I got the most unlikely call from my AD in April 2020 while going through quarantine just like everyone else in the world. The school where I had played HS ball at and been an assistant coach at for the past 2 seasons had just offered me the Head Men’s Coaching position at the age of 21. I had every sort of emotion that you could feel – excited, pumped, and ready to get started. However, it’s not until you move over seats 6 inches that you realize you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.
I received all sorts of praise, advice, and knowledge on how to best go about my first season as a head coach.
“You gotta set a good culture!”
“Make sure you’re super organized!”
“Man, you gotta make sure you and the parents are all on the same page and getting along!”
What I came to find, however, is that any expectations of what you might think will happen can get totally flipped once the season starts. Not only was my first season as a Head Coach in the middle of navigating the craziness of COVID, but from a basketball standpoint we only returned 2 guys total from the season before. I was hired to build a new culture from the ground up. And BUILD is what a Head Coach should do.
The culture that I wanted to establish was “BUILD”: having a blueprint for what you want to build, digging all the crap out, laying a solid foundation, and then laying one brick at a time. As a Head Coach, if you don’t have a blueprint – a vision for what you want the program to become – you’ve already lost. Be ambitious. Reach for heights the program might not have seen before, but understand that those goals might take some time. Without the blueprint though, nothing can move forward. The toughest thing when becoming a first-time Head Coach is the dig – getting out all the crap and muck that hasn’t worked in the past and establishing new standards and a way of doing things. Your culture is always being tested, so don’t settle for less than whatever the standard is that you want – academically and athletically.
Most of my first year as the Head Coach was spent digging and getting rid of all bad habits and muck that held our culture back. From there, we can lay a solid foundation. Each Head Coach might have a different foundation on things they emphasize. I wanted to make sure that I laid the foundation for our program on something strong that could not be easily broken or crumbled – love. By laying a foundation on something that is strong, it can allow for the program to be sustained for a long period of time. I just finished my second season as Head Coach, so I haven’t fully seen the fruits of everything that we’re building just yet, but we will. Finally, we need to continue to lay one brick at a time to continue to build. Each day we need to bring our best as the Head Coach. Our program can not survive if we give it anything less. If we can build just one solid brick each day, then eventually we can build a really solid program for years to come. It requires it every single day.
Much of what I have learned from my first season as a head coach can be summed up by having patience despite having huge ambitions. As a first time head coach, your ambitions tend to be much bigger than your current reality. Being ambitious is amazing, but it often times can lead to frustration when results don’t happen in the timeline that you want them to happen. To the first time head coach with all sorts of ambitions, I would first say be incredibly ambitious, but not to the point that it leads to impatience in the process of building. Patience in the macro of your vision will lead to joy in the journey. My first season we won one game. One game. Yet, we built a culture of guys just loving to get in the gym and finding ways to improve each day to a point where we won 10 games my second season and improved in every statistical category. I realized though that getting that call for your first Head Coaching job is super exciting – you get to do things YOUR way finally! Let us make sure that when we get to do it our way that it’s built on a strong foundation on using the game to change lives.