Patience: Landing the Right Job for You

Rodney Walker, Head Coach at Central High School, Evansville, IN

The Right Fit? You either are, or you will learn that you are not. Hopefully, through some proper preparation, you learn that the job you are preparing for has to be the right one for you. 

As a young coach, I simply learned boys were much better for me to coach than girls. Not because I disliked coaching girls, but I enjoyed the pace of the boys game better. I learned more coaching girls for several years than I did all five years of coaching boys prior. After my experience, I realized how much more I had to learn about the game and how to be patient. While I still have much, much more to learn about that word – I share an analogy with you about a vegetable familiar to me.

The corn stalk

The Seed – Experiences

Gain as many experiences as you can to be a sponge. As Coach Scott Hudson (Head Girls Coach at Wapahani High School) always said, “You gotta soak it all up, Coach.” Eighteen years of soaking it up at various and very differing levels allowed that. We live in a society where there is a natural race to get to the top. Guys want to be the best without the work. We want to be given more than we sometimes deserve for our work and sacrifices. From sixth grade basketball in 2000 through junior varsity basketball in 2018, experiences piled up and a foundation was set for growth. Basketball camps, coaching clinics, and being on a staff all give that soil the nutrients we need. Conditions have to be optimal for the seed, and you have to find the right fit for you.

The Stalk – Relationships

So, you are beginning to grow and mold into your individual self – now what? You are your own unique ~You~ Take the right step for you. Not every coach is meant to be a head coach. 

One word that is emphasized in life that means so much to me is – Relationships. As a teacher, we get to know the secretary and the janitor very quickly. They are the people who get things done, or may be able to get you an extra hour in the gym while you’re waiting on your game uniforms to dry at 12 a.m. on a Tuesday night. We want to have great people surrounding our kids as they grow, just as the soil helps the stalk get stronger and become a plant. Those great people become your assistants, your managers, and eventually your friends. 

The Corn – Intrinsic Reward

Growing up the son of a farmer, I chose to work in the field at Pioneer Seed for ten years. The work was strenuous and taught a lot of responsibility. I learned that the fruit of your labor comes one time, and we can easily compare that to living life. If you do the proper things as a young seed, you can grow into a strong stalk, and then produce a fine product. This is everyone’s goal as a coach. Producing a fine player is satisfying, but producing a fine young man is the reason for doing it. Enjoy the fertilizing, the watering, the sun, and then reap your reward of the smile you see ten years down the road. You can’t have the fruit before the seed – embrace the process. Resolve conflict, remove distractions, confront problems, and don’t forget to be the ‘watering can’ of praise.

The Stalk – Complacency

Once you are on top, you can become susceptible. Just as the stalk becomes susceptible after the fruit has been taken, we have to become certain not to forget the hard work that it takes to be consistently efficient. Still be the seed who wants to learn, and the stalk that remains strong. Soaking it up is what got you there – don’t change who you are for a job you’re not comfortable in. 

I appreciate the opportunity to share with you, and for Coach Heath Howington. He was kind to reach out, and I enjoyed writing an article for Feel for the Game. Many wonderful coaches donating their time for all of our benefit. Thank you!

If I can ever be of help to any of you, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

Rodney Walker

Evansville Central Boys Basketball Coach

Trust the Process

How Homestead Boys Basketball has Built Sustained Excellence

Tie game, 10 seconds to go.  The ball gets fumbled around a little, broken play.  Caleb Swanigan, the Indiana Mr. Basketball that year and current Portland Trail Blazer, scoops it up and lets a 3 go at the buzzer.  Swish.  Every Homestead player storms the court in celebration.

It was Homestead at DeKalb. 2014. A year before I took the DeKalb job. I remember watching the game the following summer, in preparation for the Baron team I was inheriting. But watching it at that moment was really nothing noteworthy. It was when a current assistant, who played for me at DeKalb, showed me again just months ago.

So I watched it closer, recognizing the young faces of Homestead players, decked out in blue travel suits.  “Wow,” I think to myself as I watch the freshman team return back to their seats.  “That kid is playing at Wabash now.  That one was selected as an Honorable Mention All-American in NAIA.  And that one is at Division 1 Colgate!”  And they were on the freshman team.

