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Posted April 1, 2016

Laying the foundation for a successful program

By Rob Slopek, formerly of Centenntial High School, Ellicott City, Maryland

Whether you are taking over a successful program or a team that has seen better days, it’s important to consider how to build a strong foundation when you step in as head basketball coach.

My personal experience is that I took over a program several years ago that was relatively successful. However, I wanted to bring the team to the next level. In doing this, I discovered five main building blocks that have laid the foundation to our winning program. They certainly aren’t the only things necessary for building a winner, but I have found that a program is off to a great start if the following five items are addressed from the first day you step on campus.

1. Hire good assistant coaches and managers.

2. Gain the support of the administration and school.

3. Have your players buy into your program.

4. Have parents buy into program.

5. Have a vision and mission for your program.

Remember, success isn’t necessarily based on wins and losses. Success is measured on how much you as a team and as a coach improve each day. Not all teams are going to win a state, region or even county championship, but every team has the ability to improve while having fun. You, as a coach, have the opportunity to be a positive force in the lives of players for years to come. It all starts with the five building blocks to a strong basketball program.

Effective Assistants & Managers

The people you surround yourself with are the ones who make you what you are and help define you as a coach. Yes, you are the decision maker for the team as the head coach, but you need at least one other person on hand to help make those decisions by offering their own thoughts and opinions. A “yes” man or woman isn’t going to cut it. Find someone with their own ideas who understands your program’s goals and who offers you a different perspective when dealing with players or situations.

Your assistants must be knowledgeable and willing to accept the responsibilities and role of an assistant coach. Let them know you are in charge but that their input always is welcome and encouraged. Be sure to provide assistants a clear role on your team as well. Too often assistants don’t know the specifics of their job and become frustrated when the coach calls them out for not completing tasks.

The best assistant coaches are the ones who want to become better coaches, whether they strive to be a head coach or not.

Everyone Deserves Respect

Treat your assistants with respect. If you want your assistants to scout the opposition, be sure to give their report your attention. Sure, there are times when decisions are made quickly and all of the work of the assistants might not be able to be used, but don’t consistently ignore the hard work done by your staff.

Be sure your players and everyone else in the program treats the assistants with respect. Assistants handle a lot of the day-to-day rigors of running a team, which directly affect players. Without respect for the assistant and the work done by this person, the entire team suffers.

Administration & School Support

Communication is the key component in securing the support of your school and the administration. Part of your job is to communicate with the student body about what is going on with your team. This is done by making morning or afternoon announcements and through special events. The more you talk about your program, the more people will be interested in your team and more than likely will attend your games.

Your players are busy working hard to become better on the court, so you owe it to them to showcase them in an off-the-court manner. Be proud of your team and encourage students, faculty, administrators, etc., to come out and support your players.

Keeping the administration at the forefront of what you are doing with the team is critical as well. Let the higher-ups know you are keeping your players in line on the court and in the classroom, and that you are running your team in a manner that makes the entire school proud. Invite administrators to games, banquets or other special events. Give them T-shirts and other spirit wear so they know you’re thinking about them.

Getting Players Involved

Of course, your team is the largest advertising vehicle you have. Players must communicate with students as well about what is happening with the team. They also need to work on drawing more attendees to games.

A great way to do this is to have your players go to the middle schools to volunteer at some of their events. This shows that your players are involved in the school system, which typically translates into more people involved with the school system wanting to attend basketball games.

Players Buying In

Players must share your thoughts and vision for the team, otherwise your team is destined for failure. Get them to buy into your program by sharing your vision of the program with them.

Provide players with responsibility of looking out for each other. The only way your players are going to buy into what you’re doing is to have them take responsibility for everyone within the organization and to take ownership in their every action. Players need to understand that everything they do is setting a standard for the future classes to follow.

Also, allow players to have a voice in your organization. Don’t allow them to set the rules and policies but do allow them to add additional rules and procedures to the base ones you establish. Players take pride in setting rules and following them. Plus, it shows that you care about your players and want them to be an integral part of the overall program.

This leads into everyone on the team knowing their role and what they need to do to perform their best. Define each player’s role within the team. If a player shows he or she can handle that role, then provide that player more responsibility at an expanded capacity within the team framework. 

Parents Buying In

Dealing with parents is a tricky situation for most coaches. Let the parents in too much and they become unbearable but close them out completely and you are taking away an opportunity for them to be involved in their child’s life. Plus, parents can serve a vital role on your team if you don’t have the budget for several assistants. Parents are great at tying up some of your loose ends or volunteering at events or even helping you organize those events.

Take advantage (in a good way) of the parents’ desire to be a part of the children’s lives. Provide them with the responsibility of organizing events such as the banquet, senior night, pasta parties, etc., and watch them take a sense of pride and ownership in the program.

It’s also a good idea to allow parents to watch practices. Of course, this only works if you lay down ground rules from the start. Do not allow parents to interject or speak with their child during practice—they are only there to observe. 

Have A Mission & Vision

The very first thing a coach should do when taking over a program is to establish a vision for where you want the program to head within a specific time period. This vision must involve all aspects of running the program. It does not include winning a certain number of games or championships. Every team wants to win but may not have the opportunity to win.

Your vision needs to focus on putting your team in a position to win while being realistic and honest with yourself and players. Having a false sense of hope is not a good thing.

Next, look at what it takes to move your program toward your end result. Work with assistant coaches and administrators to develop a plan of action. Use all resources available to you to be sure you have a wealth of input into your vision.

A great starting place for your vision is to ask yourself what you want players to accomplish during their four years in your program. When players graduate, what do you want them to say about playing for you and your school?

Also, set up a values system for your program. Be mindful of your core values, then come up with the team’s core values. Both sets of values may be different and that’s fine. The point is to work with players in having a say in how they conduct themselves on and off the court. How players act on the court is in direct relation to how they will act off it.

The final point is this—every coach is in a different situation. There’s no one way to run a program but if you utilize these five building blocks, then you at least are off to a good start to molding your team into what you hope it can be.

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