There is great high school coaching talent in Kansas City and its surrounding area and we are not just talking about coaches that win. The best coaches understand that in high school, winning has a lot to do with what talent ends up at your school, a factor out of the control of most programs. So success on the scoreboard can be only one important part of a season that teaches the larger lessons of discipline, hard work and a love for the game of basketball. The coaching profession requires countless hours, a thick skin and a commitment to kids that extends well outside the court.
When you talk to successful adults who credit the lessons of sports for many of their professional achievements, you find that former players remember their prep days for much more than the wins. Former players mostly talk about memories associated with having fun with teammates, playing games in front of big crowds and the lessons learned from coaches about hard work and teamwork. All things a coach most directly affects.
So, for the 95% of coaches who understand this, you can probably skip the rest of this story. But for you guys who continue to squeeze the love out of the game and make the high school season a job instead of an exciting journey, you should take a look at the following and then sit back to evaluate what kind of environment you create in your program. We salute coaches such as BJ Hair at Shawnee Mission North, Roger Stirtz at Liberty, Anthony Perry at Park Hill South, Mark Nussbaum at Rockhurst and Steve Blue of Goddard as examples of the many high school coaching leaders who understand these principles.
We recently asked coaches what things they focus on to keep their own high school programs on the proper track and what mistakes they have seen made over the years. The following represents a summary of their responses including some actual direct quotes:
1. “Stop acting like you’re a college coach – you’re not.” These are much different kids with much different goals and responsibilities than a 21 year old college student. “Prepare your kids the right way without making heads and bodies explode.”
2. The Bobby Knight era is over – “Constant negativity does not work today. Hold players accountable, but you can’t tear them down and expect results. Build players up and they will be better for it.” One coach highlighted “PPT – the power of positive thinking.”
3. “Make it fun” – the whole point of high school athletics is creating positive memories for everyone involved in the program and for lasting “confidence to do whatever they set their mind to do.”
4. “In our program, our coaches know most of these student athletes will never play another game after their high school career ends.” Recognize this reality and become a “mentor, counselor, and academic advisor that helps turn these teens into quality young men.” and “we think the basketball team can do good things in our community that have nothing to do with basketball.”
5. Don’t coach every player the same way – teenagers have different mental and physical abilities and some want to play hoops at the next level while others do not. “Create consistent expectations for everyone but inspire and improve each player individually to get the most that they are able to give.” We heard the word “teach” many times and several coaches discussed the importance of helping players who want to play in college to get exposed online and through coaching channels.
6. “Don’t make the game seem like a job” and “Make sure you leave players wanting more, not ready to quit the game.”
7. “Participate in the spirit and hype of high school athletics. Remember that you will go through a season many times, but your players will only have one chance. Make it special through their eyes.”
8. Hand the game to the kids and let them have it – “don’t overcoach and overmanage games and practices.” Don’t waste time. “95% of my scouting is done on teams who are in our sub state. I do not usually worry about regular season records or who we are playing. We worry about ourselves until playoff time.”
9. The best lessons in athletics come from holding players and teams accountable for discipline, behavior and their performance, without allowing outside factors to influence this - “It is a priviledge to represent your school” and “Don’t let parents become active in your decision making.”
10. Set the tone for your team – “A team will take on the personality of its coach. When I am enthusiastic and loose, my team is too. If coaches have no passion or set a negative tone, their team will behave the same way.”
We also heard feedback that AAU and high school basketball are constantly in conflict with each other, and that coaches should be clear where their loyalties are. One coach commented, “There is a lot of money being made by coaches who are using their position to generate additional income and I’m not sure if that is always right.”
John Wooden, a former high school coach and the greatest basketball teacher who ever lived