No one in northeast Indiana has a better high school boys basketball program than Chris Johnson’s Homestead Spartans.  Every team is exceptional.  Every year.  And it seems that much of this success can be attributed to players who buy into their role, and work to excel in it.  Players who have waited for their opportunity, developed (and dominated) at their level, and when their number was called, they were ready. In this age of instant gratification and keyboard warriors, Coach Johnson maintaining this foundation of Trusting the Process and convincing players (and parents) to thrive in their current role while developing for their desired one is fascinating.  So:  What is the Secret Sauce?  

“It’s a big family at Homestead.  I think that helps a lot,” explains Brandon Durnell, a Spartan alum and current Spring Arbor player, the NAIA standout referenced earlier.  “Coach Johnson is really good at building relationships off the court.”  Players might desire a bigger role or to be playing the next level up, but they understand their value within the program is not predicated on their production or their level.  And sure, winning at every level does not hurt either.  “People seeing that success really helps.  Maybe a player thinks he can play varsity, but the varsity is always winning, so he understands his place better.” 

Beyond the philosophical approach of running the program, I asked Coach Johnson a few specifics in how he implements his system, and each team individually:

What are some things you look for in an assistant coach?

Passion, knowledge and loyalty to me and the program.  I have been fortunate that Don Lines and Nick Ankenbruck have been with me for a long while now.

What is the main factor in determining what level an incoming frosh will play at? Physical readiness? Skill? 

For a 9th grade player to be brought up to the JV team, they need to play and get the minutes to hopefully be ready to play varsity by their Sophomore season.  If you are bringing them up, you have to believe they are physically ready.

I’ve seen your teams successful when you’ve had good bigs. When you’ve had guards as your best player(s). Your teams are dangerous both in the full court and in the half. What goes into deciding your offensive system in a given year, or do you see it as 1 main system with variations?

Our offense is decided on the players…..when we had Biggie and Batt, we went more to a high-low offense.  When we have shooters, more to the pick and pop.

How do you manage development while emphasizing winning?

 We work on skill work for the first 30-40 minutes for most practices

Family.  Accountability.  Role definition and acceptance.  ISustained excellence.  Respect to Chris Johnson and the Homestead Spartans.

5 Tips for Aspiring Head Coaches

David Alexander, Head Coach at Central High School, Evansville, IN

In my 4 stops as an assistant (Bloomington South, Shenandoah, Greensburg, Evansville Harrison), I have worked with coaches who have combined for 4 state titles and over 30 sectional titles. I was fortunate enough to work with 6 assistants in those stints who also had head coaching experience prior to or after us working together.

The biggest takeaway from the collection of coaches I have been around isn’t X’s and O’s; it’s the prep and behind-the-scenes work that occurs outside of practices and games. The scouting hours, film breakdown, laundry, morning workouts, after school workouts, extra workouts, practice planning, feeder camps and scheduling is just the tip of the iceberg of being a coach.

A great assistant, one that wants to be a head coach, will have their hand in all of these elements to (1) relieve the head coach a little bit and (2) prepare themselves for when it’s their time to run a program. Below are my 5 tips to being that great assistant.

