July 17, 2018 • FeaturesFrom the BenchWinning Hoops

What it means to be a coach

by Les Cano, contributing writer

What does it mean to be a coach? How about a good coach for that matter?

Coaching is different than any other teaching job. You often have time to build relationships with players that can be meaningful. Plus, you have to deal with hard losses that linger in your mind and great wins that seem to fade faster as time passes. Ultimately, a coach has to meet all challenges — expected or unexpected.

If you, as a coach, are driven to succeed, you have to do the work. You must learn how to learn and, just as importantly, learn how to teach. You have to accept the constraints of your profession, which includes dealing with the expectations of your players, your players’ parents, alumni, the athletic department and the general public.

So, what’s a coach to do? It’s amazing that everything you read from coaches has to do with strategy, defensive philosophies and practice drills. The investment required to learn the technical details of a sport are important, but so is learning how to impart that knowledge while leading your team every day. A coach must be ready to exemplify the qualities of team work, sacrifice, hard work, dedication and preparation that he or she expects from the team. Winning is a result of this kind of commitment at every level of your program. And, of course, the opposite is true. When you only are dedicated to the Xs and Os, losing isn’t far away.

I once observed a coach and his team grow apart over the course of a season. There was no single factor that caused the rift but a combination of issues, including a lack of discipline in the team members (especially the seniors). There also was an unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary to have a good team. Plus, the coaches and players lacked patience, which led to an emphasis on winning instead of fundamentals. It’s very easy during the course of a losing season to let finger-pointing and gossip become the focus of a team instead of acknowledging that the work to develop talent, and the effort required to lead the team just wasn’t present during the season. Everyone involved in that season finished the year with a bitter taste in their mouth.

This happens more often that it should. Championship teams take years to develop. Coaches need time to establish their program and need resources to develop their players. Every good head coach needs a dependable staff willing to work as hard in the offseason as they do during the season, especially in the development of players.

The commitment to build a solid program often takes a toll on a coach’s personal life. If a coach has a family, he or she requires an understanding and supportive spouse who deals with the inevitable ups and downs of a coaching career.

Also taking a toll on a coach’s life is the current active role of parents within basketball teams. And by active, that means more meddling than simply attending games. Former Purdue University men’s coach Gene Keady once told me at a coaching clinic that the thing he has seen change the most during his coaching career is the role of parents in the athletic careers of their children. This is the most disturbing trend in high school sports today. There are too many examples of confrontations between players, parents, coaches and staff, which end up in the news due to a loss of perspective. Take a step back and think about the role of parents within your team and how you plan to address these situations.

A couple of great coaching examples to follow both on and off the court occurred at two of our country’s military academies. I had the honor of working at the Air Force Academy for two years as part of the summer sports program. While there I met many of the cadets who played basketball. I was impressed by how hard they had to work to find time to play basketball. With their obligations to the country, their school and the team, these fine young players sacrificed much for the privilege of being a student-athlete. The same holds true for the young women at West Point. They are disciplined, dedicated and determined on and off the court. The Air Force and Army may not have won recent NCAA basketball championships, but they have provided the model after which we should base the way we coach.

Other coaches have dedicated themselves to volunteering to make others’ lives better while still coaching top-notch programs. Always remember the impact that sports have on people. Use your influence as a coach to better the lives of your players, as well as those who are in need.

Deep down, coaches are teachers. Coaching gives you the chance to influence someone in ways that might be more difficult if you were a math or science teacher. You are a role model — remember this.

Also remember this — “Struggling is the meaning of life. Victory and defeat are in the hands of God, so one must enjoy in struggling.” It’s a Kenyan saying and can be applied to the theory of what it means to be a coach.