Teaching the Game – great coaches are great teachers

Greg KampeWhat an exciting time for high school coaches, as the beginning of your season nears.  In past articles I have shared my novel An Elite Journey:  A Young Man’s Leadership Story with Hoop Coach readers and have received great feedback.  Thanks to all the coaches, from college, high school, and even middle school levels, who have reached out and supported the book.  It is much appreciated.

In my last post I shared the importance of restorative practices in coaching and how circles and intentional conversations can lead to more equity and positive relationships.  I recently facilitated a workshop with a high school state championship program, and we emphasized how these restorative principles can be implemented during practices and coaches’ meetings.  

I loved how the head coach started the session by saying, “We can do more to reach our kids.  We have to find different ways to connect with them – to not only keep our competitive edge, but to have more of an impact on the young men we have.”  

Wow!  That’s coming from a program that just won a state championship.

In this post I would like to share some lessons learned from recently attending a few college practices. My favorite practices are when I get to see a lot of teaching.  

I attended an Oakland University men’s practice and saw a high octane team with great energy.  Coach Greg Kampe is a leader, a demander, and a great friend to high school coaches.  He has a great offensive mind – and Oakland just may be one of the best offensive teams in the country this year. Wow can they score!

One aspect that I appreciated was how Coach Kampe brought in a veteran official from the Horizon League to speak to his players about recent rule changes.  Moreover, the official spoke to the team about what they expect from players.  He spoke about the importance of not “showing up the official” with hand gestures or poor body language.  He personalized his profession by explaining how officials are good people, with families; and that they all have a passion for the game.  He went on about when – and when not to – approach an official during the game.  During the presentation the official was personable, funny, and complimentary to both the Oakland coaching staff and players.  

Great teachers know when a different voice can have an impact.  This practice illustrated to me the importance of bringing professionals into your program to help bring out the best in your players.  Whether it is an official, a former player, a respected community member, or veteran coach from another sport; do not underestimate the impact other leaders can have on your program.  As a coach you have such an influential platform to encourage your players to be the best they can be – use your leverage to enable your players to learn from others.

I also visited a University of Michigan practice that was fast paced and highly engaging.  I was really impressed how the players were active – rarely standing in line.  Coach Beilein and his staff were empowering, purposeful, and intentional.  The only time the players were standing for any length of time was during the very beginning of practice when the coaches were teaching specific box out techniques during free throw situations.  What a great time to teach – right at the beginning of practice when their brains are fresh.  

Throughout the practice, Michigan coaches maximized their baskets and student managers – holding players accountable during breakdown drills.  Coach Beilein is a master teacher who runs a highly engaging practice.  His positive approach was noticeable as he individually connected with his players.

As you are preparing your practices, it might be time well spent to see if you are maximizing your resources and ensuring that your players are not standing too long during practices. Court time is limited – the great coaches that I have seen are maximizing their time, space, and resources to help their players develop and become the best that they can be.

Coach Kampe and coach Beilein are not only two highly respected basketball coaches in the college game – they are great teachers as well.  Coaches could learn a lot by attending their practices.

In conclusion, I would like to share a story I read from former President Jimmy Carter’s book Why Not the Best.  Upon graduating from the Naval Academy President Carter was interviewing for a spot on a nuclear submarine with the great Admiral Rickover.  Admiral Rickover was famous not only for his leadership, but for his intense interviews.  The future President thought the interview was going well, until the famous Admiral concluded by saying:  Mr. Carter – How were you as a student at the Naval Academy?  The future President was filled with pride as he replied to the Admiral that he did very well in school.  The imposing Admiral then turned his chair – looking away from the young officer – paused and said – tell me Officer Carter – Did you always do your best?  The young officer was stunned, knowing he could not lie – and replied in a nervous tone something to the effect – “well no sir, I guess not always.”  The legendary Admiral turned his chair away even more and said two life-changing words that the future President would never forget, “Why not?”  

I love that story because it reminds us that no matter how successful we are, or think we are, we probably are falling short of our best.  As coaches, we have to be like President Carter and admit that we can do more.  Like the state championship coach I referenced in the beginning of this article – he started the workshop by essentially saying – we can do better.

As coaches we can also play the role of Admiral Rickover by holding our assistant coaches and players to the highest standard of all – their best work.  One of my favorite quotes is: “You must do what you can do.”  I sincerely wish that all of you – truly do your best work this season and most importantly get the best out of your players.

If you are interested in finding out more about my book, please visit my website michaelmassucci.com, or you can purchase it on Amazon.  You can also follow me on twitter @coachmassucci for any current news on the book or past articles.  If you are interested in team discounts, please contact me at [email protected]


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