  1. Volunteer – I spent 3 seasons as a volunteer assistant under J.R. Holmes at Bloomington South. I could have easily found a junior high job for pay or looked somewhere else, but sometimes the experience is the paycheck. I thought I knew the game well before my time there – boy was I wrong! Three years under the Hall of Famer taught me great lessons that have stuck with me since. I also know that I had to “pay my dues” to be a part of something special. Sometimes that means working for free. I wouldn’t be a head coach today if it wasn’t for Coach Holmes giving me a chance. The greatest programs and coaches don’t have money to offer for a reason. Don’t be afraid to work your way up.
    2. Your job is longer than 3-5 – The most frustrating part for any head coach or assistant coach is working with the guy that shows up at 2:55 and leaves at the final whistle. Someone needs to be on locker room coverage. Jerseys don’t wash themselves. What if a kid wants to get extra work in or needs a ride home? Scouting? Film breakdown? Getting jerseys and gear ready for the next day? Most importantly is the bond created during this time. In all my destinations, this is when the head coach wants to bounce new ideas or schemes around. It’s a chance to give your input. We used to sit with Stacy Meyer (Greensburg) in the coaches office for 1-2 hours after practice talking about upcoming practices and games almost daily. I will always cherish those moments in seeing his thought process on a daily basis.
    3. Ask how to help – This is an easy one. Ask your head coach, “What can I do to help?” Some coaches won’t ask because they don’t want to burden you. Others have so much on their plate they forget to ask. Maybe they’re like me and struggle delegating and relinquishing control. Being an assistant that wants to take on tasks can be a lifesaver for a head coach. It will also push you to have a bigger role in the program.
    4. Learn the off court stuff – Nathan Fleenor (Evansville Harrison) and Coach Meyer were such great mentors for me with this. Coach Fleenor constantly asked me to go to meetings with him and learn all the behind-the-scenes work of running a program. Coach Meyer turned over the feeder camps to me so I could gain that experience. They both included me in the fundraising, scheduling of games, practices and open gyms, ordering of equipment, setting up banquets and team meetings, etc. If you can learn this stuff as an assistant, it makes life so much easier when you take over a program.
    5. Loyalty – As with any job, this may be the most important factor. Head coaches want people they can trust.  Never be afraid to offer your insight to a coach when they ask for it.  But remember, it’s their choice on the final play call, substitution, etc.  Whether you agree with their choice or not, it’s your job to support them on the court, in the locker room and in the community. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this trust and loyalty more than with Aaron Cain at Shenandoah. Being a coach isn’t a hobby. It’s a family business. Coach Cain and I had an indestructible relationship that is just as strong 6 years later. Coach opened his home up to my wife and me during our time together. He was that way with his players as well. Every program I’ve been with, the coaches and their wives have hung out outside of the gym. As an assistant, you have to want to spend that time with your team and staff off the court. I would do anything for that man and his family, as he would for us. He demonstrated that when his family drove 8 hours round trip to help move my wife and me when I got a new job. Always treat your head coach and staff as family. A great assistant will keep that loyalty and togetherness long after the coaching connection is over.

Bonus tips:

  1. Have different experiences – I have coached in 4 different cities as an assistant and learned very different styles. I have pulled a little from each coach I’ve been with. If your life allows it, get multiple experiences to help find what works for you.
  2. Coach AAU/feeder – It’s a shorter season and less intense, and it gives you most of the roles of a high school head coach without the stress/pressure.
  3. Make sure your significant other understands the time commitment – Coaching is a full time job and you often pull double shifts. Make sure your significant other understands the time commitment. I’ve seen many “1-and-dones” once they realized the requirements. I told my wife when we started dating 10 years ago what to expect. I am very blessed she gets it and has supported me since Day 1. 

Keys to a Great Season

John Goebel, Head Coach at Jasper High School, Jasper, IN

As coaches, we all strive for great seasons. But how do we get there and what does this entail?

Coach John Goebel has outlined 9 focal points for the Jasper Wildcats. These are emphasized from day one with his team.

“It’s simply a list of ideas that I believe are essential for a successful program. We keep this posted in our locker room and work hard to teach our players the meaning of each one of them throughout the year.  In my experience, the things on the list end up being more important than the X’s and O’s.” – John Goebel 

Here is the list:

1. Attitude: Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. Demand respect by your actions on and off the court. 

2. Don’t complain outside of the locker room: Complaining to family and friends about a coach or teammate tears down the team. Being loyal is difficult but absolutely necessary for success. 

3. Know and accept your role: Sacrifice for the good of the team. Teams are successful when players embrace their roles and flourish in them. 

4. Play team defense: Scoring points is secondary to preventing points on the other end. Great teams take it personal when the other team scores on them. 

5. Take care of the ball: Great teams hate careless turnovers. It is impossible to have confidence in a player that does not take care of the ball. 

6. Accept and learn from criticism: Players who act on the recommendations of their coaches improve and will be noticed. 

7. Put your teammates first: Players who go out of their way to encourage and help their teammates make the program fire on all cylinders. Players who worry about their own needs and stats think they are better than the team and drain the team’s energy. 

8. Make others better: Set other players up with good screens and passes. A player with a 2:1 assist-turnover ratio is more valuable than a double digit scorer. 

9. Hustle Plays: Draw charges, dive for loose balls, block out, deflect passes, contain the ball, run the floor, help early. These items do not all show up on a stat page, but they are the most important aspects of the game.

