Better blueprints for running a successful basketball program From Les Cano, contributing writer

One facet of coaching that must be addressed more often is the process of establishing a successful program. The product of all your hard work, of course, is the team and how it performs in any given season.

The process of coaching encompasses more than just playing games and running practice. It all begins with the head coach. One of the most difficult things to do as a coach is to be objective about your own program. This is understandable, considering how hard coaches work to establish themselves and their program. But not seeing yourself through the eyes of your “customers” can lead to a serious breach between coaches and the game they love.

basketball courtThese “customers” are:

  • The players.
  • The player’s parents and other interested parties.
  • Assistant coaches.
  • The school administration, school board or other sponsoring organizations.
  • The athletic director or general manager.
  • The school administration or team owners.
  • Your team’s governing bodies (such as state associations, conferences).
  • Booster/athletic clubs.
  • The media.
  • Other head coaches and coaching organizations.
  • The head coach’s immediate family.

Coaching, managing in a fishbowl

With all of the aforementioned customers in mind, it’s clear that a head coach and their staff operates in a fishbowl with many interested parties watching every move they make.

As a head coach, the important questions to ask yourself are, “How does my program appear to my customers? Do the customers see me as competent, prepared and ready to lead my team successfully? Do I have a plan for communicating with customers? Have I tailored my message for each of my customers? Do I understand what each customer expects of me?”

Managing in this kind of environment can be overwhelming if you’re not ready to deal with other peoples’ expectations. To venture into any coaching job without taking into account the full environment you’re facing can be catastrophic to your potential for success.

The coaching process

How often do we see or hear about coaches who don’t appear to care how their players behave or how they perform outside of basketball? If a coach doesn’t have a sense of what’s important to the players, or what they’re doing to be successful in school or in life, then they probably don’t know the players well enough.

The process of coaching, just like any other branch of teaching, is based on the strength of the relationship between the player and coach. This doesn’t mean that a coach has to be a player’s friend, but a coach should be a mentor and thought of as an authority figure who’s respected by the players. Players need to know that they can depend on their coach, just as a coach needs to know that they can depend on the players.

The issue of character — having it, displaying it and expecting it from players — is critical toward building a successful organization. Without character, there can be no respect, and without respect, there can be no trust. They’re going to be a coach’s “guiding light” when they are forced to make tough decisions.

Dealing with adversity

In the course of a season, there are numerous things that can go wrong. Often, these are off-the-court issues like players losing their uniforms, grades not being met, and players missing practice. Other times, they can be player suspensions or players who get into trouble with the authorities. Accidents also can occur where a critical asset like a gym is damaged and not available, or an assistant coach who becomes ill and can’t fulfill their duties. Even the head coach can become incapacitated in a way that requires help to keep the program on track.

Strong relationships with your partners are critical for recovering from these types of setbacks. A coach depends on the cooperation of many people to be successful. The essence of teamwork involves highly motivated individuals who cooperate with one another to reach a common goal. This is just as true when dealing with the school board, an athletic director, or the disgruntled parent of a player.

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To be successful during the season, coaches must anticipate the need for help. They must prepare themselves by being proactive and establishing the kind of healthy relationships that attract support — not only when things are going well, but also when they do not go as expected.

If at all possible, a coach and their staff must reach out to these parties early and often. Communicating the goals of your program, player expectations, support needs, and other issues are all part of being a successful coach. This doesn’t mean that a head coach can be all things to all people. The nature of the coach’s job requires that certain decisions be made, which will not make everybody happy.

Decisions such as playing time, starters, and practice locations are all decisions that instantly create supporters and detractors. A head coach must be confident and decisive when doing their job to convey a sense of “being in charge” and demonstrating that they know what they’re doing. The coach also must be prepared to answer supporters and critics in a manner that conveys respect for all participants in the program.

Keys to success

So how do you become a successful coach? The answer depends greatly on what an individual wants out of coaching. Many people coach because they have a passion for winning, but winning itself is not enough to make a successful coach.

Here are some critical tips for becoming a successful coach:

→ Be an effective manager. Head coaches need to manage their organizations. They need to hire and, sometimes, fire people.

→ Delegate authority. There are several things that need to be done to make sure that the program runs smoothly and efficiently. Coaches must delegate authority.

→ Stay technically sound. Coaches needs to understand the nuts and bolts of their sport.

→ Evaluate, teach and motivate. It’s critical to judge talent, teach the players, and motivate them to achieve both team and individual goals.

Recharge your coaching battery. Success can only happen if the coach maintains their passion for coaching. A coach must learn to recharge their batteries from time to time by getting enough rest and exercise.

Market the program. Coaches must develop entrepreneurial skills to promote the basketball program and ensure that it gets the attention it deserves.

→ Learn the necessary steps. Learn to increase managerial skills to better understand how to work on the program and the steps it takes to help it grow and improve.

→ Continuing education. The head coach must maintain their technical skills by attending clinics, working a camp or hosting their own clinic.

→ ‘To thine own self be true.’ Coach because you love the game. Work hard every day to become a better person and a better coach.

The process of being a better coach leads directly to a better product — that’s a successful basketball program.


Les Cano is a former basketball coach at Moriarty High School in New Mexico.





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