A good coach

So what defines a good high school (and college) coach? It’s more than wins and losses, though that definitely plays a part in it. Obviously a coach whose team has a losing record year after year after year isn’t advancing the program or the kids in it when it comes to skills. But a winning coach isn’t necessarily a good one just because her/his team wins.

First and foremost, a good coach should know how to develop a player and help her become better. This means specifics: teaching her a drop-step, forcing her to use her left hand when she keeps going right, guiding her through the right footwork over and over until she has it down, teaching her where to catch the ball and how to play smart, strategic ball. Kids, and particularly athletes, want to learn and improve, so it’s the coach’s job to teach them. If all or most of the players on a team haven’t progressed at all or much by season’s end, that’s a sign that the coach isn’t doing her/his job.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of those types of coaches. But it’s easy to spot a well-coached team – they’re the ones who play good defense, who have correct shooting form, who talk to each other on the floor. Nationally-ranked-for-a-reason Brea Olinda and Mater Dei come to mind. The teams who run and gun and who win a lot while playing sloppily are those where a coach is relying on the athleticism of the players to carry them. They seem to “accidentally” win a lot.

Athletes with good fundamentals equals good coaching.

A good coach teaches, because coaching and teaching are the same. I advocate that coaches be put through some of the same schooling as teachers are, because during the season coaches see athletes and teach them as much, if not more than their individual teachers. Coaches should learn about individualizing instruction, scaffolding instruction, and some of the basic tenents of the profession. This includes being fair and consistent in the application of rules, using positive reinforcement and cutting down on negative talk, and never using sarcasm with young people. Too many coaches not only don’t take the time to teach well but they play favorites, aren’t consistent with discipline, and spend too much time bawling kids out, to the point where their self-confidence on the court takes a dive.

Fairness and consistency applies across the board. Does the coach say one thing and do another? Change the schedule at the last minute? This gives young people a basis of instability and inconsistency, when structure is what they need most.

If more coaches paid attention to these things, all that talk about character by the CIF (May 20 blog) would be unneccessary. Teachers and coaches don’t teach character, they model it. If a coach spends most of her/his time belittling and criticizing, why would they expect their players to respect them?

Another thing good coaches do is they care about their athletes as individuals. It’s something teachers learn through the credentialing process. When a teacher or coach is firm but caring, young people respond. They learn, and they adhere to the rules. If a coach acts like she/he only cares about winning or the program, makes personal attacks on an athlete, then the coach loses those athletes. The worst is if a coach gives up on her/his players. Most kids need encouragement and reinforcement often, so when a coach gives up, they have nothing left. And they don’t forget that the coach did that.

A good coach should be all of these things, and professional at the same time. This includes not commenting on an athlete’s appearance, family or personal life. Got a problem with lesbians? Then don’t coach girls and women. There have always been lesbians in girl’s and women’s basketball, for whatever reason, and that doesn’t look to change any time soon. A coach should be focused on basketball and basketball only.

Good coaching, like good teaching, is an art. Good coaches are good teachers whose main goal is to develop players both individually and as a team. Good coaches are positive, fair, consistent, caring, firm and professional. When all of these things come together, a program thrives and grows.