Evansville Harrison Discipline System

Nathan Fleenor, Head Coach at Harrison High School, Evansville, IN


My first two years of being a Head Coach, we had a lot of discipline issues that we dealt with on what felt like a daily and especially a weekly basis. We gave suspensions and dealt with the issues as they happened, but it was becoming so difficult to be consistent with so many issues. These issues were everything from being late to class, behavior in class, lunch detentions, in-school suspension, late for practices, technicals, and many other infractions.

My third season we had several players in that senior class that we knew we had to do something different. My assistant David Alexander (now Head Girls Coach at Evansville Central) and I came up with a discipline system that would hold the players accountable and help us handle situations in a fair manner. In the fall of that year, we gave this out to the players and we kept track of the players’ points to give them an idea of what it will be like and to help us see how it would work for the season. At the parent meeting, we introduced the discipline system and explained it to all of the parents. That way the players and parents are all aware of our expectations and the consequences if those aren’t met. In the first year of the system it was extremely helpful with so many situations that came up. It also was great when parents had questions about the penalties of their sons to refer to the system, and there was no arguing from them at all.

How the System Works

We use a point system where students can get positive and negative points. We have an assistant coach who has a google spreadsheet for each player and they keep track of the points throughout the season. We give the players a sheet with their updated points every two weeks. Here are the ways students can lose points: 

Common Infractions/Discipline:

1 Point Infractions: 

  • Late to practice (go to trainer before practice) 
  • Leaving practice early 
  • Not wearing uniform in practice 
  • Walking away from a coach 
  • Not in/walking away from huddle 
  • Phone taken away (class) 
  • Sleeping (class) 
  • Negatives from teachers to coaches 
  • Lates (class) – 5 tardies = 1 point
  • Dress code violation in school 
  • Lunch detention 
  • Overslept/late with parent call (3x) 
  • Wandering halls during class 
  • Grades (Every 2 F’s/D’s = -1) 

3 Point Infractions: 

  • Miss practice 
  • Late to game/bus 
  • Players not sitting with team during other team’s game 
  • Forget travel suit/shoes/uniform/warm up 
  • Office referrals – student conference/class suspension 
  • Absent truancy 

5 Point Infractions: 

  • AEA/half day 
  • Verbal altercation

10 Point Infractions: 

  • Technical 
  • AEA/full day 
  • Lying to coach 
  • Miss bus for a game 

30 Point Infractions: 

  • Physical altercation with member of team 
  • School suspension 
  • Ejection 
  • Theft 
  • Miss a game

We always tell parents and the players that it can be at the coaches’ discretion. That is on the handouts we give everyone. If something comes up that isn’t on there then we give it a point total based on the infraction. If a player has one incident that is on here for different infractions then we take the highest point total. For example, if a player gets an office referral (-3 points) and serves a half day in-school suspension (-5 points) for it, then they would just receive -5 points not -8. 

Positive Points

We also give players opportunities to gain points back. This gives the players an opportunity to do the right things in the classroom and on the floor. Ways players can get positive points: 

  • Grades – points for A’s and B’s (Every 2 =1 point)
  • No issues in class/court for 2 weeks (2 points)
  • Positive with teammates (1 point coach discretion)
  • Plays hard without quitting (1 point coach discretion)
  • Positive comments from adults in building (2 points)
  • Gold jerseys in practice (3 golds =1 point) 

Every practice or game we award a Varsity player and JV player a gold jersey. That next day at practice those players wear a gold practice jersey. On days everyone on the team does great then we put the gold jersey on the bleachers by the clock. Players get a gold jersey mark on their sheet, and every 3 golds equals a point. There are situations that come up that aren’t on the list where players get positive points. For example, we received a handwritten card from a Vincennes Lincoln fan about how great one of our players handled himself during a highly emotional and intense game this past year. Little did that guy know, this player needed this card as a confidence boost and point wise. We as a staff decided to give him 3 points since this person took the time to send a handwritten card and his positive behavior was that noticeable to this person. At the beginning of the season, we give them the dates for grade checks, and no issues every two weeks. These are all ways they can get points back. 


  • -10 points: OSI – Player meeting
  • -20 points: Will be on the daily classroom players sheet and 20 suicides in 20 minutes
  • -30 points: Suspended game
  • -40 points: Suspended 2 in a row
  • -50 points: Suspended 3 consecutive games 

Player can be kicked off the team at coaches’ discretion at any point. 

