Wednesday, August 28, 2013

#007 Coaching Families

One of the great challenges in coaching is taking a group of young people who may have a lot or very little in common and molding them into one committed, focused, and united entity.  You may have players who are highly skilled, highly motivated, determined, and you may have players just there to have fun or be a part of the team or, unfortunately, because someone is making them play.

In trying to build a group of individuals into a single unit, I have always used words with my team like "family" and "brother/sisterhood."  Most athletes quickly grasp to that moniker, and as the season progresses, you begin to see the same values and emotions most families possess:  generosity, support, standing up for each other, squabbling, jealousy, etc.  When you use "family" to help focus your team on an objective, you are then taking on the role of parent.

The hard part about being a surrogate parent to a group of young people is that they usually have their own parents/guardians, siblings, values, and problems.  I have had teams that didn't get along very well at all, but the individuals represented had such strong family values at home that the team started to grow as the season progressed because those "at-home" family values started to rub off and become the foundation of the "on-the-court" family's character.  Nevertheless, I have also had teams who were as thick and thieves and loved each other before the ball ever hit the floor.  I have seen the effect of what one or two individuals with weakened "at-home" family values can do to break apart that strong "on-the-court" family unit.

For any coach who thinks that they are only coaching the 10-15 young men or women they see in practice every day, they are turning a blind eye to what will probably become their biggest problem.  You are never truly just coaching a player.  You are always coaching his or her family as well.  Mom, Dad, Brother, and Sister may only be present at games in the stands, but they are always affecting your coaching or your ability to coach.

For example, you have had numerous and significant conversations with your 6th man (first off the bench), Teddy, and you and he have developed a strong role for him on the team that he has learned to accept and be very proud of.  He knows the impact he has in every game and is excited about that role because the team is winning with him in that role.  However, the person he normally subs in for, Billy, is on a bit of a cold stretch.  Granted, the team is still winning through this cold stretch, but shots just have not gone down for 3-4 games like they were previously.  Teddy, on the other hand, has played very well during this 3-4 game stretch and has even finished 3 of those games with the starters.

Teddy's parents are very proud of their son, and have high expectations for most parents do.  Because of this, they begin asking Teddy at the dinner table after practices why Billy is still starting.  They see how well their son is performing in comparison and are reading in the local newspaper about their son's strong efforts.

As a coach, you don't have any idea these questions and conversations are going on.  So my question to you is "Do you still think you are only coaching Teddy?"

You see, the problem with coaches who only coach to the kid is that they leave the kid vulnerable to these types of situations.  Teddy came home that night happy and proud and excited about his team and his role on the team.  His parents, because they love him so much and want him to have everything he deserves, completely wiped that humble, excited, and team-first attitude from their child's focus by simply asking a question they viewed as a compliment to their son.

So what do we do?  We coach the family through the players.  I spoke earlier about the conversations you had with Teddy about being the 6th man.  You convinced him this was a great thing, and he has now seen the fruits of believing in you.  He's playing well, playing more, and the team is winning.  It is not enough to get the player excited and inspired.  You have to teach them how to inspire and coach their support systems.  You have to help them have answers to the questions they may get asked before they ever hear the question. 

You might be saying to yourself, "Coach, how can I anticipate such things?"  You must put yourself in the shoes of your players and their family members, and you have to imagine how they might be reacting to what they are seeing.  This is why D1 coaches get paid so much and have such big staffs.  At the D1 level, everything is under a microscope.  Does the NCAA turn a blind-eye to Texas A&M when information is leaked that Johnny Manziel (the Heisman winner) took money to sign a few autographs.  Nope, the NCAA expects Texas A&M to prepare all of their players for the possibility of breaking a policy or rule.  The NCAA expects that Texas A&M taught Johnny Manziel about how he is not allowed to make money off of his likeness or name until his amateur status is complete.  Even if Johnny knows this and still breaks the rule, Texas A&M and the coaching staff, will receive bigger punishments than Johnny will.

As high school or small college coaches, we have to anticipate in the same ways.  We have to always be educating our players and their support systems about the what if's, the why's, and the why not's.  Let's get back to our superstar 6th man, Teddy.  It may have been wise early on to say something like this to Teddy:

Teddy, you have done a great job of improving your game, and you will be an essential part of our team and our team's success this year.  However, our team is nothing without a strong bench.  The team really does not have any reliable scorers on the bench, and I am hoping you will accept my challenge to be that person for us.  I know starting is a big deal, but I think the team will have an improved chance to win a championship if we can count on your scoring off the bench.  I know Billy does not have the jumper you have, but he is longer and a more physical defender.  With 4 other starters who can score, I think our starting group needs a guy who can focus on defending and rebounding.  With you playing in the second unit, we can focus the offense on you and get you much more opportunities than you would have received with the starters.

