First off, I’m not proud of the title of this topic given that it somehow insinuates coaches stop competing after hanging up their jerseys. There is, however, a different mentality preparing to compete as a coach versus a player, and unfortunately, in my experience harder to forget afterward.

It has been ten years removed since stepping off the floor for the last time as an athlete. Since high school, it had become a goal of mine to get into coaching. During my senior year of college, one of the first steps I took was reaching out to a former high school coach about helping out on the sidelines for the upcoming season. Within a few months, that is exactly where I got my start, as an assistant coach with the Junior Varsity team.

My thought process was pretty simple-minded in the beginning:

  • Learn From Everything (i.e. games, meetings, & activities)
  • Continue To Enjoy Being Around The Game
  • Be Actively Involved (e.g. rebounding, passing, or instructing)

During my playing days as a point guard, my strengths leaned on outsmarting over outmaneuvering. Ironically, one of the biggest challenges I had early in my coaching career came from seeing the game holistically. Just as any poor defender, I would ball-watch during most possessions ignoring integral dominoes that could’ve helped our staff communicate previous breakdowns or ways to sustain execution. This is where the learning progression begins: recognizing a coaching staff’s focal points of observation for evaluation.

Another unexpected hurdle early in coaching came with communication. As a player, leading felt very natural. There was a level of confidence in my ability, my work ethic, and my relationships to authentically engage with teammates. Then, as a first-time coach, there wasn’t much precedent there. Very few times as a player were all eyes on me from a center-stage perspective; that took some getting used to while giving pre-game instruction or halftime speeches. There were instances of sensing imposter syndrome, or struggling with the identity of being perceived as an authority figure. What I learned to understand – similar to moments as a player – is people recognize genuine investment. There was a lack of assertiveness during times addressing an entire team; but, I was intentional to support everyone on an individual basis. The more time I had spent interacting with someone one-to-one the more comfortable I became speaking to the entire team. It would be my advice to start small to gain the trust of the collective group.

I’ll finish with two things everyone should embrace going from competing (as an athlete) to coaching on the sidelines:

  1. Strive to learn everything without anyone ever labeling you as knowing it all
  2. Keep a portfolio

The select few books that I picked up prior to getting into coaching consistently preached being a sponge, and understanding roles. See, this is what is wrong with the title of this post because again, coaches are absolutely competitive. Sometimes it is that same source of competitiveness that stymies receptiveness to new ideas. The coaching tree can be very small, which can produce endless branches to learn. Or, it can quickly lead to a reputation that becomes hard to climb.

Of those select few books, the first one to inspire the idea of coaching was “Coaching Basketball Successfully,” written by legendary High School Coach Morgan Wootten. Turning the pages in this book opened Pandora’s Box for conceptualizing the game in a deeper way. To this day I have a faded notebook titled “Chemistry” that has some of my first sets ever drawn up during Math class in high school – must’ve been easily distracted during school.

Competing in a game versus coaching on the sidelines has a different connotation to it. Some things stay the same though: find ways to continue learning and don’t get caught ball-watching.


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