30 years coaching experience/Worked Camps/Clinics on 5 Continents

Monday, January 31, 2011

Reinforcement and Justification

When coaching, you can sometimes question the things that you are doing. Whether it be in practice or games, you wonder if what you are doing is making the individuals and team better. That doubt can come especially when you are not being successful in games, i.e. losing.

It is during that time when you will get advice from all corners, friends, family, parents, administration, etc. Many of them mean well, but it is something that will make you question yourself even more. Sometimes the advice can actually work, but it is frustrating to hear so many different things. If you are a new coach it can actually make you change from day to day, or game to game. If you have had any type of success in the past, you have to understand that you are probably doing the same things as in the past and that you need to continue to do those things.

That is where reinforcement comes in. When you win a game and the game plan works well and all of the things you have done in practice show up, it reinforces your belief in what you are doing. Even if you do not win due to being out manned or shooting % or some other thing we have little control over, it can reinforce that you are doing something right. And there are many "right" ways to play the game. You have to find your comfort zone and play to your strenghts as a coach.

When you win championships, whether in season tournaments, conference championships or post season that justifies your work as a coach. Coach of the Year awards are nice and are often voted on by the media or other coaches, so it helps in justification, but nothing, and I mean nothing justifies you as a coach as winning championships.

But, I do believe that just because you do not win championships doesn't justify what you are doing. There are so many extraneous things that can affect that outcome in games. What I have found is that there are very few bad coaches. They may not have good talent or they are unwilling to change slightly (running/pressing with a team not athletic to do it or deep enough to do it) to ensure success for their specific team.

So how do you know if you aren't getting reinforcement and justification from winning? Measure how supportive, successful and thankful your former players and coaches are for what you have done for them.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Equality in All School Related Activities

Since the inception of Title IX there has been a needed push for equality between the sexes when it came to high school and college athletics. No doubt and with full support from this corner, that law has helped improve the experience for girls and their experiences in school. In no way should discrimination be accepted or allowed.

What I want to write about has nothing to do with gender. We have seen a push for all high school related activites to be pushed and treated equally. No one group should receive more money than the others, no one group should receive preferential treatment, no one group should receive more gym time, etc. And I truly believe that is a great idea and something that should be strived for...there should be equal recognition, maybe even more so for those activities that do not get the same attention from the community.

But to think that all school related activities are equal is to turn a blind eye to reality. They are not equal. Not all activities have message boards, do not get the same attendance or even close to the same coverage in the local papers. Not all activities' coaches, teachers, or other leadership are judged on a regular basis by the community and can be ultimately fired for failure not by doing something illegal, but just by being "not good enough".

Now, with that being said, I think that every single activity is important to a school. I believe that every single activity needs recognition at a school. I believe that every single activity gives some students a chance to be more than just a student at our school. But to think that all activities are equal does an injustice to all activities.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Relationship with All Coaches in a Program

I think it is important as the varsity coach to be involved in the hiring of all the coaches at each level of his program. They must be able to make the decision on who coaches and ultimately who does not coach if they are to be held accountable at the highest level.

That is why I think it is important to have some sort of communication on a regular basis with those coaches. Then it is up to those coaches to follow through. I have an email list where I email all coaches different newsletters or practice plans on a daily basis. I have coaches who communicate with me on those emails. Often asking face to face about different drills and ideas. It is important to me with all of the things that I do and am responsible for to have motivated people who can survive on their own in these positions.

I give all coaches freedom, but want them to do similar stuff that we do. Most coaches visit our practices and incorporate stuff we do in their practices. I am more than happy to attend practices of all coaches and give pointers if they are interested.

It is important that you have coaches at all levels who at the least do not bad mouth you to community people or worse their teams. As the varsity coach, it important to form positive relationships at the younger age with these teams. If a coach at any level is personally attacking you as the head coach, it creates a bad atmosphere. That is when administration support is highly imortant.

Finally, relationships with coaches at all levels must be supported by administration at all levels. Many administrators have coached some sport at some point in their careers and understand this. I feel highly fortunate to have had supportive administration while being the varsity basketball coach.

Friday, January 14, 2011

First Year Coaching

This letter I will post is from my first year. I will answer within the letter. That first year, we had some players that were playing (who had played spring sports) that did not have a physical on file. Once we found out about it, we turned ourselves into the IHSAA. The IHSAA ruled that we were not to allow it to happen again and put on probation. No games were forfeited by the IHSAA's ruling, nor the players ruled ineligible.

