A Coaching Career: What’s Worked, What’s Changed, Mistakes I’ve Made, Then and Now

Andy Weaver (@weaver_andy) has learned many lessons over the course of his 30 year career. Now, the veteran coach at Plainfield High School offers to share those lessons.

Why this topic:

  • My background:
    •  1989-1990 Carroll (Flora) freshman coach 
    • 1990-1994 Carroll junior varsity coach 
    • 1994-1997 Pioneer varsity coach (3 seasons)
    • 1997-2012 Western varsity coach (15 seasons) 
    • 2012-current Plainfield varsity coach  (8 seasons)
  • Stretches of coaching career where things went well  
    • 2003-2012 (166-67 at Western)  6 sectional championships, 6 conference championships
    • 2017-2020  (66-31 at Plainfield) 1 conference championship 
  • Stretches of coaching career where wins were hard to come by
    •      1998- 2002 (41-65 at Western)  
    •      2013-2016  (22-66  at Plainfield) 

What has worked:

  • Only talk about the next opponent. Scout every opponent. Live scout as many teams as you can but find the team or two in the sectional that you will have to beat and live scout them as much as possible. 
  • How do you have to play to beat the best team in your sectional? 
  • Players or teams that I have enjoyed the most are the ones that have had genuine relationships. 
  • Finding a coaching staff that is on the same page. Not all “yes” guys but “loyal” guys 
  • Have a scouting schedule for your assistant coaches but also know when they need a night off for a family event. 
  • Have each assistant coach know his role. Know each assistant coach’s strengths and weaknesses. Assistant coaches need to be involved in game planning and in the game. 
  • Coaching staff must be loyal to each other. 
  • Build your program from the top down. The sooner you can win at the varsity level the better. If not varsity, then jv and frosh. 
  • Players on the team must know and accept their role. Holding all players accountable has been a key in successful years. 
  • Change a few calls against the best coaches you play. If you call play 1, play 2, play 3 in a game you know they scouted. Have play 1 be different when you play them. Almost script two or three sets like an offensive coordinator in football.  
  • Have a parent you can trust be treasurer of a parent fundraising group. They have to be someone who understands costs like IBCA coaches membership, Gene Milner record books among other things.  
  • If possible, get your parents involved in fundraising. Delegate things like senior banners
  • Have a calendar for players and parents. Communication is key. 
  • Have your immediate family be a part of the team. That can be different for each coach. I have younger kids. They have rode the bus, been at team meals. 
  • Important people: athletic secretary and custodians. Treat them well.  
  • Focus on daily improvement  
  • Make every player feel valued 
  • Players really respond to days off or light days late in the season.  As a player, there’s nothing more energizing than a January or February practice and the coach says “if we get after it, we are going to go hard for 45 minutes, shoot free throws for 15 minutes and go home”.  Those are some of the most productive practices you could have.  Find ways to energize your kids late in the season.  Mix it up.  Totally change practice.  Sometimes we are so regimented, we make it boring.
  • Have something that is a tradition especially come tournament time! 

Mistakes I have made:

  • Not enjoying the moment or the team after a major accomplishment and always thinking or consuming myself with the next game or even that day seeing a score from the top sectional team. 
  • Tend to focus on a few negatives instead of all the positives. Cannot let the couple of negatives consume the conversation in the coaches office. You have to address it and correct it, but then focus on the positives. 
  • Putting constant pressure on yourself even when having a winning team. It is a different type of pressure when losing but do not let it consume you. 
  • Through the years, schools change, players change, and parents change and I think I tried to change instead of being myself.   
  • Played the “star” too many minutes!

What has changed over the last 30 years:

  • What you can do with players in the summer. We used to be able to have open gyms and no summer games. More varsity coaches spent time with middle school teams with things like team camp. In the summer of 2002, varsity teams started playing games. Over the last 16 years, it seems varsity teams are playing more in June than they did when the rule came out. Our emails get flooded with summer opportunities. Kids get to see where they stack up for the upcoming season and what the coaching staff is thinking with a new team with players graduating.  Parents get to see also.  (Not this June though unfortunately.)
  • What you can do with players in the fall. From open gyms to working with one coach and two players to what the rule is now. Do you like the 2 hours twice a week rule? Indiana is known for shooters and now shooting guns that are expensive are not being used. 
  • Strength training and conditioning has improved.  
  • Post play now is used less. The high school game has always been about guard play, but now players do not want to post up. The way the game is called and perhaps the strength of defenders could be attributed to that philosophy. Players struggle finishing post moves. Teams that have a good post player have an advantage. 
  • The loss of playing for your school/community. The average parent will absolutely transfer their kid in a heartbeat if they think the grass is greener rather than accepting their role. 
  • The 5 quarter per night rule is good. Take advantage of that rule, although players/parents sometimes think level is more important than experience.  
  • Changing the length of JV quarters to 7 minutes.
  • Number of guys on free throw lane – less because of physicality.  
  • Officiating from a 2 man to a 3 man crew.
  • Email. Parents will say things in an email that do not have the courage to say to your face. 
  • Social Media. I recommend staying positive if used. 
  • The IHSAA tournament has changed. The average fan does not know who is in your sectional and where it is. 
  • Sectional bye teams used to play each other and now they play a team that has already won a sectional game. No back doors into the championship game.  
  • Elementary basketball. Now youth basketball is not being coached by the elementary PE teacher.  Youth basketball is being coached by a dad in most cases and many high schools are hosting games on Sunday.  High school staffs are now being used to pick teams at a lot of schools  

Things I Wish I Would Have Known Earlier as a Player:

  • What it feels like to be a Senior (The sacrifice for the team).
  • How much time the coaching staff puts in trying to prepare the team for life, practices and games.
  • Your team is only as good as the last player to buy in (weakest link).  You have a “true” team only when every last player has bought in.
  • When you win with a “TEAM”, the victory tastes much sweeter.
  • Team chemistry is the most important thing in the game of basketball.  Without it, championships are hard to come by.
  • That the “TEAM” is not the coaches’ team.  It’s your (players team.)
  • That it can take an entire season to build a “TEAM” and one incident to destroy the chemistry that was built.
  • How you play in practice ultimately affects your performance in the game.
  • If you want to be the best player, you have to be the hardest worker.
  • It doesn’t matter how good you are if you are not mentally tough.
  • That you win games by preparing properly in practice and not just lacing up the sneakers on game night.
  • It’s hard as a coach to sit a player who makes hustle plays consistently and works hard in practice.
  • The importance of ball pressure and jumping to the ball and how to play it properly.
  • Communication is a must to be successful on and off the court.
  • I have a better chance to play if I am a great defender vs. a good shooter.
  • The sooner I realize that everything starts with defense, the better I will be able to prepare myself for the practices and games.
  • The key to becoming a great rebounder is putting forth the effort to go to the glass and ability has little to do with it (rebound sequence).
  • A good team defense is built with the foundation of trust.
  • It’s not who starts the game, it’s who finishes the game- be a finisher.
  • You have to have a great second half warm-up physically to get yourself ready mentally (perceived ability that we are ready to go).
  • That you can control two things in life:
    • Attitude and Effort
    • And more often than not, positive words and actions create positive reactions.

Thoughts from Don Meyer:

  • Playing hard makes up for a multitude of mistakes 
  • The only thing you can guarantee in basketball is that you play hard.
  • Play to win- effort isn’t enough, we need intensity and technique..
  • Get into the now- not last play or the next play- this play.
  • Discipline- doing things right every time- separates average and great players.
  • A great team doesn’t have to have the coach telling them to talk.
  • Breakout years often start with conditioning.
  • Toughness- responding appropriately to the task at hand, it is being focused on the direct correlation between defense and toughness. You can’t have a tough team without defense.
  • Accepting a coach’s criticism is toughness.
  • Toughness- you have to be mentally tough to be physically tough and vice versa.
  • Everyone is going to make loads of mistakes- fight through them.
  • You need a blue collar team to win it- toughness, mental, and physical.
  • A tough team talks loudly.
  • Have you ever seen a great program that doesn’t have great communication?
  • Good teams have 1 or 2 guys that do the dirty jobs. Great teams have all of their guys do the dirty work.
  • Scared teams don’t talk.
  • Every little thing counts, If not, why do it?
  • When closely guarded, do not go toward the ball. Go back-door.
  • Whenever you cut, look for a return pass.
  • When you commit to a cut (or back-door) do not stop and do not come back to the ball.
  • Bad shooters are always open.
  • On offense, move the defense
  • A good player knows what he is good at. He also knows what he is not good at and only does the former.
  • You want to be good at those things that happen a lot.
  • Defense involves three things: courage, energy, intelligence.
  • Whatever you are doing is the most important thing that you’re doing while you’re doing it.
  • Hardly any players play to lose. Only a few play to win.
  • The way you think affects what you see and do.

Thoughts from Travis Daugherty:

  • Coaching is about “comforting the troubled and troubling the comfortable” Identify and Challenge (ruffle feathers) 
  • Pick small daily battles instead of ending up in a war; maintenance: maintaining a garden; Do the dirty work! 
  • Leaders need to be guys willing to fight with you, and guys willing to fight with you need to be leaders. 
  • You have to have a trusting, personal relationship with each player. You have to build that relationship until you have 100% buy in.  I think getting buy in and being able to coach your best players hard is crucial to success.  
  • If your top 8-9 kids buy in and will play for each other, you have a chance.
  • Most coaches think coaching = teaching 
  • Most players think coaching = criticizing  
  • Don’t underestimate the impact that you have as a coach! 
  • Grass isn’t always greener in “that” program. Everyone has challenges/issues. Someone would love to have yours. 

Additional Thoughts:

  • It takes time to install culture at a school. Yes you do need talented and skilled players but you must 100% buy in or you are not going to win.
  • “A life of frustration is inevitable for any coach whose main enjoyment is winning.”- Chuck Noll
  • Joy of coaching: authentic, genuine, honest player relationships.
  • “People don’t want to be part of the process, just the outcome.  But the process is where you figure out who is worth being part of the outcome.”
  • “Teams have their best shot at reaching their potential when they have a culture that relishes in a teammate’s success and doesn’t just feel great and exemplify teamwork when they personally do well.”
  • “Your best players have to unite and inspire the group… otherwise, they’ll divide the group.”

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