Reflections on a 7th Grade Season

This year, for the first time in my life, I coached 7th grade girls basketball.  I was the 7th grade girls coach for both the “A” and “B” teams at Homedale Middle School and had a total of 14 young women between the two teams that I had the honor of coaching and spending time with the last 2 months.  Our season finished yesterday, the “A” team took second in our conference tournament, and as I have reflected over the season the past few days, I thought I would share some thoughts.

First for some statistics, the “A” team finished the season with a record of 9-3, and like I have already shared we finished 2nd place in the season ending tournament.  As a team we averaged 23.33 points per games, while holding our opponents to an average of 18.41 points per game. Only once did an opponent score 30 or more points on our defense.  We didn’t keep any other measurable basketball statistics, but from observation I can assure you that these girls improved in every facet of the game over the course of the year.

The “B” team finished the season with a record of 3-7, but this record does not reflect how much they grew as individual players and as a team.  Six of the eight girls on this team had never played competitive basketball before and their understanding of the game grew tremendously over the course of the year.  Observing them all season, from the first day of practice to the last game, it was incredible to see how much they improved in such a short amount of time.  Some of them even fell in love with the game, which warms my heart greatly.  A statistical observation I did make to track their progress was the margin of defeat, or victory, the second time we played each team.  The margin of defeat was way less the second time we played teams, and in one case we turned a 30 point loss the first time we played in to a victory the second time around.  Each of the girls on this team greatly improved as basketball players.

Not important but possibly of interest, my winning percentage as a coach is now at 78%.

Now for some other, more relevant, thoughts, as they pertain to coaching, coaching like Jesus, and working with young people.

As I drove away from the middle school gym last night I was struggling with our defeat.  Usually, I shake losses pretty easy, but this one was lingering.  I went through my thoughts to try and figure out why.  Was it because I don’t like to lose?  Yes this is true.  To quote my good friend, Mike Matteson, “I love to win, but I hate to lose.” Was it because we loss to Fruitland?  Yes absolutely, sorry to all of my Fruitland friends who might be reading this, I hate losing to Fruitland.  While these two reasons impacted how I felt I think the real reason I was struggling to get over the loss was because I felt bad for the girls.  They worked so hard all year, and I wanted them to come out on top.

I was also struggling with more than just losing the game.  I always dislike the end of the season because the end of the season always ends so abruptly and the season ending means I don’t get to spend time every day with my players anymore.  I was sad because I knew my routine would now change, and I wouldn’t get to see these girls every day anymore.  This is one of the reasons I focus on loving the players and developing a relationship with them so that even though the season may end the relationship with the players does not end.  The way I see it, if I coach a player once at any point in their life, I am their coach for life.  I will always see them as my player, I will always be there for them, and I will always try to encourage and love on them.

I always get emotional during the last game and in the locker room afterwards.  Usually at the end of season awards banquet as well.  I get too attached, I love the boys and girls I have the honor of coaching as my own, and I want what is best for them.  After the last game, in the locker room, I always try to say a few words, and last night those words were hard to get out.

Last night, I even started crying during the game.  I always have something to say to my players when they foul out.  Usually I say something along the lines of “congratulations, you used all five of your fouls, good job.” Last night, two of my players fouled out, and I don’t really remember what I said to them I just remember that I choked up while I was saying it.

I think this is what happens when coaching is about more than just the game. You get attached. You love the players.  You care about the players. You want what is best for them. Kind of like being a parent, I guess.

As a father I only have sons, 3 of them.  Heidi, my wife, says it is good that I coach girls, because coaching them helps me be a better person.  In many ways they become like daughters to me, at least that’s how I see them.  I also recognize that it is a good thing that I don’t have my own biological daughters I would be way to over protective with them.  I have coached girls in track the last 4 years and have had a cool opportunity to connect with them they indeed are part of my family.  I guess I just gained 14 more family members.

At the beginning of the season I told the girls, as I do with all of my basketball teams, that they were to work hard, have fun, and love and respect each other.  They did a good job of all three.  As a coach I told them my job was to love them.  I’ve gotten a lot better at expressing this love verbally to my players over the years.  I have no problem saying I love you to my wife or sons, but when I first started coaching didn’t know how that would come across to my players.  Now, I don’t care.  Now I just tell the young people I coach that I love them, because I just don’t want them to know, I want them to hear it too.  Sometimes I tell the whole team at once, and sometimes I tell them on an individual basis. The cool thing is when they say it back.

In my mind loving my players and telling them I love them has to do with coaching with love as the foundation as opposed to fear.  I would rather coach from a place of love and mutual respect, and I have seen over the last 5 seasons and in the research that I have done that players would rather play for a coach who loves them in a team environment based on love and family, instead of playing for a coach who uses fear as his or her foundation for motivation.  Players play harder for themselves, each other, and the coach in a loving team environment.