Teddy, now understands that his coach 1) has a logical plan, 2) thinks very highly of him, 3) thinks very highly of Billy, but for different reasons.  Teddy can now explain to his parents what the plan is, why Billy is starting and will continue to start, and the reason the team may be winning so many games.  You may feel comfortable saying to Teddy:

People may ask why you are not starting.  You can tell them that you are playing the same minutes as the starters and often on the floor at the end of games.  Ask them if they would rather start and sit in the end and watch their team win or lose, or be on the floor in the end and help guarantee a win.

If possible, I always recommend the coach writing and sending "communication guidelines" to the players and parents before the first practice.  If possible, I would also recommend having a meeting for the parents at the beginning of the season to talk about team rules, expectations, and communication.

It takes a lot of work, but always try and be proactive staying a step-ahead of your potential problems.  When you put the team first, you are always leading with integrity and that will always be respected by those in and around your program.
Have a great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#006 Becoming Right For the Bus

Last week I wrote about finding the right people for your bus, so I thought this week would be a good time to talk about how to get on that bus...or for a lot of you young coaches out to get that first interview.

I have often spoken to soon-to-be college graduates about this very topic, and I always make clear to them that the hardest part about coaching college basketball is getting the job in the first place.  For those of you who have aspirations (or know someone with aspirations) for becoming a NCAA Division I assistant coach, I attached the below article about that very challenge.  It is a great read that has been bouncing around the coaching fraternity most of the summer.
"Bounced Around"

In the article, it states that there are less than 1000 D1 assistant jobs in the country, and my guess is that less than 20% come available every season.  I would also guess that 90% of that 20% are filled before the position is ever posted as vacant.  D1 Head Coaches always have a list of friends, former players, and associates ready at the first phone call if a position opens up.  When you have a 6-7 figure salary and responsibilities, you hire those you know and trust, or those who are known and trusted by those you know and trust.  Yes, it is a very tight circle.
I say this not to keep you from chasing your dreams, but to make the obstacles in front of your dreams a reality.  I wouldn't be much of a coach if I did not quote the late, great John Wooden before I get too deep into these writings:
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
Coach Wooden had such a great ability of expressing his wisdom in a simple but universal way.  This quote is good for those dreamers out there because it should keep you focused on learning and understanding your own strengths and weaknesses.  If you are not good at following up and being persistent, Coach Wooden may have told you that chasing a D1 job may not be your best course of action.
Okay, so maybe your ties to the D1 coaching ranks are not great and your determination is not as strong as Coach McRoy (see article linked above).  Don't let that deter you from being a college basketball coach.  My first job out of college was as a Residence Life Hall Director at a small college in Iowa.  Two days into the job, I walked into the Head Men's Basketball Coach's office, told him who I was and asked if I could volunteer on his staff.  16 years later I am still thankful to Coach Shovlain for his generosity and kindness.  I have a coaching career because he said "yes."
I understand that everyone is not as lucky and those opportunities can be few and far between.  Because I understand the challenges of finding a coaching job, there are a number of things I recommend for getting an interview:
1.  Get out there and meet coaches.  Work camps.  Visit practices.  Ask Head and Assistant Coaches to go to lunch to chalk talk or talk about how they got into coaching.  You may get turned down here and there, but very rarely has a college coach ever told me no.  Most see their jobs as ambassadors to their University and the game itself and take mentoring and developing young coaches very seriously.  Don't forget they were once in your shoes.
2.  Write a dynamic personal cover letter that sets you a part from everyone else.  Talk about you and not who you think they want you to be.
3.  Write a clean, detailed, organized resume that markets you to the expectations of the specific job you are applying.  (Have an English major edit both for you!)
4.  Find at least 3 great references who have the ability and desire to write you a great letter of recommendation.
5.  Find someone who knows the AD/Head Coach and ask them to call on your behalf.  Feel free to have more than one person call on your behalf, but be careful not to hurt yourself by being overbearing with the person doing the hiring.  There's a fine line between standing out and being a pest.
Congrats!  You got the interview!  "Oh crap, I got the interview!"  I have seen the look on coaches' faces when they finally get what they are after but have no idea how to prepare for that interview.  Here's a few tips:
 1.  Be confident.  You should go into every interview with the idea that if you don't get the job that it wasn't meant to be.  Be okay with not getting the job before you walk into the room, but walk in knowing you deserve it.
2.  Know who you are and have a brief but significant response to these questions:
  • What is your teaching philosophy?
    • My answer is "Progressive but honest "
    • Nike says "Just Do It"
  • What is the best advice you have received?
    • My answer is "Be generous"
    • The Army says "Be all you can be"
  • How would you motivate your team in a significant situation?
    • My answer "Whatever we do from here on out, we do it together"
    • Vince Lombardi said "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up"
3.  Be humble (  Talk about the student experience you want to create more than what you will do to create that experience.  Always be prepared with questions about how you will do it, but make them ask for the specifics.  The best interviews are the ones that become a conversation and not a series of questions and answers.  You want them to feel what it will be like to have you as their new colleague.
Other than that, stay hungry and stay humble...and always listen to Coach Wooden!
Have a great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Monday, August 26, 2013

