Building a basketball program can be a way to help ensure success for years to come. It takes time and commitment, but if done correctly it will pay huge dividends in regards to how competitive your teams are year in and year out, how much fun you and your players have, and the life long impact you'll be able to make on your players.
As you start this journey I’d like to give you a few things to think about as you begin building a basketball program. These thoughts are time tested. You don't have to use them all right away, but don’t be afraid to revisit, pivot, and sometimes even change your ways of coaching to become better and ultimately have more success as a basketball coach.
(In no particular order.)
1. Program yourself to always ask what is best for the player first.
Everyone has an ego that is hard to put on the shelf sometimes. This is never more apparent then when it comes to competition - we want to win, we want recognition, and we want to point out when it wasn’t our fault if things don’t go the right way. I truly believe these thoughts have been ingrained in us throughout life and they are now just part of our human nature. When you ask yourself what is best for the player you re-frame the questions and circumstances in a way that doesn’t put you at the center of things, instead sets the player and their best interest as the focal point.
- A great way to put the players ahead of yourself is to ask the question, What can I do better? A coach can easily find themselves blaming the players, which may be recognizing a symptom but not the problem. You can learn more about this concept and how to implement it in your coaching by reading a post I did titled What To Do When Your Team Is Playing Poorly.
2. Spend time off the court with your team.
Spending time with your team off the court is one of the biggest ways I set my teams up for success. When people ask how I get my players to play a certain way they usually are looking for a drill or play. I know they are disappointed when I answer by saying we spend time off the court together. My belief is that the more the players enjoy each other and create experiences together off the court the more they will buy into each other and encourage each other on the court. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Use the first twenty minutes of practice to tell a story, read an article together, watch an inspirational video, talk about life, do team building activities, bring in a speaker, etc. The work you put in as a team before practice will pay huge dividends on the court.
- Have team dinners before home games. There is typically a parent who is eager to help organize dinners, all you have to do is ask.
- Attend sporting events with your team. Take them to a local college basketball game. Most colleges will allow you to come as guests and it won’t cost you a dime.
- Create team traditions. Organizing a Christmas party with white elephant gifts, do a team community service project, or do an all program minute to win it competition.
3. Realize that success as a basketball coach is a process and each coach's process is different.
The process will look different for everyone, but just as there are people who become millionaires from a lotto ticket and those who become millionaires by saving a little from every check over time, there will be coaches who win right away because they stepped into a coaching position that only a fool could mess up and then there are those who have to develop a program from the ground up which will take more time. Your process will not be the same as mine or any other coaches, so don’t spend your time comparing or worrying about it.
4. Find a Mentor to have honest conversations with.
Having a mentor is extremely important in my opinion. You may talk with your mentor about basketball schemes, team issues, personal struggles or just when you want to bounce an idea off someone. No matter how you use your mentor you’ll start to grow as a coach. Your mentor will see things differently since they have a perspective from outside the team and program. There advice will make you think things through in order to have a plan and be prepared for whatever obstacle is in front of you. They will also be able to celebrate with you in a different way since they will know what your about at your core. Mentors can be someone you talk to on the phone, over Skype, face to face, it doesn’t matter as long as you have one.
5. Develop a program, not just a team.
Start teaching the basics to your youth players and get more specific to what you want the players to know as they reach middle school, 9th grade and junior varsity. You won’t have to teach concepts and strategies from scratch at the varsity level this way. Take the time to meet with your youth coaches, middle school coaches, and of course your high school coaches so they can see the progression you'd like for skill development and system implementation at each level.
6. Communicate early and often with your administration.
Don’t wait for them to come to you. Bring issues and ideas to them first. Be ready to offer a solution if asked, but don’t bulldoze your way into their territory if you’re not asked. Tip: Add your athletic director on every parent email, budget email, scheduling email, camp email... you get the idea. They may never reply or just say that its up to you, but they are in the know and this is exactly where they want to be.
7. Bring in or bring along coaches who will be loyal and want to be a part of your program.
Some coaches like the idea of grooming a coach, others like the idea of having former players come back as a coach since they know the system, and still others like finding coaches with experience that can hit the road running and have proven they can teach the game. There is not right or wrong approach it really depends on what you’re comfortable with. The #1 thing each of these coaches needs to be is loyal. You have to trust that they have you and your program as a top priority when they are coaching. If they don’t you will find players won’t buy in, won’t show up, won’t play hard, get confused, stop communicating, etc. You’ll also find yourself facing harsher criticism because your coach is sabotaging what you’re trying to build. This is usually done in a subtle way that erodes the very foundation your working so hard to put into place.
8. Celebrate successes.
It doesn’t matter if your 1-19, celebrate the one win. If a player takes a charge celebrate the effort and sacrifice they made for the team. If a player has a personal best in a specific area hand them a pop. There are so many areas you can choose from to celebrate. One thing to keep in mind, try not to make everything about stats. If a player doesn’t play they will never be celebrated. Make sure some of your celebrations revolve around effort, attitude, leadership, and being a teammate. Whatever you choose to celebrate know that your players will follow suit and begin to celebrate each other without you leading it every time.
9. Include your family.
Your family sacrifices so you can be in the gym, on the bus, at the team meeting. Don’t ever get so caught up in you that you forget about them. Sure they come and sit in the stands and you think this is great, but if they aren’t recognized for their sacrifice problems can sneak up. Take your spouse to dinner, let your kids come to practice, make it known that practice will be short because you have a date with your spouse or because your kids have a play you need to get to. This is where you’ll show them how to prioritize the right things and your spouse and kids will cheer for you that much harder in the stands instead of just sitting there because that’s what a coaches family does.
10. Develop and grow your youth camps.
Youth basketball camps are something every basketball program needs to tap into for several reasons. While I won't go in depth about each area they are worth the mention and for you to be aware of.
a. You get your area kids involved in basketball. (This one seems like a no brainer.)
b. Your high school players can serve as camp coaches. The more they teach the game the better they will understand concepts. They will also be reinforcing the skills your teaching to them as they demonstrate and teach the younger players.
c. Camps are a built in fundraiser. Most programs will need to fundraise each year, so the more you grow your camps the more money you will generate for your program.
d. Campers look up to varsity players. Once campers build a friendship with the varsity players they will feel like they are apart of the team and one of the guys or girls.
e. Camps build connections and support within the community. I can't tell you how many parents have said they like the camp quotes, the message of the day, or the interaction their child is getting with me and my players. These connections build relationships in the community and help put more fans in the stands come game time.
You may be thinking this is a lot, all I wanted to do was coach the varsity basketball team. You're right it is a lot, but if you want to have success year after year you need to build a basketball program that can compete year after year.
Good luck with your program coach.