My final reflections.  I was impressed by how hard these young ladies worked.  They worked hard in practice and they worked hard in games. They never backed down from any challenge I put in front of them, and they embraced the style of basketball I wanted them to play and thought would give us the best chance at being successful.  I’ve been around basketball for a while and I would put this team up there with anyone team I’ve played on or coached in regards to their toughness, determination, and grit.  One of the girls is the toughest and most determined player I’ve ever coached, and her teammates are right up there with her.

Like I said I’ve been around the game of basketball for a while.  I started playing competitively in the 3rd grade, and played every year through elementary, middle, and high school, before playing three years of college basketball.  I have to say this one of the more enjoyable basketball experiences of my life.  I didn’t know what to expect going in, and I was a bummed about not coaching at the high school this year, but I can safely say that this is just what I needed as a person and as a coach.  These girls helped me be a better coach, and I will always take with me the lessons they taught me this year.

Now, I move on to 8th grade boys.  Our season starts after Christmas, and I get to coach my son.  I’m excited.

I might have some more reflections later, but this is good for now.

11.25.16 ~ 10 Things for Athletes and Coaches

I saw this on Facebook the other day and reposted it to my account, but wanted to use Matt Grahn’s thoughts as an outline for my post this-week. Matt’s 10 points will be in bold and my thoughts will follow. This post was posted by the Positive Coaching Alliance.

I think I will start including this in the packet (notebook) I hand out to student-athletes at the beginning of the season.  Our student-athletes not only need to know what college coaches are looking for but they also need to always be encouraged to be a great teammate.

“Shared by PCA Trainer and college basketball coach Matt Grahn on what he looks for in recruits.”

  1. You’re willing to play any role that helps the team.

Possibly one of the most important lessons an athlete on any team can learn. A team is a group of individuals functioning as one single unit.  In the Bible 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 gives us an illustration on how members of a church function as one body although there are many parts.  Perhaps, this same illustration can be used for a team in any sport.  There are many parts and all of them work together in unison as the body.  Just like on a team, each part of the body has a role to play in the function of the body.  A hand cannot go off by itself and continue to function the way a hand is supposed to.  On a team, every member has a role, and each member has to perform their specific role to help the team, for the team to function as a team, and for the team to be the best version of itself possible.

  1. You would rather score less and win than score a lot and lose.

I’m partial to basketball because I coach basketball and it is the sport I love the most, but this illustration will easily adapt to other sports.  If as a team we believe that we are one single unit functioning together everyone on the team gets credit for and are responsible for the points on the score board.  If one person shoots and makes a three pointer we are all responsible and we all get credit because as a team we worked together to make those three points possible.  At the end of the day in team sports the only points that matter are the ones on the score board. In team sports individual accolades to have a place, but they have to be celebrated in unison with the whole team and with an understanding that the whole team helped in the achievement.  Kareem Abdul Jabaar scored a lot of points, but someone had to pass him the ball … and the teams he was on, won a lot of games.

A player being more concerned about their point total over the success of the team is selfish and in my book doesn’t have a place in team sports.  Obviously the best offensive players will be (or should be) the ones taking the bulk of the shots on a team.  The game plan and making sure everyone is buying into it is up to the coach and the leaders of the team.  If not everyone is buying in then continued conversation and team building need to happen.

  1. When your team scores, the first people you congratulate are your teammates.

I love watching players point out the teammate who passed them the ball after they score.  This shows unselfishness and an understanding that the whole team is in this game together.  The job of teammates on a team is to love and respect each other, and one of the ways this happens is by encouraging each other, and looking for ways to support one another.  Congratulation and celebration happens better in community as it helps us remember that we, as members of a team, are not in this alone.

  1. You love practice as much as you love games.

I always loved to practice just as much as I loved games.  Whenever I was a role player, practices became my games and I looked forward to lacing my shoes up every day so I could make myself and my team better.  I’m finding out in my research that the great players love the grind of practice as much as they love the games.  Practice by oneself in the off season is of vital importance to any athlete.  To help the team and yourself become better at your craft and skill each player has to be willing to put the time in by their self.  I just finished reading Larry Bird’s book “Drive” and it this book he talks about practicing by himself.  Larry Bird felt like he could get more done by himself or with one other person than with a whole bunch of people there with him.  There is something to be said about going out and practicing by oneself.  The repetition is important, the time to think is important, the mental advantage of being able to push oneself when no one else is watching is important, the creativity in practicing without supervision is important, and the hours to build ones craft and skill are important.

