me because of the quality people we had on our teaching and coaching staffs.  However, I know for other coaches who have gone back to their alma mater, this has not been the case.

Fourthly, I had to establish some separation between me and the parents of the players I would now be coaching.  Similar to the familiarity with the students, many of these parents were either my friends, friends of my family, or just people I knew in the community.  Like most small schools, I was at least acquainted with most everyone in town. Though many could not understand my rationale for doing this I felt this was the way it needed to be done for several reasons.

As I stated in an earlier entry, the main reason for this separation was for the benefit of my players.  I wanted to minimize my personal relationship with their parents so it would never be used against them. When their kids get involved, people can be cruel and though over the years it has definitely isolated me in ways and limited my friendships, I was willing to do this for the sake of my players and to insure that I remained as objective as I could.  For me, this has been the hardest part of coaching in my hometown and there are probably times I take it to the extreme but that’s just how I’m wired.

Fortunately, just as kids graduate, so do their parents so this separation is not permanent but I would rather take the hit myself than have my players deal with undue criticism based on my relationship with their parents.  Though it has never been personal, I know some parents take it this way and don’t understand why I don’t involve myself more in the social side of things. Fortunately, after several years of consistency, I had enough “graduated” parents that understood the process and word started to filter down.  Don’t take it personal, that’s just how he is.

Though it was difficult, especially my first 5-6 years, to establish the system that I felt was necessary for success, I believe the process worked and I’m glad it did because from the beginning, I was in for the long haul…I never wanted to coach anywhere else.  If you are considering going back home, I would encourage you to think over the pros and cons. It can be done and I hope the points I have made above will be useful in helping you to make the decision that is best for you and your family.

In conclusion, as our program started to become more successful on the court, I was asked many times by other coaches, “Why don’t you go somewhere else? Why don’t you look to move up or go to a place you can win more?”  I understood what they were saying, and as a coach, there is nothing wrong with looking to move up the ladder in order to advance your career or secure a better financial situation for your family. It’s just wasn’t for me.  I wanted to win as much as the next guy….I just wanted to do it at White Oak. For me, I agreed with Dorothy, “There’s no place like home.”

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

Measure Up

Numerous books have been written about developing the culture of your program, business, etc.  Personally, I couldn’t agree more with the importance of creating and sustaining a championship culture because it not only enhances your opportunity for success in your program but it also provides an opportunity to engrain core values into your players that will remain with them long after they have left your program.  

At White Oak, our program was centered on our “I Believe” philosophy which is explained in the pages portion of the Coach With A Purpose blog.  However, we also built our culture around a “5 as 1” approach. Obviously, one meaning of this approach is the concept of teamwork…5 individuals playing as 1 cohesive unit.  One way we symbolized this philosophy was with the acronym “FIST” (Five Individuals Succeeding Together) in which the five individual fingers represented individual players and the clinched fist representing the coming together of the five individual parts to make the team.  The fist bump became a symbol of culture we wanted to create in our program. Whenever our coaches and players would cross paths, the fist bump became a symbol of this solidarity as well as utilizing the important trait of physical contact.

In conjunction with the “5 as 1” philosophy, we created the 5 Core Standards of our program.  The 5 standards have always been a part of our program but I believe they became much more prevalent when we posted them in our locker room and began to address them specifically.  With this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I will discuss the 5 Core Standards of White Oak basketball.

BE RESPONSIBLE

By our definition, “Be Responsible” meant to fulfill your obligation such as showing up for school, practice and games, being on time, and completing and turning in assignments on time.  Being responsible meant not making excuses and consistently holding yourself to a high standard of excellence in all that you have committed to doing. Learning to be responsible is key to the maturation process in an age of helicopter parents.  Once players enter our program as a freshman, they must begin to understand that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the one who wears the uniform.

BE ACCOUNTABLE

To many, responsibility and accountability are synonymous but by our definition, responsibility has to do with “for” and accountability relates to “to”.  In other words, we are responsible for actions but accountable to a person or group. For us, “Be Accountable” meant to do your part for the sake of others.  Hold yourself to a high standard in all areas because others are counting on you to do that. As head coach, I was accountable to my players, their parents, our school, and our community.  However, as a Christian, I am ultimately accountable to my God and as long as I feel like I am giving Him my best then I am fulfilling my obligation of being accountable to others. Accountability reinforces the value of being a part of something bigger than yourself.

BE DISCIPLINED

When many people hear the word “discipline”, they immediately have negative thoughts while others have a totally different connotation of the word.  For those with negative connotations of the word “discipline“, it’s probably because they routinely are in need of being disciplined. For those who hear the word  “discipline “ and immediately think of consistently doing things the right way regardless of the circumstances, there is a positive connotation. For our program, “Be Disciplined” was trained through being precise in all we do without cutting corners. Shoes are flat in lockers, clothes are hung up, basketballs are put in the rack, touch the line…all of these “little things” train doing things the right way and create strong habits. It’s these habits that will show up when circumstances get tough in basketball but, more importantly, when things get tough in life.

BE TRUSTWORTHY

It’s impossible to have a championship culture without trust because there is no substitute for being truthful and standing up for what is right. A person’s word must mean something and honesty must be a staple of your character. For over 20 years, we had open lockers in our dressing room and rarely ever had a problem with stealing.  First of all, for the most part, the players in our program had outstanding character. Secondly, all involved knew stealing would not be tolerated. Not being trustworthy is a character flaw and rampant character flaws will eventually lead to the demise of any program.  All championship programs have a standard for behavior and this standard must be enforced consistently.

BE RESPECTFUL

For us, “Be Respectful” meant to show gratitude, look people in the eye when being spoken to, understand that all people are not alike but all have value, to judge on merit and character, and to honor positions of authority.  At White Oak, the vast majority of our kids are respectful. They are raised to say, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” and to respect positions of authority. Most of the credit for this behavior goes to their parents as well as the expectations of our administrators and teachers.  Without a doubt, one of the benefits of coaching at White Oak has been the overall excellent behavior of our student body and especially our athletes.

These 5 Standards were the backbone for establishing our culture during my 25 year tenure and our players embraced the importance of measuring up to these standards.  For the most part, our athletes knew what was expected and they knew the standards would be enforced so, consequently, players who didn’t want to measure up just didn’t play. To some, this may seem harsh or too demanding but I believe these standards have value.  First of all, success does not come to those who aren’t willing to meet a higher standard and, secondly, these standards also laid the groundwork for success after high school athletics.

As the leader of your program, it is important to establish your Core Values or Standards. Once these non negotiables are established, they must be explained to all involved and everyone must be willing to buy in.  Finally, the leader must be willing to hold up the standards by making everyone accountable. So, in conclusion, I encourage you to invest in this process in order to develop a championship culture. Winning championships is not always possible but taking a championship approach is.

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

 

   

 

   

 

They Call You Coach

They call you coach and with that comes responsibility.  Within the next few weeks, throughout the great state of Texas, thousands of young men and women will put their trust in you because you are their coach.  In a society where single parent homes are more and more prevalent, many will now spend more time with you than they will one of their parents or possibly both. Regardless of the family setting, in many cases, their coach will be the most prominent male or female influence in their life.  What are great responsibility.  Better yet, what a great opportunity.

Whether your athletes will take the field/court on Monday, the next week, or the start of school, as their coach, we all should have the same ultimate goal…make a positive impact.  Whether you are a Junior High coach who will be welcoming athletes to their first day of living their dream, a head coach who will be coaching seniors who will be going around the block for the last time, or somewhere in between, we all should have the same ultimate goal.  Our methods will be different and our results will vary based on numerous factors but there should be one constant…give them your best.  Regardless of the circumstances, give them your best for one reason…you are their coach.

Coach With A Purpose!