#005 Movie Review: "The Butler"

I have always loved movies that force me out of my comfort zone and make me look at something from a perspective that is different from my own.  I am sure my natural attraction to different perspectives comes from my very homogenous childhood growing up in a small farming community in northern Illinois.  As someone who is now raising two kids in a large metropolitan area, I now feel very blessed to have had the childhood of innocence that I did, but it also left me very naïve to the world.  It very much felt like living in a bubble knowing there was a big brave world out there while having very little contact with it.

I guess that is why when I left, I never really looked back.  My thirst for knowledge, diversity, flavor, excitement, and maybe a little danger has kept me living in many different places and meeting fantastic people from all over the world.  My travels have opened my eyes in a way I could never have imagined as a young man.  The people and experiences have brought me great joy, but also great sadness.  I have a natural empathy for the world.  I have always been a sucker for the Sally Struthers-type commercials to help save a starving child tens of thousands of miles away.  I simply am happier when those around me are happy, but my spirits can drop in an instance just by turning on the TV and watching the evening news.

The Lee Daniels directed "The Butler" was a film that tugged at my heart and soul for two plus hours in this very way.  To be so ashamed of our country's racial history and so proud of what has been overcome all at the same time is a terrific way to be reminded of our country's wealth of human spirit.

Without giving any plot away, I will say that I sat there for 20 minutes after the movie ended with tears in my eyes thinking about the completely opposite journeys the two main characters took to end up at the same place.  It is a story of pride, redemption, justice, perseverance, and determination, but I left the theatre knowing that I just watched one of the greatest father-son stories ever told.

Forest Whitaker (the father in the story) has quietly become one of my favorite actors.  He has been brilliant for years in films like "The Last King of Scotland" (Oscar win) and "The Great Debaters" to name a couple, but this may be the movie that becomes the center-piece of his career.  I hope you feel the same way after you see it.  My young children are not ready for the violence and language, but I think by the time they each hit middle school, this will be a movie we will sit down and watch as a family.

I tweeted out after the movie that I think this is a movie every American should watch.  I believe that, and I think we all will be better for it.
Have a great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Friday, August 23, 2013

#004 First Who...Then What

Good to Great by Jim Collins is a book you will see me acknowledge and quote from time to time because it is one of the best books on leadership, efficiency, and management I have ever read.  Mr  Collins and his team of college-aged researchers set out some 15 years ago to find the answers to what made good companies turn into great companies.  Along the way, they found logical and practical answers to some of industries most glaring questions.  I won't go into all the details, but the chapter that always seems to resonate with me is "First Who...Then What."

The chapter discusses the idea of getting the "right people on the bus."  No matter what bus you are driving or where you are driving to, it is imperative to get the people who are the right fits for you to join you on the start of your journey.

The multiple times I have had the opportunity to chair a search committee or hire a new assistant, I have made it a point to re-read this specific chapter.  Each time I read it, I am amazed at how simple of an idea "the right people on the bus" is and should be to all.  However, I have learned that most managers care more about the "what" than they do the "who."  It is these managers who end up failing more times than not.

Have you ever worked with someone who hired someone based on their ability to be manipulated?  How about a manager who refused to hire someone they perceived to be  smarter than them for fear of being made to look bad?  I've witnessed numerous hires that were made out of convenience.  "We could do a national search for the best person, but that takes a lot of time and effort.  Let's just promote Betty or Jimmy to the position.  They can learn as they go."

To have a great company, staff, or marriage even, it should be your top priority to pick those who will challenge you, the status quo, and others in the organization.  Don't fear intelligence, strength of character, passion and compassion.  Embrace those qualities that will raise the bar across the board.

Although I have been blessed with wonderful assistants and colleagues over the years, the best decision I ever made was to propose to a woman who was smarter, more talented, more focused, more responsible, and much better looking than me.  In the end, whether it was my wife or those great people who have carried my career all these years, I have put myself around people who simply made me better and challenged me to want to be better.

Build that great team and then decide where to take the bus.  You may find that your new team will take that bus further than you ever imagined it could go.
Have a great day!

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Thursday, August 22, 2013

#003 Humility Is Not...