As a coach I continue to love practice as much as games, if not more, because of the opportunity practice provides to spend time with young people and teach them about life and sports.  Practice is where the relationships are developed, and the bulk of coaching and teaching needs to take place.  I always feel like I have let my team(s) and athletes down if they get to a game or meet and they aren’t ready to compete or perform to the best of their ability.  Practice is where coaching and teaching happens and that is one of the reasons why I like practice so much.  Practice provides athletes the opportunity for the athlete and team to improve and for this reason alone athletes need to love practice as much as games.

  1. You respect your opponents but don’t fear them.

I don’t know where I came up with it, but one of my guidelines for my teams, and I don’t have very many, is respect.  I agree with this statement so much because it is so true.  We don’t fear our opponents, but we do respect them, and out of that respect we do everything possible we can to win.  Here is what I say to my teams about respect.  Respect each other, your teammates, by fulfilling your role, being your own best self, performing your duties as part of the team, and by loving and taking care of each other.  Respect yourself by showing up each day trying to be the best version of yourself, practicing hard and smart, being coachable, being a good teammate, and by glorifying God with you talents.  Respect your coach by listening, being coachable, working hard in practice, being a good teammate, investing in the relationship, and participating as a member of the team.  Respect the fans that paid money to watch you play by playing the way we play … work hard, have fun, and love each other.  Respect the officials by not talking back to them, by accepting their calls, and by acknowledging their place and responsibility in the game.  Respect the other team, your opponent, by playing hard, by not stepping down, by practicing good sportsmanship, and by giving them your best.  And finally respect and honor the game you are playing by understanding the history and traditions and by giving it your best.

  1. You listen, are coachable and respect your coaches and officials.

This needs to start at home with parents.  Parents need to make sure their children have respect for them and other authority and are “parentable.” Parents also need to back up the coaches at home … not bad mouth them … and talk to their children about being coachable and having respect for coaches and officials.

Coach ability is huge.  I love working with athletes who are coachable and go out and work hard at what we are asking them to do.  Coachable athletes are fun to work with and make coaching very rewarding.  Coachable athletes also see the most improvement because they are willing to listen and work.  They are also very likely to seek help, and go out on their own to find solutions and practice on their own.  The biggest character strength is humility, and perhaps we as coaches can model this by being coachable ourselves.  We learn and grow together … this is what life is all about.

I’ve talked about respect.  Respect in team sports is huge, and also in individual sports.  We have to respect coaches, coaches have to respect players, we have to respect officials, and we have to respect the games.  Coaches if we want to gain the respect of our players, we have to be people they can respect.  We are living in a day and age where they will see right through our phoniness and call out our B.S.  We have to work hard to gain their respect and live lives worthy of their respect, but as we work with student athletes it is so worth it.

  1. You are quick to pick up a teammate who is having a bad day.

Mark 12:30-31

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

The responsibility of teammates to each other is to love each other part of loving each other is encouraging them when they are having either a good day or a bad day.  The biggest thing is being there for each other.

  1. You help younger teammates who have less experience.

Cool story.  Last year at the end of the season we pulled a freshman up to our varsity team when one of our varsity players was injured.  His moving up to varsity and playing meant he would most likely take playing time away from an upper classman.  This happened.  During one game, after an important time out towards the end of a league game, the upper classman who was sitting on the bench pulled the younger player aside to encourage him and to explain to him in more detail exactly what he was supposed to do in the play our head coach told them to run during the time out.  This older more experienced varsity player could have been upset about not playing as much, but instead he understood his role as a team player and took the time to help out a younger and less experienced teammate.  This act of unselfishness did not go unnoticed by the coaches, but we also understood this act to be in line with this young man’s character.

Older team athletes should always be looking to help younger or less experienced players improve.  As everyone improves the whole team improves and gets better.  Older team athletes leading the way in this goes a long way in helping the team, coaches, and the younger player’s development.

  1. You learn and grow from your own mistakes, as well as others.

Mistakes are simply opportunities to grow and improve.  In a society that looks down on mistakes we have to make sure members of our teams understand that mistakes will be made and they are simply opportunities to grow and improve.  How we handle their mistakes as coaches goes a long way in helping them see mistakes as way to grow.  Do we see mistakes as an opportunity to patiently and lovingly teach in order for student-athletes to learn and grow?  Or do we come down on our student athletes angrily in a fashion of fear that hinders their development?

I’ve learned that student athletes generally understand when they have made a mistake and are probably already beating themselves up.  Patiently walking alongside them in the journey of growing in their craft and skill goes a long way in their development.  Getting upset at them generally doesn’t help in the process at all.

  1. You’re confident but not arrogant.

I watched a player the other night that played with confidence and humility, and I’ve got to tell you that she was fun to watch.  I think confidence with humility is the opposite of confidence and arrogance, and I will take confidence and humility in an athlete all day long.  Arrogance is not a trait that works well with others and athletes and coaches who practice arrogance usually find themselves lacking quality relationships (lonely and isolated), offending other people, and struggling to survive.  With confidence with humility expect the opposite … expect quality relationships and a flourishing environment.  It is one thing to think you are the best and to go out and quietly prove it, it is an entirely other thing to think you are the best and to go out and tell everyone about it … being able to back it up has nothing to do with it.