"This is a good faith letter from a Henryville resident. It is a well known fact (not true, as we had thought we knew, but didn't know for sure because the AD was out of school for two days. Once we found out, I contacted our Principal at the time Denise Bessler...we received this letter just hours later). that Henryville has played a player or players in Varsity boy's basketball games that are not eligible for play due to the lack of having a physical. (This is a true statement, but as posted above, the IHSAA ruled on it with only probation as a negative consequence)

As a principal who has prided herself on being a rule follower, I feel confident that you will do the right thing and report this incident to the IHSAA (which we did before we received this letter). This will no doubt result in the forfeiture of games played while using ineligible players. (IHSAA did not rule that way). This incident shows an extreme lack of communication and administrative skills by the Athletic Director and the Head Coach, resulting in severe damage to Henryville High School's reputation. (Again, the IHSAA ruled only probation, many coaches in the area were alarmed when I spoke of this because they hadn't been as stringent as we had in checking on this) This lack of responsbility will unfortunately penalize the players and the community. (I accepted responsibility for the probation that was received for this "lack of administrative skill") However, the lesson of admitting your mistakes far out way (misspelling) teaching our kids to cover up something we know is wrong. (Could not agree more!!!)

Please address this matter immediately or the next course of action may be to notify the IHSAA officials and local new (misspelling) media directly. The eyes of the community are watching to see how you handle this situation.

A Concerned Citizen.

Looking back on this, we were terribly upset that someone in our own community would write such a scathing, anonymous rebuke of what we were doing. We felt we were working to correct what had been done and were waiting on the response from the IHSAA. It is apparent that the person who wrote this letter (still don't know to this day) had some agenda, something they were not happy about besides this issue as they not only sent this letter to me, but our AD, our Principal, our Superintendent, and every school board member without checking with our AD or me.

Looking back, it did not make me happy at the time that I hadn't done my job thoroughly enough and risked potentially having wins taken away from a team that had battled to get to .500 at that point. Luckily, my mistake didn't cost that team and I have done a much more thorough job in checking things like this as "the eyes of the community are watching".

Help from the Outside

I have decided that if I am to share what it is like to be a basketball coach in Indiana, at a high school, I should share some of the things I deal with. Below is an anonymous email that I received from the past. When and by whom is irrelevant here.

"Hello Coach, after reading your posts on various websites, I seem to get the impression that you are very passionate about coaching and teaching the kids about basketball. I'm not sure if this teaching/coaching involves lessons in life and life after basketball, but as a role model/mentor to the kids on your teams, you have a very important impact on some of the decisions they may make off the court. Most of the kids who play basketball seem to make it their life and don't want to do anything to jeopardize their participation in it. However, whether its turning a blind eye to it or lack of involvement in some of their lives, it seems to me that some of the players are getting involved in Smoking Marijuana, and/or other drugs, and still allowed to be a part of the team, which is not putting the team first. I know for a fact that 4 players have been arrested in recent months for possession of marijuana and some are still allowed to be an integral part of the team. I'm sure there are others now and in the past. Like I said, I'm not trying to lay any blame on you or the staff, but like I said, if the players know what is expected of them, (like immediate dismissal from the team for such violations) they may be alittle more likely to stay on the right track, instead of making a decision that could forever impact their lives. These kids may not have alot of positive impact in their home lives, and just may look up to you and the staff as Mentors and guidance to do the right thing if you put a strong enough emphasis on it. If nothing else it will show how important basketball is to them if they chose to still do what they know could cost them their spot on the team."

Thanks for your time...."A Concerned Fan"

My response:
First, the anonymous aspect of this email bothers me. If you are concerned, talk to me as a person, face to face.

Second, as long as I have coached, kids are doing things they are not supposed to be doing, and if caught have been dealt with accordingly. We have given second chances to many people throughout my career who have made mistakes. In fact, I played with people who were doing things they shouldn’t have…and if we sat everyone or got rid of everyone who we thought was doing something wrong with little proof other than anonymous emails, there wouldn’t be many left playing. With minors, if they don’t admit to doing something wrong, we usually don’t know about it or can do anything about it. To be honest, if kids are arrested, if kids are caught doing things and I hear about it, I do go to the player immediately and confront them. I have run teams for rumors that are going around the school and suspended players for things we know as opposed to assuming.

Third, you assume that we do not speak with these kids constantly about their decisions and what they can lose, we do.

Fourth, you assume that I don’t do some things as a coach that I do whether with integral players or people who have had personal issues off the court. I do.

Fifth, if you know for a fact, I will definitely investigate two of the players you have mentioned, and one of the players has been caught and dealt with and you will see in future games. One player quit the basketball team over Christmas Break….he is not a basketball player, but I still care about him as a person.

