June 8, 2017 • From the BenchWinning Hoops

Three tips for young basketball coaches

by Ashley Hutchcraft-Nance, contributing writer

This year, at 32 years old, I completed my 10th season of coaching. During that time, I quickly went from coaching junior high basketball to spending two seasons as a head coach at a small school before arriving at Conway High School (Arkansas), where I recently finished my seventh season as a head coach in our state’s highest classification. It has been a fast ride to say the least.

There are several things I had to learn in a short period of time to get to where I am today, but there are three specific things that I believe helped me succeed as a young coach.

1. “Make the big time where you are.” I heard about this book from Texas A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair. If you have ever heard Blair speak, he typically mentions his book and this phrase. The first time I heard it, it stuck.

Every year I evaluate our program and I ask my staff, players and myself, “How can our program get better?” That may seem like a simple concept, but when you have the best gear, exhaust all volunteer opportunities, go to numerous camps, travel out of state, provide meals, offer tutoring, and conduct Bible studies, it can be difficult to find areas needing improvement.

I have found myself looking for the next step in my career and wondering when or if it will come, causing me to lose focus on “making the big time where I am.” Focusing on the job at hand requires constant evaluation of yourself and your program. So ask yourself, “Am I making the most of my situation, or am I focusing on the next step?” Make your program the best junior high, the best middle school, the best high school or the best college program it can be under your leadership.

2. Care first, coach second. You have probably heard the phrase: Work them as hard as you’re willing to love them. This is the same concept.

You may not be transitioning to a new job, but every coach at all levels of play constantly welcomes new players. They might be incoming freshmen, sophomores or transfers, but we all have at least one new player we must “figure out” before the season starts.

I look back on my first few years of coaching and, without question, I was a lot harder on my players when compared to today. I’m sure my insecurities as a coach played a significant role. We all have a natural desire to feel loved and appreciated, and our players are no different. The more we care about our players as individuals and the more they feel appreciated, the harder they work.

This also requires coaches to self-evaluate throughout the year. We get caught up in winning games, Xs/Os and our personal lives, so we sometimes forget there are young men and women looking to us for guidance and leadership. It’s a huge responsibility that must be taken into consideration on a daily basis.

I typically set a daily goal to ask five players a question that does not pertain to basketball. That might seem simple, but you will be surprised how much you can learn about your players in one month. We have Christmas parties, team cookouts, tailgating and team dinners that help us all connect with one another. If your players know you have a genuine care for them, the Xs/Os and wins will come much easier.

3. Take time to recharge. It can be a terrible feeling when your phone has a low battery and you’re without a charger. The same can be said for our personal and professional lives. Let me explain.

It’s late February and you are practicing six days a week. You can’t sleep much because your team is in a slump, your throat is sore, you watch film at all hours of the night, you have one player who is struggling in class, another is struggling at home, and one is going through a bad breakup. All of them are worried about playing time, you have to speak at the Kiwanis Club on Wednesday, and a college coach is coming to observe your practice. You know you need to spend time with your family, but you have to scout an opponent on Thursday. We have all been there, the feeling of exhaustion or being overwhelmed without a “charger” or “plug-in” in sight.

It’s no coincidence that by March our bodies are shutting down, but to be successful in our profession and sport we must take time to recharge. It’s critical that we step away from our responsibilities as a coach and focus on recharging our minds, bodies and spirit. Get away from the phone, gym, players and staff, and take time to focus on yourself. How we recharge may look slightly different for all of us, but the more we recharge during the offseason, the longer our battery will last during the season. We demand this of our players, but we should also demand the same of ourselves.

Ashley Hutchcraft-Nance is the head girls basketball coach at Conway High School in Arkansas. She has led the Lady Cats to a state championship (2014) and two state runner-up seasons (2015, 2016).