Perspective - Coaching Inbreeding
and Being Yourself
One of the things that I have learned in that time was that coaching is a very incestuous profession. We inbreed. We teach as we were taught, often without thinking about the value of what we do. I have said many times that, as coaches, we often act as we believe that we are expected to act, whether we believe it has value or not. Things such as yelling and screaming at players during games, trying to control every aspect of what the players do, running drills that have no meaning, forms of punishment or ways of enforcing discipline that is counterproductive to our goals (anyone run suicides) are routinely practiced without evaluation. Stepping away from the sidelines probably taught me more about coaching than all the games (and there are close to 800 of them) I was on the bench for.
I am keenly aware that a lot of my thoughts and philosophies are 180 degrees from traditional thought. I also know I have different experiences than other coaches. We all do, all of our experiences are unique as are the way we process them.
I started to change when I had some really bad teams. I learned two things during that time. First, you can't out coach your limitations. You can coach up bad players, improve them, stretch their potential, but not enough to beat teams that pull dollar bills off the top of the backboard and then leave change. Second, you have to listen to your players to help you sort out what is important and what is not. You might be running something that you believe in, but if they don't believe, you are better off selling popcorn.
In my experience, I have found that as the people that I have met, associated with, coached with and against move on with their careers (read: get older), more and more think I am less crazy and come over to my way of thinking. Not necessarily believe what I believe, but become very introspective towards their methods and beliefs and make changes. I guess that is called experience. It does, to an extent, make me feel validated in regard to my own development.
I have 2 friends in my life. To some that might seem like a small number. To those who know me, I am sure they are wondering how I have that many. In fact, I am sure they are wondering about the sanity of those two people. Though my two friends have never met, we all have one thing in common. We never see one another. I have a suspicion that is how I can keep them as friends. They both, unwittingly, have reinforced my sideways view on coaching.
My first friend coached for a long time. He spent 16 years at the same school, 8 as an assistant coach and 8 as the head coach. He took several of those teams to the NCAA Tournament. He was a very good coach, his teams were always prepared, played hard and were difficult to play against. He got caught in a power struggle between 2 administrators and wound up losing his job because of it. That is a scenario that is all too common in college sports. He was out of coaching for about two years, which is a common length of time to regain enthusiasm and I asked him, "Do you miss it? Are you going to try to get back in?" He said he was going to settle into something else. While he would like to coach, he had 2 children in their teens and was near family. One of the hidden factors in coaching is that 99% of the time, when you change jobs, you had to move (I moved 17 times for 7 jobs). He did not want to uproot his kids at this time in their life. He's been out about four years but we still talk basketball and coaching. Earlier this year, he said something really interesting. He had been watching his son practice (who was now a college freshman). There was a new perspective. He said, "I can't believe the things I did intentionally while I was coaching to steal the joy of the game from the kids I was coaching. The 5 am weight training, the 3 hour practices, the running and other punishment for things that were incidental, and all the other things just to exert control over my teams. I never let them feel good about themselves. Laughing was forbidden, just winning wasn't enough and I don't even want to think about what I did when I lost. I don't know how anybody ever played for me." He didn't know any better. He coached the way he was coached. He hated his coach. As most do he said, "If I ever do coach again, it will be a drastically different approach." We continued to talk about how important it was to give kids a positive experience, one that is realistic but positive and let the players take care of the games. Interesting thought.
My second friend has been my best friend since the 4th grade. We went to elementary school together, jr. high and high school as well. We even went to college together. After graduating, I went into coaching and he went to law school. In the last 30 years, I think we had seen each other 4 times. We still talk every week. His family and mine are friendly even though they have never met.
He sent me something the other day that made me think. It was an article by Michael Gartner, who was the President of NBC News. I thought it was too long for this space so I posted it on my website. Here is the link:
http://www.donkelbickbasketball.com/No Left Turns.html
I encourage you to read it. You will get a good laugh and it will certainly give you a different slant on life. It is about his father who lived a long and happy life. A life that he attributed to living on a road less traveled. In his life, the simple things were certainly handled in an unconventional manner.
The purpose of this piece is not to bring you over to my side of the fence. You might not like it here. But it is meant to encourage you to be yourself. Don't be afraid to experiment. If you are not having fun, think of what your players are going through. Solve your own problems the way you are comfortable and by what is effective, not by what you hear others do. Be immune to outside pressures if you believe you are doing a good job (I was once scolded by my boss for not yelling at my players enough - in the middle of a 19 game winning streak). Be strong enough to take the road less traveled, don't make left turns - if that is right for you. Be introspective, react to your players; needs, think about what it would be like to play for you.
Enjoy the game. Enjoy the job. Teach others to enjoy it. Everything else will come in its own time.
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