Sixth, walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you begin to assume that you know everything about what you perceive to be true. Often the truth is not what you perceive.

Thanks for the concern. I often think that teachers, coaches, administrators are held to higher standards than parents. I have yet to have a parent come to me and tell me that their kid is doing something they shouldn’t and that they, the parent, is pulling them off the team….has NEVER happened.

Again, thanks for the concern and I will be asking the players you mentioned about your accusation. If so, they will be dealt with…it is the first I have heard about it.

The anonymous emailers response:

Thanks for the reply coach, I wasn't sure you'd take the time to reply due to the anonymous nature, can't afford the backlash that might come with me bringing these issues to your attention. I am a firm believer in random drug testing in the workplace as well as in schools if a student wants to participate in extra-curricular activities. If we wait until they graduate school before we start holding them accountable, its already way too late due to the fact that some kids are experimenting with drugs as early as 8th grade and less and by the time they graduate (if they graduate) they are so addicted to them that there is not much chance of getting them any help. I know this isn't an option as it would open you/the school up to many lawsuits, but I wonder if you mentioned that you were going to start random testing (even though you and I know you can't, but students probably don't know it) how many sick looking faces you'd see, or how many kids might quit the team. I'm sure if you confronted the players about their arrest they denied it, and I guess on a technicality they wouldn't have been lying. Don't get me wrong, I too believe in second chances and all, but if a slap on the wrist is all thats given, their is no lesson learned, nor any reason to think about quitting the very addictive habit if their is no worry about punishment. Again, I'm not criticizing you or the staff for anything you do, I just wanted to bring it to your attention in case you weren't aware of it. I'll leave you alone now to do your job which by the way, I think you do well, and NO I wouldn't wanna walk in your shoes because as you can see, I don't have the patience and like you mentioned Henryville probably wouldn't have a team.

My response today is different than at the time. I really believed that this person wanted to cause problems or had some motive that wasn't coming through in the email, however, reading it now, I believe that it may have been they were trying to help. And they had an agenda.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Watch What You Say...or Write (Please)

Are anonymous message boards part of the problem or part of the solution in high school athletics? They do help you promote a player or team, but problems exist, mostly because people on them hide behind an anonymous name.

Players, coaches, and fans get on these sites and speak their opinions with zero consequence unless someone finds out their identity. Is it that big of a deal? I think it can be. In the past people went to the local barbershop or wherever and publicly said what they believe. That is more admirable than hiding behind a name, unknown in your accusations.

But these opinions can spread to people who, more often than not, are not as informed on the subject and consider it to be the truth because such and such said so.  I recently had an opinion on a coach and what he was doing then finished with these words: "of course, I don't go to their practices, I have watched few games, and I don't know what he is trying to do, so because of that I really don't have an informed opinion." There are people passed off as educated who do not know anything other than what they see and read in the papers about sports players and teams or hear gossip from their friends and then they form opinions.

People go on these websites and pontificate about high school kids and coaches who are working to make the players and teams better. I know that things posted on these sites cause hurt feelings and break teams apart.  It happened to my teams and other people that we know in the area who got tired of this happening to them, their family members, their teams, and their players.

Facebook is a little better in that an opinion is right there next to a name and/or picture, but people feel that they are more insulated online. However, on Facebook, you know where people stand and the longer Facebook and Twitter are around, the more bold people are getting, but it does allow coaches to know where parents/fans stand.

Next time you read a message board read it this way..."I don't have a dog in this hunt" (yes, you do and are leading the hunting party); "It's not just me, a lot of people think this" (no, it's just you and/or your family and friends); "I just don't understand what he is trying to do" (yea...I agree with that one, you don't understand); "the kids really played hard despite the loss" (my son/daughter scored some points and got to play); "we won, but the coach was horrible" (my son/daughter didn't score or play as much as I thought they should).

How much fun would it be to have your job bashed anonymously by people who have minimal experience in your field? If a professional accountant was slammed daily on a message board by someone who did their taxes a few times, or Principals being slammed online by someone who ran an office or a small restuarant (it's not the same thing, it isn't) how do you think it would make you feel?  Coaches are told to "get over it", it's "part of the job", but I can guarantee you if many of these people were evaluated in their daily jobs, they would not be able to "get over it" any easier than coaches or players.

I will admit that I do read these boards sometimes. Am I part of the problem? Probably, but I am trying to stay informed so that I am not caught off guard by someone who brings me the next "hey, did you read on __________?" not that it matters as much today with me not coaching.  Next time you feel like venting online, remember these people are people too.  Why don't you take it up with them personally face to face?