OSI – Is when an assistant coach has players do a series of bear crawls, lunges, lobster, and other types of conditioning. 

Daily Sheet – This is a sheet that asks the teacher about three questions from class that day and a comment spot. It asks if the player participated, slept in class, any behavior issues, etc. They have every teacher sign it at the end of that class. THEY HATE HAVING this sheet. When they go back below -20, they will not have the sheet anymore. 

If a player gets over a benchmark and then goes back down and then back up, they will not get that punishment twice. For example, if a player gets -31 points and then gets positives and goes down to -28, they will not serve the 1 game suspension twice if they go back over -30 again. 

Stats About the System 

We have used this system for 2 years. One of our tough classes were seniors the first year we did this. We saw major discipline improvement our second year. 

Year 1 – Varsity and JV had 13 players finish with negative points and 4 finished with positive points. -65, -48, -43 were the worst. We kicked one player off. 4 were suspended for at least 1 game. 33 and 24 were the best. Freshman team we had 7 of 11 end with positive points. Nobody was suspended a game. 

Year 2 – Varsity and JV had 10 players finish with negative points and 8 finish with positive points. -26, -26, -23 were the worst. We did not kick any players off. Nobody was suspended a game. 18, 15, 13 were the best. Freshman team had 7 of 12 end with positive points. Nobody was suspended a game. 

Examples of Spreadsheets


I never thought that a point system like this would be a good idea for discipline. Now that we have done it, we don’t want to go away from it. The players know our expectations, where they stand, and the consequences for their actions. This system would be good for many programs in my opinion. It makes conversations with parents much easier and has minimized the amount of conversations we have had with parents about discipline. This system could be modified to fit any program or coach’s philosophy. If you have any questions or want to discuss this further, please don’t hesitate to contact me at I want to thank Heath Howington, Jeremy Rauch, and Nate Cangany for spending the time to have this great website and allowing me to write this article.

Mind Massages

—Byron Starks, LSU-Eunice, LA

“Whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy, think about these things.”

The concept of “Mind Massages” started when I coached at a private school in Louisiana that had six Division 1 student-athletes-including their entourage😃-on its team, and I have grown to use the same concepts as I coach at the college level.

I heard a speaker once discussing brain washing to change your way of thinking, he said “I’ve got to take your brain out of your skull, wash it, and put it back in your skull.”  

I then thought how can I apply that to my team.  The thought of teaching the truth without manipulation came to mind- hence “Mind Massages.”

As a leader, I’ve always tried to address the Method without tainting the Message.  We call it “Mind Massages” to get the desired results from the entitlement generation.

Before you can get to the heart(Soul), you must get to the head(Mind).

In essence, we are teaching the student-athlete how to drive (Lead a team, business, family), while giving them responsibility(keys), but we still hold the title to the vehicle.  

When they prove to be responsible, we will give them the title to the vehicle.

Massages increase circulation while removing metabolic waste.  I am not a scientist but the concepts of a massage resemble the “Mind Massages” philosophy by increasing positive thoughts, while constantly removing negative orunproductive thoughts.

Here’s how we do it:

We’ve used imagery, weekly sound bites from podcasts, guest speakers, music, and giving the players a sense of ownership in leading the team.

Step 1. Build Up

“People perform better when they feel good about themselves.”

“One Minute Manager” by Kenneth Blanchard.

People prefer honest criticism over flattery.  It is important to tell your team the truth while building them up.

The Sandwich Approach of Positive | Criticism| Positive is a strategy learned from my Sports Psychology class while attending college.

An Example of the Sandwich Approach is this:

Your shot is good, but it can be better by fighting for your feet (having good balance) on the catch. If you do this more consistently, your shooting percentage increases, creating a better chance at a successful career.   This builds up rather than tear down.

Step 2. Know what makes them move

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman has been a good book that helped me better understand my wife and children.  I thought, why not use it for my team. 

Here are examples of the 5 Love Languages:

Acts of Service

-Community service

Words of Affirmation 

-Affirm actions of growth 

– Even the less challenging students should be praised for constantly do the right things

Quality Time

-One on One workouts

-Individual chats in my office


Physical Touch

– High Fives

-Fist Bumps

-Pat on the back


-Recognition Stickers for Lockers or Helmets

-Highlight Name on the Leader Board or Group Messages

There is a free survey online for Teens and Married Couples(

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs will also be a great study to help understand the basic needs of your student-athletes. 