A few years ago I read an article about former St. John’s University football coach John Gagliardi and in the article the author noted that upon his hire the monks who run the school requested he coach the team like he thought Jesus would. I couldn’t find the original article I had read but I did find this one which basically suggests the same idea about coaching like Jesus. I study other coaches, especially coaches that are successful, and Gagliardi is one of those coaches I have read quite a bit about.  From where I sit he seem to have been successful in terms of building and sustaining a winning football program, and in impacting the lives of young men in a positive way.

As we think about what it means to coach like Jesus, I believe it is necessary to really consider how our faith in Christ connects with all areas of our lives, including coaching and interacting with young people.  One of those characteristics Christ embodied was humility, as He came to earth, taking the form of man, and putting it all on the line for the sake of humankind.  I want go in to defining humility at this point, and I’m not going to reference Scripture, but would encourage you to take the time to do some homework in those two areas.

As coaches I think we need to exercise humility, as we seek to be the best coaches we can be for the athletes on our teams.  Part of practicing humility for me as a coach is that I have to be aware that I don’t know everything and out of that truth am constantly learning and growing.  Another aspect of this means that when I am wrong I have to admit that I am wrong, not always easy to do but a necessary step when practicing humility.

One of the ways in which I learn and grow is by asking other coaches for help.  I know what my strengths are as a coach, and I am aware of my weaknesses as well, and sometimes in order to grow in my weaknesses I have to lean on other coaches.  Sometimes, it just helps to get another person’s input because, I know for me, it helps to see the bigger picture.  I know that in game situations I don’t always see everything, and I like having other coaches around me so they can offer input and what we need to change or try differently.  Sometimes it is as simple as asking, “Hey, what do you see?”

I will also go to other coaches and ask them how they attack a certain defense, or defend a certain offense.  If my team needs help on a certain skill, I will seek input from other coaches as to what drills we might be able to run in order to help develop the team in that area.  The bottom line, as we practice humility as coaches is that there is nothing wrong with asking for help, especially (and most importantly) when the help we receive will help our team and make us better coaches.



On Shaking Hands

Last night my team had their first practice of the season.  This year, after spending the last four years coaching boys at the high school ranks, I am coaching basketball at the middle school level.  Right now I am coaching a seventh grade girls team, and after Christmas the plan is to coach the eighth grade boys team.

One of the young men who played for me the last three years is hosting a basketball tournament for his senior project, and part of his project includes job shadowing me at practice.  He will be with me most of this week and a little bit next week, and since he already knows all of the drills, and all of my teaching points, I put him to work. The girls call him coach.

There is a passage of Scripture that hangs on the wall of my office that speaks to why I coach and spend time with young people, young men in particular.  Once when I was reading the Bible this text spoke to me, and like with other passages of Scripture that speak to me  I got out a 3 x 5 card, wrote the words down, and stuck the card on my wall with a thumbtack.  The text being referenced is found in Titus 2:6 and in the New Living Translation the words are translated as “In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely.

Of the many life lessons I try to bestow on the young people I get to work with, how to shake hands is one of them.  It is usually a quick tutorial, followed by lots of practice, and since I think knowing how to properly shake hands is important, I teach.  The lots of practice comes in to play every time I see one of the young men or women I have had the privilege of coaching.  When I greet them, I shake their hands.  I started teaching some of the girls last night when I introduced myself to them, and one of these days we will have a chat about hand shaking in more detail followed by a quick tutorial.

The guys that have played for me know they are going to get a hand shake from me, sometimes a hug, but most of the time a hand shake.  Last night, when practice was over, and the young man who was helping me was ready to go, he simply walked up to me and while saying thank you for letting me be there he stuck out his hand for me to shake.  Of course I obliged, and like he always does, he shook my hand correctly.  Eye contact was made, the right amount of grip and firmness was there, we didn’t linger in awkwardness, we just shook hands, and then walked out of the gym talking about how impressed we both were by the girls and their work ethic and eagerness to learn.

I don’t know about you, but I can tell a lot about how a person shakes hands.  I know I’m not supposed to judge but there is truth in the saying that “you only get one chance to make a first impression.”  I had a meeting with someone not long ago, and after our initial meeting which involved a hand shake I was tainted for the rest of our time together.  I lose interest after an unimpressive hand shake and probably write people off to quickly before realizing that not everyone has been taught the proper way to shake hands.

Coaches, working with young people in a sport is about so much more than the sport.  We have the opportunity to teach young people how to live wisely, which might include the ability to shake hands properly.