One of the reasons I got out of coaching was dealing with the ever increasing problems of the online world.  I didn't want to have to deal with often trying to soothe feelings either on my team or in my home, but I guess this article could very well cause some of the same problems, maybe even worse, but I am a coaches advocate and I want these words out there.  And if you want to know who wrote it; just look at the top and there is my name and picture.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Saturday Morning Intramurals

Six years ago, we started an intramural program on Saturday morning to try and get more boys not just acclimated to basketball practice and fundamentals, but also to playing "games".

Thankfully, we have many people; my wife, the high school basketball players, the assistant coaches and even some parents who volunteer their time on those Saturday mornings. I arrive at 8 AM for the first group which begins at 9 AM. We will leave at around 12:15 after the final group. During that time the volunteers have taken time out of their Saturday mornings to help us with our program and have worked with boys 4 years old all the way to 8th graders.

During each groups hour, we give 5-8 minutes of free shooting. The reason behind this is that most boys don't have access to a gymnasium and appreciate shooting in the gym. Then from that time we do group fundamentals and then into stations. In those stations, the boys are taught passing, shooting, defense, dribbling, and pivots.

Each boy gets a Henryville Basketball t-shirt. Those boys that do not attend the day of or after the shirts are passed out, my wife (an elementary teacher at HHS) researches which class they are in and I hand deliver those shirts as soon as time permits. Each boy goes onto a mailing list in which we send them holiday and birthday cards to remind them that we appreciate their efforts in coming to our camps.

Below, I have posted some of the emails I have received recently about our intramural program. They have been copied and pasted straight from the email that I received. If anyone ever has an idea how to improve our intramurals, I will listen, and even better any time anyone wants to volunteer to help on Saturday mornings or even take a team to play at the local Nolan Fieldhouse...that would be wonderful.

I hope the emails give you a better insight on some of the issues I have to deal with as head coach at HHS.

"I want to thank you and your players/coaches for taking the time to help my son. I know he isn't very good now, but I love that you do this for the kids."

"I wanted to thank you for sending the birthday card to my son. He thought it was pretty cool. Thanks again."

"My son did not get his shirt (I received this email after this boy got his shirt, but the person emailing didn't know it; we try as soon as possible to get shirts to any one who paid, but usually it takes time to find time to do this). I paid for the basketball camp and he attended only three sessions. After the third session I decided it was a total waste of my money and his time. I didn't feel or see the helpers doing any teaching to the boys. (Please see above as this is not true) It seemed to me that the entire time the kids just "played" with the basketballs and the coaches were just looking over them. (Kids DO play basketball and the coaches DO watch over them) The practices that the kids did at the beginning of the morning alse seemed to just be to pass time by. (Unfortunately while we are working on group fundamentals, time does pass by) I did not see one time that any of the helpers or coaches take time out to work one on one with not only my son but several other kids as well. (Absolutely not true) I am glad I had an opportunity to see that this program was not affective, so that I won't bother to waste my money on it again." (The (e)ffectiveness can always be debated)

"I think you should play more games (We are working on that possibly next year) and have less fundamentals (disagree completely). The kids really need to be able to play the game of basketball and not have to worry about pivots and passing. Get it and go."

Saturday, January 1, 2011


As we approach the ten game mark, I often like to look back at what we have gone through and where we are going. We sit at 3-6, not exactly stellar. I try to have realistic expectations, I mean, I do think we can go undefeated every single year, but when you look at our schedule and who we have played, we have played a pretty tough schedule by many standards.

I have always tried to give upper classment their fair (what I believe to be fair) opportunity to show what they can do, but at some point....well, they have to get it done on the court. Individual statistics and overall team record are the barometer in which I gauge if they are doing just that. We have had a couple of freshmen who have helped us offensively in the last two games and will be given more of an opportunity in the future. The only thing I tell players who are not playing is when they get a chance show me that I am quite stupid for not playing you. It has happened a couple of times this year and I enjoy watching guys raise their games.

By this time, especially it seems when you are losing, you have heard enough about this or that or what we can be doing to be better or who should be playing. If you knew every intimate detail of advice I have been given you would have a better understanding at what we as coaches go through.

Some great things that have come out of the first half of the season: first, we have very good guys on the team. In fact, that may be one of our negatives as we have no strong, vocal leadership. Second, the guys come to practice ready to work now as opposed to the first few weeks of practice. Third, we have raised money for the American Cancer Society, and Fourth I think we are making progress.

We look forward to the second half of the season with our first game back at Trinity Lutheran. After defeating them earlier in the season, I am sure they will be ready for us when we arrive in Seymour. It would be nice to have many of our fans be there to counter balance their home court advantage.