I once had a student-athlete kicked out of class and according to the teacher, he was defiant and disrespectful.

Once we sat down in my office, I asked 2 questions:

What time did you go to bed? and What did you eat this morning? Problem solved! The kid was tired and hungry and once those issues were addressed and trust gained, he and his brother excelled in our program and both arecurrently playing Division 1and professional basketball. Before you consider any “Mind Massages” address the basics.

Step 3. Hold your team accountable by setting the example.

Servant Leadership is one of the most effective forms of leadership. As a community advocate, I find it extremely rewarding to serve and give. Our team will have scheduled events to serve on our campus, in the community, and one another.  Serving strengthens the partnership, especially when you serve alongside the team, and in most cases, I or my coaches will be there to serve.

Why is this important?

Because it’s a visual and consistent reminder in the recruiting process with “Mind Massages”, that this journey is not only about you, but how using your gifts can benefit others.  In return, the blessings always come back to you.

This shows a vested interest in the student-athlete’s successes on and off the court. They know you are with them.  This is how a two-year partnership at a community college, becomes a lifelong partnership.

In conclusion, this sums up the “Mind Massages”philosophy.• Tell them the Truth• Have High Expectations• Develop Partnerships

Byron Starks

LSUE Men’s Basketball 

Teacher• Coach • Mentor • Motivator

Twitter: @byronstarks



Action-Oriented to Improve Mental Skill Sets

Gretchen Miles, Head Coach at Washington High School, Washington, IN

Over the past few years, we (and when I say we, I am talking about our staff, please don’t think that I am talking for all coaches) struggled with kids being so robotic, not just in flow of a game, but carrying skills in a drill over to a scrimmage setting, or kids verbally thinking through different concepts. We have a non-negotiable in our coaches office, if you come in with a complaint or an issue about anything, you better have a solution, or we don’t want to hear it! We had to be more Solution Solvers. Here were our concerns:

  • How do we get kids to not be robotic and just think the game?
  • They don’t watch or read about the game of basketball.
  • How can we carry over drills to games or scrimmage settings? (You know, when you do a passing drill and you are concentrating on staying in a stance, be strong with the ball and PASS FAKE. You then go into a scrimmage situation and the first pass caught, the player is standing straight up and down, ball over their head, and throws the pass RIGHT into the hands of the defender.) We began telling the kids, “Don’t do the Drill, Play the Game.”

This is where Action-Oriented came into play – because if the research says 90% of the game is mental, then WHY are we not spending as much time as we are training the physical aspects of the game, and do the same for the mental part. This is out of our comfort zone because we didn’t know much about it, but just listening to kids and reading books has helped us a lot! This goes with the old saying: “Your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you are saying.”

What actions are we taking to model what we emphasize? Remember: 90% is mental (We think 100% is mental, you are always thinking!).

As we replayed and discussed what the practices looked like:

  • How much are we talking AT kids, and how much are we talking WITH kids? 
  • How much are we really concerned about getting through the practice plan? 
  • When we throw out phrases and slogans, how much is sprinkled in our practice plan everyday?
  • The players did what we said to do for the entire practice, like Robots! We felt good about practice, but the kids weren’t growing and developing mentally.
  • How much do we MODEL and TEACH non-basketball skills?

And we wonder why they struggle to think on their own in the games!

This is where the foundation started – CONNECT – Build their trust.

#1 Non-Negotiable with our coaches is to Commit to the Kid: 