I had a good friend a number of years ago who was a self-professed, self-help glutton.  He was always reading his latest find on spirituality and becoming a better person.  I remember sitting down with him one day while he was reading, and he was excited to share a quote with me that he had just read.  He thought my team would get a lot out of it.  I received a great deal from it, and I have since shared it with all of my teams.

The quote was about humility.  It was a very simple statement about being humble, but one we both agreed would be a profound quote toward the rest of our respective lives and careers.

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." C. S. Lewis

It is easy for me to confess that my ego, pride, and ambition often get in my way in regard to becoming the person and coach I want to be.  I often let me personal experiences, knowledge, and personal sense of responsibility and ownership take over team and collaborative situations.  When I should be listening, I often find myself talking.  It is a terrible flaw, but I detest wasting time as much as I detest losing, so I can easily let my drive get in the way of letting a cooperative process complete itself.

It is during these times that I try to remember and repeat the quote above.  To truly be humble, I need to accept that my ideas may have a proven value, but they are not the only way to skin a cat.  When I do take a breath and think of my self less and think more about the perspective of others, I often get rewarded with new knowledge and wisdom.  I cannot think of a better reason to shut my trap and let others lead me every once a in a while.

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

#002 Building Your Own Road

I have started the last 13 seasons of my head coaching career with this quote from David Livingstone.  Yes, THE David Livingstone from the famous quote, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"  Livingstone was a 19th Century medical missionary and explorer who is best known for his work and philanthropy in Africa.
If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."

I use this quote because it is a reminder to me, my staff and my players that whatever happened in the past no longer matters.  We have a blank canvas, and it is our job to create a new story, picture, journey, etc. that only we can define.  We cannot be defined by a championship or a train wreck of a season from the previous year.  We can only control what is in front of us.  Whether you are a young coach or a seasoned professional, I think we can all take something from this idea that no one is going to do it for us.  We have to create our own path and destiny.

For those of you in the world of academia, the noise of students triumphantly returning to campus is a symphony of sounds and emotions.  I hope you all take the time to reflect on the road you will build this year and where you want it to take you.

As I start my new journey out of coaching, I am finding that I did not know myself as well as I had thought.  I am finding that by asking those I respect for counsel, direction, advice, criticism, help, and a kick in the pants when needed (thank you, Dr. Triplett!), I am learning for the first time not only what I have accomplished in my career, but also what I have failed to see in my mirror's reflection each day.  I am capable great things, but I have often taken for granted how I have limited myself in using those skills and experience.

This blog is a my first big shovel of rock towards my new road.  Have a great day!

Monday, August 19, 2013

#001 Diary of a Mad Coach

After 16 years on the sideline as a high school and college coach, I often gave the perception that I was not happy.  I looked like I was one mad/angry coach more often than I ever felt that way. What can I say, I'm a competitor through and through.  Although the expression on my face can often be intense, I mostly feel like I am in my own personal heaven on the sidelines.  I'm too old and broken to be the player I once was, so coaching was a great transition for me to continue to feel the thrill of competition and the joy of working with a group of young men or women to accomplish a shared goal.  It may seem cliché, but the idea of being a part of something bigger than myself has always been something I craved and continue to crave.

I resigned my position as the Head Women's Basketball Coach at the University of La Verne this past spring after my wife had our second child.  With two small children with two parents who are required to travel for work, it was a sacrifice I was happy to make.  There is nothing better for me than the opportunity of being able to have breakfast with my kids and be able to put them to bed at night.  As I always have told those who ask, I was put on this earth to be a daddy, so I take great pride in being great at it.

With this being the first year in more than 16 years not being on a basketball court during basketball season coaching a group of young people, I know that I will greatly miss the relationships and experience of building a team this upcoming year.

Nevertheless, I am choosing to make this season away from the game a chance to make myself a better person and coach while continuing to find ways to teach, mentor, and inspire those who need and want it.

The "Diary of a Mad Coach" will be many things, but I hope it will be a journey of self-reflection while sharing my knowledge and experience as a teacher and coach with those who choose to be a part of my journey.

My hope is that the readers of this blog will share with me as much as I hope to share with them.  I will talk athletic development as well as life development with a dash of pop culture, philosophy, psychology, and daily inspiration thrown in along the way.

If you received an e-mail with a link to my blog, you are someone I care about and who has demonstrated in the past that you care about me, or at the very least, enjoy my writings and what I have to say...even if you sometimes (or all the time) disagree. 

I want this to be an inclusive experience and my own virtual classroom where I can be the teacher and student each and every day.  I look forward to constructive comments and criticism, as well as great stories and anecdotes from your past and mine.

Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you think would get something out of it.  I know I will get a lot out of connecting or re-connecting with all of you.

Matt Rogers