"I can check the level of your honesty and commitment by the quality of your effort on the court. You cannot separate sports from your life, no matter how hard you try. Your personality shows up on the court. Greed, indifference, whatever, it all shows up. You cannot hide it."
- Pete Carill
Coaches want to be in control. We control the environment in practice everyday. We control the schedule of our guys in the pre-season with regards to workouts. We control their strength and conditioning programs. At the D1 level the coaches are in control of the summer as well. When your job relies on the decisions made by 18-22 year old college kids, it's pretty natural to want control.
A tough challenge in coaching is understanding the value of not being in control. I think you can learn this lesson best in the spring. At the D3 level we aren't allowed to control our kids pre and post-season workouts by rule, so there isn't much we can do. When I first got to RIC I wasn't really comfortable with this, because I was like most coaches - I wanted to be in control. But I've learned there is great value in giving your kids control.
The spring is a great time to leave your kids alone. To give them control. Everyone has been going hard since September 1st - whether it's voluntary pre-season workouts at the D3 level or required sessions at the higher levels - and it's a very long season. When the season ends everyone needs a break. At RIC, we never have a post-season meeting right after the season ends. In fact, at this point we are over a month since our season ended and we still haven't had a team meeting. Our guys got together on their own and started with their post-season workouts when they were comfortable with it. They got back into the gym and the weight room when they decided it was time to play again. Some years they take longer than others, but usually within a week or two they are back in the gym.
I believe strongly that your kids will be much more productive if they are getting into the gym because they want to do it as opposed to being told to do it. This is a great way to foster and develop trust in your program. It's also a great way to learn about your kids - both good and bad. You'll see leadership develop in places you may not have known you had it, and you'll discover certain guys you might not be able to count on. Understand that all of the information you learn about your team might not be good, and you might have to sacrifice a week or two of good workouts if you don't have great leadership. But I'm willing to trade that for the trust and leadership development that comes with giving my team ownership of the spring, not to mention getting a great idea of what I have to work with and how I need to coach them come next October.
It's not like you are never going to talk to them or see them. You don't have to disappear. It's just the subtle difference between you asking them how workouts are going, versus telling them how workouts need to go, that I think changes things mentally. After a season in your program they should have a pretty good idea of the commitment and the work rate you expect of them. And now you are giving them a chance to do it on their own. They shouldn't need you to walk them through it every day.
It's not that I think the off-season is unimportant - it's actually the opposite. I think it is crucial. I think the way your guys play pick-up and how hard they work in the 7 months outside of the season is a huge part of your program. But I want to make sure I have my kids attention every day starting on October 15th. If they feel they have to do something that coach is telling them every day of the year, there is no way the message can have the same impact once practice starts. It's just human nature to turn that message into white noise.
It may seem like a risk to let your kids plan and execute the post-season on their own schedule. And when you first do it, you may not like what you see. But you'll learn a great deal about them and you are allowing them to grow into leaders and good teammates, while also developing trust in your program. Leave them alone in the spring and let them handle it themselves and you'll learn more about how to coach them - and they'll be easier to coach - when October 15th rolls around. Give the spring to them and your program will grow.
"The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now."
- Chinese Proverb
I found this passage from Pat Summitt's book "Sum It Up" fascinating. She talks about how she handled the fact that two of her best players - Nicky Anosike and Candace Parker - didn't like each other.
"But there was one issue we had to solve: Nicky and Candace couldn't stand each other. They clashed like plaid and stripes, and no amount of circling up and campfire conversation could hide that fact. There were days in practice when they would barely exchange a glance.
The problem was they were so different, yet equally competitive. Candace made everything look natural and smooth; Nicky was all work and power. Candace was our best offensive player, Nicky our best defender. I decided the tension between them wasn't all bad, if I could find a way to channel it.
I threw them into what Nikki Caldwell liked to call "the pit." Summoning a long-ago lesson from my experience in the Olympic Trials, I matched them up in a one-on-one drill, then stood back and let them go at it. I had a feeling they would each learn a lesson. It was like an old movie where two monsters fight: Nicky would smack down Candace, but then Candace would school Nicky. Candace prided herself on winning every drill. Well, guess who won - Nicky. Defense had carried the day, as I suspected it might. Candace couldn't stand it - she hated to lose at anything, and she was beside herself. She stormed back and forth for a minute, and then she came running over to me.
She said, "We have to go again."
Nicky put the ball on her hip and said, "Coach, we're not playing again. I already won."
"No, no, no," Candace said.
"IT"S OVER!" Nicky said.
I was delighted. I said, "No, let's play again."
They went back on the court, Nicky fuming. Part of the drill was that they got to call their own fouls, an honor system. Nicky had trouble finishing around the basket, but if she didn't make the bucket, she was good at drawing fouls. She missed a layup, and she called a foul. Next possession, same thing. "Yep, you fouled me again," she said. Candace was boiling. The third time Nicky called a foul, Candace started screaming.
"I didn't even touch you, you're just calling fouls 'cause you can't score, you such a PUNK!"
Nicky screamed back, "I'm not a punk, I already WON!"
By now they were crowding each other and I had to step in and try to break them up, two very salty six-foot-four and six-foot-five bodies. The other coaches came running in, and we finally got them separated. Nicky said, "Pat, you could've gotten hurt."
I loved it. In those few minutes, Candace played better D, and Nicky was more efficient offensively, and you could see that they were pulling the best out of each other. Moreover, in an odd way, it made them trust. Each of them taught the other a lesson about her value, and when we were in a tight game and needed a score, or a stop, they would know who to go to."
"Those are the situations Pat put us in, and it wasn't done accidentally. She loves confrontation and likes to create that environment, because not only is she entertained by it, but it interests her to see what people are made of and what you have inside of you." - Nicky Anosike
She recognized the tension between the two players and saw value in it for her team - that is what I find so fascinating. She was willing to create an uncomfortable situation - one that most coaches are doing everything they can to avoid - to see what they were made of and get the most out of them. It's such a great lesson that confrontation is necessary to have great leadership, and chemistry might not always be what you think it is.
That Tennessee team went on to finish 36-2 and win Summitt's 8th and final National Championship, and Summitt later notes that Parker and Anosike are now the best of friends.
Establishing a championship culture is about setting a foundation your guys will believe in. You have to be consistent in order to develop trust, and trust takes time and must be earned. Your kids aren't automatically going to trust you because you are the new head coach. The best way earn their trust is to start by holding yourself accountable.
Whatever it is you are asking your kids to do, you need to demand the same out of yourself. If you want them to be up at 6 AM to work out, you should be up with them. If you are asking them to work hard, they need to see you are willing to work hard. If you want them to be on time all the time, you need to be on time yourself. It sounds simple and it makes sense, but in practice it gets a little more difficult. If practice is supposed to start at 4 PM and you don't walk on the floor until 4:15, it's pretty clear to them that being on time is not important. Things come up, and it's easy as a head coach to say you need to take care of something and just back practice up. But if you then hammer your guys when they are late for practice, you are holding them accountable for something you aren't holding yourself accountable for. They are going to see right through you.
You can get caught up in being the tough new head coach and trying to set a different tone when you take over a program. In doing that, it's easy to get caught up being a drill sergeant and expecting your kids to just blindly follow you. For the most part they will, because you are the new head coach. But they are also watching you very closely. If you are saying one thing and then doing another, you are committing a fatal sin as a head coach. You have to hold yourself accountable to the same standards, or you won't be able to build the foundation you need for a championship culture.
The 2014 Dynamic Leadership Academy will take place on June 2nd-3rd in Providence, Rhode Island. You can find all of the information you need here: