Do you have the joy of coaching?
I know I had to ask myself that question recently.
The last two summers, I worked with the NBA in Singapore and China. I was directing camps, conducting coaching clinics, helping write a curriculum for coaching certification and training teachers and coaches in how to be more effective communicating their message. All in total, I worked with around 6,000 players, teachers, and coaches.
It is difficult to say being on a court teaching a game is hard work, but it was physically taxing at times; but, never in my mind did I think I would have such an enjoyable time.
Why was it so enjoyable?
- I love being around the game.
- I like to see players improve.
- Helping coaches is a passion of mine.
But here is the real reason - I had one job; even with all the pre-planning that went into the preparation of daily plans for the camp, teaching coaches how we would instruct, and going over the syllabus for teacher/coach training.
My one job: Show up.
That's right - show up, carry out the plan and then get ready for the next day. Now, you better be ready, and you better be at your best, but showing up was what I needed to do.
After my first coaching clinic for all the basketball coaches in Singapore, one of the organization's leaders pulled me aside and told me to make sure I had good content to share. They want meat, not fluff.
My stories of interactions with John Wooden, Coach K, and Hubie Brown were not necessary. Most coaches there had no idea who I was talking about, so I made a decision to quit trying to be funny and impress them, and give them quality material they can use to improve their craft, but, something happened during our camps where we had about 1,600 kids each weekend.
I had a lot of first-time coaches, and our court space was limited. We had to be very creative to ensure each camper was getting enough reps in each session. My pet peeve is kids standing and watching during camps or practices.
I remember thinking after my first weekend that I didn't know if I could make it up the stairs to where I was staying as my legs and body were that tired.
A day later, I told my wife over the phone that I was not sure if I could make it through 7 weeks of this.
Singapore has incredible weather, as it is almost 90 degrees every day. A lot of their gyms do not have air conditioning, and we happened to be in those gyms. I would, on average, change outfits 3 to 4 times a day because I was drenched in sweat, but, here is what happened the next weekend. I was energized and ready to go. I was still hot, still sweaty, but I loved it, as being around the kids and the other coaches kept my energy levels up.
What happened to give me that energy? Simple. Being able to worry about one thing.
Each day I took the bus, train, Uber or taxi to get to the gym, and then I walked in, met with our coaches, high-fived the kids, put the mic on and we were ready to go
I didn't have to worry about making sure the lights were on, the doors were unlocked, we had enough basketballs, and everyone had the right t-shirt. The floor was already swept, there was enough water in the coolers, and prizes were ready. These are all the things that go into making a quality camp or practice.
For so many years of directing camps, I had programmed my mind to worry about all the little details, that I forgot why we had a basketball camp in the first place – for the kids!
The organization running the camps and the NBA had things so well organized. I was there to make sure every kid had a great experience on the floor.
I looked forward to getting to the gym; I looked forward to being with the kids; I looked forward to helping coaches teach a new skill, and I even looked forward to being with the parents. (Yes, the parents.)
The parents were not giving the evil eye because their child didn't get enough playing time or shots in the game. They were thrilled to be part of what we were doing.
- Had I lost my joy of coaching?
- Did all those years of trying to climb the ladder, get the better job, worrying about what others thought of me affect how I approached coaching?
- Did I think about myself more than my players?
I had to answer yes to all of the above questions.
For the first time in a long time, I remembered why I got into coaching.
I wanted to help young adults learn what it meant to work hard for a goal; learn how to be disciplined, and learn how to be a great teammate.
I knew being a coach was my best route to help make that impact.
I didn't get into coaching for my gain, but then things change. The stress, the worrying, and the losses can take the joy out of a job.
Over time, I had let little things eat away, and I forgot how much I like being on the court with a chance to help someone.
One of my favorite parts of our camps in Singapore was the beginning. Every weekend had eight different sessions with 200 kids in each session.
To begin each session, I had the coaches make a tunnel and greet the kids as they came into the gym. The music would be blaring, and we were high-fiving the kids and telling them to get ready for a great day.
I told our coaches how, for some of these kids, this was the highlight of their week. I knew from years of doing camps and getting feedback from parents, as well as watching my five children, how going to camp was a big deal.
Leading up to camp is exciting for a young person. I told the coaches we have kids coming who have been in anticipation all week long for their time at camp. I was encouraging the coaches, no matter how tired they were, to bring their best effort.
As if on cue, shortly after my pep-talk to the coaches, I am lined up and waiting for our next group of kids to come in. The first person is a young girl, and she is sprinting and pumping her arms as hard as she can, and then I hear her say, "I have been waiting all week for this!" as she slapped my hand and ran into the gym. You could tell by the excitement in her voice and the enthusiasm in her body language that without question she had been waiting all week for this.
That is the joy of coaching.
I will never, ever forget that moment.
And you have them all the time as a coach. Kids may not say those words and may not come bounding into your practice or workout, but, deep down, that is how they feel.
Even with all that goes on during a school day or week when your players get to practice, most of them have been waiting for that practice or game. It is what excites them, and something that they look forward to doing.
For me, I understood what the girl was saying. I had finally got back to that feeling of "I've been waiting all week for this."
Coaching is a gift, but, sometimes, we don't treat it that way. We allow the craziness the surrounds the job to consume our emotions, energy, and thoughts to where we miss out on the best part: Working and helping others to learn new skills, enhance their current skills and using a game to teach life lessons.
- Hopefully, you will not have to travel to another country to get a wake-up call.
- Hopefully, you will realize what an honor it is to coach.
- Hopefully, you will not let the small things get in the way of the bigger picture.
I am glad I learned these lessons, and I can still coach.
When you get on the floor, court or field to coach, make that time the best part of your day for you and your players. Be engaged, and eliminate the worries of the job.
The lesson plans will get done; the recruiting will be ok; the crazy parent will calm down (Ok, probably not, but at least you can hope); and the administration will begin to come around..
Focus on why you coach. Don’t be like me and get a wake-up call late in your career.
Your players need you as a coach to have the same joy they bring every day.
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