From one season to ten years. It becomes tough to slow down the time because our brain operates from moments to months down the road within minutes. At the end of any season, the mind automatically advances to the following year. Multiply that mindset by two with being married to a coach; we’re lucky to sit down for dinner together and remember the conversation we had the next day.
Long story short, it has been a blur. And if I were to give any advice for the next generation of coaches or to those that are in the twilight of their career (that likely won’t need the advice), here are my ten lessons from a decade of coaching:
1. Archive Each Season
Live in the moment sounded too cliché. Keeping practice plans, workouts, or notes from every season tells the story of what happened from year-to-year: good or not so good. We spend so much time planning during the season, often lost from our experiences are the sensation from the moments we spent so much time to prepare. The archives allow us to relive, learn, and share on the times that keep us going!
2. Priorities Quickly Evolve…That’s Alright
When I started coaching, basketball was my significant other. My only responsibility was to invest in the game and keep my head above water financially. Therefore, the career trajectory was already mapped out: G.A. at the collegiate level to low-level assistant, then second-in-command before auditioning for a head job at a preferrable Division III destination.
It hardly ever works out how it is intended. Maybe you meet ‘The One.’ Maybe, life on the road isn’t what it is cracked out to be. Understand that the experiences along the journey mold a more concentrated career path. It creates job filtering parameters as you go, maybe recruiting isn’t what you like to do, so could be worth taking a look at the high school ranks. Or the opposite, working with kids of divided attention between extracurricular activities may not be as satisfying, therefore looking to rise to a more competitive level is desirable. Either way, dream big with pen/paper to adjust from shifts in priorities that life brings.
3. Work As Many Camps Possible
With networking as the next lesson, camps are a great place to start. At the bare minimum it puts you in situations at an early point in the career to actually coach, even if it is coming up with defensive drills for elementary-aged athletes. To this day I have a coaches directory from a camp I worked at Florida that has progressed to lead at a variety of levels all over the country. You never know who you will develop a strong relationship with during that time. Other benefits include the opportunity to travel, interact with current staff members of programs, and often offsets financial expense to earnings so can be worth the investment.
4. Quality Over Quantity
Networking is undoubtedly important, if not paramount to our relationship-driven industry. Time usually takes care of this axiom on its own as priorities start to shift from chasing the dream to stability for family, or simply falling out with previous connections. Identifying authenticity is an important qualification to help filter contacts between transactional and relational. While both serve a purpose, understanding the difference between the two can mitigate unrealistic expectations and provide clarity of who in your circle is more dependable given certain circumstances. Loyalty goes a long way in this game.
5. Be Aware of the Trends
It doesn’t take an additional purchased ‘Sports Package’ from the cable network or seeing every FGM on Synergy to stay up to speed on the sport. But, a conscientious effort to stay abreast of what the most successful teams are doing at a variety of levels can be beneficial when it comes to scouting, recruiting, and/or networking. From a Coach’s Climb standpoint if you are an up-and-comer with limited tech ability (e.g. graphic design, video editing, or social media) I would highly recommend a tutorial on YouTube. Graduate assistants to support staff are having to become increasingly nuanced on digital to stay connected with current and prospective student-athletes. Whether it is technology, style of play, or athlete preferences, it is best to keep a pulse on what is going on to rise through the ranks or prevent from falling off.
6. Shape Philosophy Into System / Identity
The situational awareness during my time as an assistant versus being a head coach has been night and day. There are just so many other things to take into consideration that as an assistant I never really considered the possible impact it has on an entire program versus the individual. Yet, those experiences were very impressionable early in my career on future plans if/when I would be in a position to lead a program of my own.
The more concrete a philosophy is prior to taking the head job the faster the cultivation of culture, identity, and system installation. Culture is often simply a reflection of over-emphasized habits and values. The identity is often the continuity of the system put in place: scheme, style of play, off-season routine, academic standards etc. There can be evolvement from year-to-year on some aspects of a system or culture, but the philosophy should largely stay the same. And the more narrow that becomes the stronger the culture and system, which often leads to sustainable success.
7. Have A Side Hobby
Kids or no kids, there has to be something to separate coaching from life. Despite your best efforts coaching is often an identity and it can consume us. The spare time that we do have can be taken for granted. Having a side hobby, or even carving out time to be with family on particular off-days can go a long way to finding some semblance of life-work balance.
8. Read a Book, Maybe Two
If you were anything like me growing up, reading was a forced assignment never leisure. Might have had something to do with that underwhelming ACT score that I produced prior to college. I’d like to say I’ve grown up a bit since and have grown to appreciate the value in reading, particularly from others that have a wealth of information to share from personal/professional experiences. During my season I attempt to read at least one to two books because I feel it stimulates my mind, possibly forcing me to consider different or opens up ideas for new. The off-season can be a great opportunity for personal development in areas off-the-court: finances, negotiations, or mental health. Also, podcasts can be a great alternative for a lot of coaches that spend the time on the road.
9. Financial Stability: Budget Below Your Means
Budget and live below your means. For coaches that are at the high school level, it is likely a stipend and another full-time job whether it is in the building or outside the school. The difficulty there is time-management and possible school district regulations. At the college level, early parts of the career if housing comes with the job – take it! It is not the pay that will keep you afloat it will be the perks of the gig (e.g. meal cards, housing, free gear, gas reimbursement). Being transparent – since this is about life lessons after 10 years coaching – this has been the most difficult obstacle as it pertains to starting a family and still pursuing a long-term coaching career. It can be difficult, even at the highest levels where job stability becomes increasingly cut-throat, work-life balance is almost non-existent for many. My two recommendations is financial planning and simply live below your means. And if you have the KSA’s to start a side hustle, all the better!
10. Adapted Authenticity – Embrace & Expect Discomfort
Not least important. Nor a resounding final words of wisdom. But to encapsulate these ten years into one alliterative piece of advice: develop adapted authenticity.
Be true to who you are during your career. Frauds are exposed, might be by your own kids or by your peers. But at some point, if you are fake about helping others, preparing others, or empowering others it will be revealed at some point. The other side to that coin is coaching will challenge any insecurities that you have during your career. Personally, I have never been comfortable with public speaking. That being said, there is never a year where I am not subjected to public speaking. Am I Winston Churchill after ten years? Absolutely not. Am I better now than when I started? I’d like to think so. At any rate, coaching forces you to consider where you need to improve leaving you to make a choice: hide from it or get better doing it. We know what the answer is, but the easiest decision is not always the right one. It can be tough. We can’t hide from what any of our vulnerabilities are because it will likely be masked with fake characteristics or tendencies. The best coaches that I know – even observe – are often the most genuine. Aligned in philosophy with mannerisms, a system in place to put athletes in the best positions to be successful. Working to become the best version of ourselves is my interpretation of adaptive authenticity.