Written by Michael Lynch
Next season will be my sixteenth year as a High School teacher and coach. Overall, I would consider myself extremely lucky. Within weeks of getting my first teaching position I got the chance to start my basketball coaching career, and after five seasons as a junior varsity coach I eventually got the opportunity for my first varsity coaching experience. Eleven seasons later it is still hard for me to verbalize the importance of making sure that your first coaching experience is a positive one.
One aspect that I wanted to make clear from the start of this post is that coaches should be mindful about what they choose as their first job. Choosing the correct first job, or in some cases waiting for the correct one, can be the key to setting your career on the right path. Inevitably each job opportunity comes with its own set of pros and cons that coaches will have to sift through. I believe there are three questions that you must take into account before you take your first coaching position:
- Are you going to have the support of your administration?
- Do you have the coaching experience to appropriately prepare you for this position?
- Can you verbally express the identity of a basketball team coached by you to an interviewer?
IMPORTANCE OF ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT
There is perhaps no more important factor in choosing a first job than the potential support of that school’s administration. This has been one thing that has made my own first job (as a head coach) a positive one. Over the course of ten years as a head coach I have always felt as though my decisions and positions were supported by my Principal and Athletic Director. It is hard to underestimate the confidence that type of support can give to a coach. There will undoubtedly be bumps in the road, but having an administration that supports your roster decisions, disciplinary actions, and interactions with parents is invaluable.
Jobs that appear to be good on the basketball side of things, but are notorious for not supporting their coaches are ones that should be avoided. In a perfect world coaching would just be about basketball, but the reality is that kids will make poor decisions, conflicts will arise, and tough decisions will need to be made. I don’t believe that it would take too long to find a fellow coach that despite having basketball success, is miserable because of a perceived lack of support from their administration. With that being said, I don’t necessarily agree that support should always come blindly. Coaches must be fulfilling their obligations to a high standard and be meeting behavioral expectations in order for administration to do their job.
BE PREPARED FOR MORE THAN BASKETBALL
One of the things that immediately came to mind while putting together my thoughts for this article was that you young coaches will quickly learn that their knowledge of the game is only part of the job. Most young coaching candidates will have considerable knowledge in the technical aspects of the game; defense, offense, transition, etc. However, it is the unforeseen aspects that tend to create the most trouble:
- The need for establishing a Professional Conduct
- The vigilance needed to protect your program’s Culture
- The necessity in setting behavioral boundaries for players
- The reality of setting consequences for violations of team rules & expectations
- The reality of setting boundaries for parents of players
If we are advising coaches to choose their first job wisely then we must recognize that those “good jobs” are going to hold their coaches to a high standard. The best job opportunities are going to want to know how you would describe your sideline demeanor, how you define your program’s culture, and what your policies on discipline and parent interaction are. The expectations for those things may be different from school to school, but it is important that you are able to articulate your view on those subjects.
Having success on the court is the goal, you are a basketball coach afterall, but it is important for coaches who are in the early years of their first job to not lose sight of the other aspects of their program. Give wins and losses their proper weight, but be as equally cognizant of your professional conduct, the policies your program adheres to, and the culture being built by your own players. Losing sight of that can derail any coach in their early years.
Team Philosophy Graphic created using www.canva.com.
WHAT IS YOUR BASKETBALL IDENTITY
If there is one thing I could go back in time and teach to myself heading into my own first job is the value in building a clear basketball identity. Try not to be so consumed with the value of wins and losses and more concerned with building a basketball identity that you believe in, and enjoy coaching. Those desirable jobs that we are seeking are going to want to know what a program run by you looks like on the court as well. Being able to explain what the pillars of your program are, and how you plan on reinforcing those on a day to day basis are keys to getting the kind of job we are after.
We should be able to explain:
- What does your team look like offensively?
- What does your team look like defensively?
- What type of pace does your team play at?
- What things define your team’s style of play?
This may be something that you have to figure out through experience, as coaches evolve as time goes by. We all tend to start with what we have been taught, and eventually find the style that we enjoy coaching. Regardless of how we arrive at that identity, it is important that we have one. Having a clear basketball identity heading into your first job can help guide you through the more difficult moments that it will bring. Whether the issues that arise are in the cultural/disciplinary end or are basketball related having a clear identity can help us resolve them.
Leicester Basketball Game Model:
Recommended Reading on this Subject:
For many coaches simply getting the opportunity to become a head coach is difficult enough. But if we want our first job to be a positive experience we need to choose wisely and be prepared to articulate our vision. Before you choose that first job do your research about administrative support at a school. Make sure you gain the experience necessary to be prepared for all aspects of the job, not just the basketball things. Be able to express your program’s basketball identity and your plan to execute it day in and day out.
Boys Basketball Coach
Leicester High School (MA)
You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter at @LeicBasketball. Check out and subscribe to our team website for other blog posts and weekly Newsletters: www.leicesterbasketball.com/coachescorner.