Are we Coaches or Teachers?

The official title is Coach. But the question is, are we coaches or are we teachers?

Personally, I like to consider myself a teacher. My medium is “basketball” and the classroom is “the hardwood” and finally my subject is “Life lessons through basketball”.

Coaches want to win, teachers want their students to succeed. Coaches receive medals and stack up wins and losses, teachers are proud when their students graduate with flying colours or explicitly “get it”. I am a teacher. I do not care about the outcome but I do care about the development of the players and athletes around me. I care about the process and whether they are getting better.

I am privileged enough to get to work with students who choose to come in to class!! I get to teach a subject that they want to learn and get to work with them when they’re at their emotional highs and their emotional lows!! Most teachers don’t get a chance to do that. Most teachers won’t know what it is like to experience that.

The games and matches we play are like tests and exams to assess where my students are in the subject of “life lessons through basketball”.

My team had a game earlier on today and I am extremely blessed to have a team full of talented athletes; some more so than others. This was our final league game of the year and our seniors wanted nothing more than to finish on a win. However, we were missing our leading scorer and also our best defensive player. An opportunity for some of the junior players to step up and take advantage.

As the game went on, our shooting guard began to struggle. There wasn’t someone that she could defer to on the court. All of a sudden, there was nowhere for her to hide and she had to step up. After a couple of quick turnovers, her head began to drop and her confidence began to slide; we had to get her out.

We explained to her that the turnovers didn’t matter and that she is the senior player on the court and that she should continue to want the ball in her hands. The fact that she was a good player just meant the other team was going to zone in on her and attempt to bully her, but that she must continue to be mentally tough as the game proceeded.

Fast forward to the final minute of the game and there’s two points in it. We’re down. Who do you think we were going to? We called a time-out and drew something up for her. Walked back on the court, the ball was passed in to her and in her attempts, she turned the ball over and we fouled straight away to stop the clock. Time-out again.

Everyone walks in and I can’t spot my shooting guard. She is standing behind everyone else so that I can’t see her. I want to get the ball back in her hands but I can’t tell if she is ready or not. Either way, that’s who we are going with. Opposition hits their free throws, we get the ball back and we are going with her again and she turns the ball over again. We lose the game by four in a cruel way and everyone is in tears. Not a good way to lose.

I am a teacher, first and foremost – I am looking for teaching points. Should I be mad that the player we entrusted with in the final seconds lost the ball twice or three times in a crucial possession? Should I be upset that she walked off and stood behind everyone else in a crucial time-out? Should I be upset that she was inconsolable after the game?

Not yet, I can’t!!

John Wooden was once quoted as saying, “You haven’t taught until they’ve learned.”

Well, I haven’t taught yet!!

The only way that she will get better at those situations is by putting her in those situations and it may be uncomfortable at first. She is probably going to go home and think that they lost because of her. My job is to continue to make her mentally tough and allow her to fail several more times before she can truly experience success.

Did Michael Jordan hit his first game winner? No, probably not! How many hours did he spend in the gym working on that final shot? How many shots did he miss in high school and college before starting to make them sink in the pros? How many did he miss in the pros that allowed him to succeed?

If we had to play that same segment again right now, I know exactly who we are getting the ball to. If in our next game, we are in a similar situation, the ball is going back to the exact same person. She is young and therefore emotional and got caught up in it. My challenge is to make her understand that she needs to be stronger for the team and herself. My challenge is to get her to stand tall after turning the ball over ready to get the ball back in her hands. My challenge is to get her to stand in front of everyone in a time out and maintain eye contact with her coach as the next play is drawn for her. My challenge is to make her mentally tougher and a leader on and off the court. It won’t be easy.

For some of our younger players out there, it is a privilege and a sign of respect when your coach believes that you are capable of handling the ball. It is a sign of trust. It shows that they have confidence in you. Do not shy away from that moment. They don’t expect magic. Embrace the challenge for this is a journey and you have a long way to go.

Our shooting guard will grow as a person and a player and she will miss many more of those shots and turn the ball over some more. But, she will also develop and when she gets to the next level, she will be more confident and she will understand that she doesn’t control the outcome of whether the ball goes through the net or not; she only controls the process of how she sets her feet and whether she follows through. When you focus on the process, the outcomes come your way as a by-product.

For now, I will continue to teach and learn; and in our next game, if the game is on the line, I know whose hands the ball is going to.

John Wooden at a ceremony on Oct. 14, the coac...
John Wooden at a ceremony on Oct. 14, the coach’s 96th birthday, to name the Reseda post office after the sports legend and long-time San Fernando Valley resident. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2 thoughts on “Are we Coaches or Teachers?

  1. This is a great blog post! Bobby Knight has said before that basketball is the most over coached game yet the least taught game in America, which I think is true. Teachers get to see the results of their hard work in the form of test scores and placements into college and so forth. Sports coaches get to see how their players respond to what they’re teaching in the form of competition against other coaches and players who are looking to prove the same thing…which is what I love. I think it’d be silly to say that a coach doesn’t care about winning/losing. By human nature, we are creatures who want to win. I know I do, even if I’m coaching an u8s game. BUT, it’s important for us to also understand that winning is a result from doing a lot of little things right…and that doing those things right is a long, long process. My college coach used to tell me that winning was the hardest thing in sports to do. I was a part of a winning program at Davidson, so sometimes that gets lost on you when you are winning so many games, but I have learned what a thrill winning can be when you’ve worked so hard to build up to that. Coaches are definitely teachers. We get to mold players to be certain kinds of people even outside of basketball, which is probably most important to me. If I can reach a child and give him/her confidence to speak their minds in front of people all because they learned how to communicate on the basketball court, that means way more to me than any medal or accolade I could receive as a coach!.

  2. No doubt about that Puff. I hate losing more than anything else in the world, but I try not to get caught up in all that.

    I was blessed to spend two months with Coach Wootten and learn from him. The best experience of my life as you learn daily from him, what was really interesting was that he wanted, genuinely, to know from me, what I thought about all the stuff he did and whether I agreed with it or not. He TAUGHT me each day for two months straight.

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