  • Know the kid first and then a basketball player second.
  • Learn the learner.
  • Build a positive relationship with every kid.
  • Talk to each kid every practice and every game about something NOT basketball related.
  • Attend events that the kid is involved in: other sports, 4-H, academic awards ceremony, etc.
  • When something has happened; taken the SATs, won a big game, is up for an academic scholarship, pick up the phone and call. Again, this helps with kids feeling comfortable to have a conversation with you, not just one or two word responses, and they know you care about them outside of basketball. We don’t text our kids, they don’t text us. If they get sent home from school for being sick and won’t be at practice, they call us. Their parents don’t call or text us, the player calls us. It is amazing how they struggle to leave messages if we are not available. We have had to have players come into the office and we PRACTICE leaving messages! (I’m serious) 
  • 1 on 1 conversations (our favorite) – These are powerful. You really see and hear what the kid is thinking when we as coaches just shut up and listen. We have 2 scheduled meetings each season to go over performance and just how life outside of basketball is going. We used to do all the talking, the players nod, they agree and then they leave the office (ROBOTS!). NOW we give the questions and LISTEN to the player. We need their honest thoughts to know how to develop and grow the player, not just as a basketball player. We meet with kids every week, whether it’s while they are shooting free throws, getting a drink, standing in line, or even as the varsity is watching the JV on game day. Honest conversations, not just us talking AT kids; we talk WITH kids. We are getting better at this so it just flows within the practice. This was super important to us, so then we MADE time for it. Some conversations are tough to have with the kid, but it is done in an honest way because of the respect we have for each other due to Committing to the Kid, and they use the information to get better. The more we have the conversations, the better the conversations become. The kids have a hard time being honest because they don’t want to make us mad. Conflict is good when used to help people grow and develop, that means coaches and players. They have a difficult time coming up with honest answers because most of them haven’t been asked tough questions about their attitude, performance, ability, or other characteristics. They just show up and play. They haven’t had to think for themselves.
  • As much as the kids are together during the basketball season, they are mainly at practice and games, so it is important for us to do things with the team to get them away from basketball and just hang out or give back to the community. All teams grades 5-12 do a community service project during the season that the PLAYERS choose. Again, player-led and NOT Robotic! The coaches are also involved so that the players can see us as human beings who also like to have fun.

The more we know and understand our kids as people first, the more they allow us to challenge them to develop and grow physically and mentally. They will be honest with us. 

Think about the following phrases/slogans and if they are an important part of what you emphasize with your team and you think are important. How much time during practice or team events are these modeled and taught? We have a focus before every practice that we want to emphasize the entire practice. Sometimes the players come up with what they think our focus should be. Some of those focuses are listed below:

  1. Be a Great Teammate – When you have a player that does not play very much but we expect all the players to be great teammates, how do we model and teach that concept? When we played sports, we probably rarely came off the court or field, so it is difficult to relate to someone who does not play much, but we need their best every day on the floor or the bench or in the community. Possible solutions: (1) Discuss with the team when they have seen someone being a great teammate; (2) Bring in a current athlete or past athlete that their role was not playing time, but it was still being a great teammate and making their teammates better every day; (3) Again, having a conversation, not talking at kids, where they just nod their heads. This also goes towards the players that play a lot. Being a good teammate is not a correlation with playing time.
  1. Next Play – Getting over mistakes. Are we vulnerable enough to share with our players when we have made mistakes, failed or fallen and what were our reactions? Guaranteed when we played, we did not always get over our mistakes like we would like our players to. Great book on that is Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. The Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset – If you have a fixed mindset, they can’t see failure as an opportunity or how effort can lead to results/success. How do we get ourselves first and then our players to the growth mindset way of thinking? How much do we stop in practice and show next play? What do your players think when they make a mistake, or do we model and show how a player got over a mistake and make a positive play on the other end of the floor?
  1. Concentrate/Focus – We say this a lot, but do players know when they are not focused or do we just say this during the games? Can players say or label a drill or situation when they are not concentrating or when they had a high level of concentration? How do we model this?
  1. Mental Toughness – Kids can probably give an example of what this means, but how many are mentally tough or can make a tough play? If someone takes a charge in practice, do the players know that it’s being tough, sacrificing for your team? Can we bring in outside speakers to talk about being mentally tough in their jobs and what that looks like?
  1. Do Your Job – To explain to your players what their job is on the team, you have to know each kid physically and mentally. We need to know from the players what they think their strengths and weaknesses are, and then that helps us to help them to define their roles. Sometimes we must have conversations about what we think “realistically” their strengths are. They may not always match up with the player, but it is interesting to listen to how they think they will help the team every practice and game and what they need to work on. Can each player verbalize what their role is on the team, or do we assume they should know? They don’t know what they don’t know! 

When you think of quotes, slogans, or phrases we use a lot as coaches, look through the lens of a 14-18 year old and how would hearing that phrase improve their mental skill set? And then think, if we were more Action-Oriented and players could show, teach, verbalize, and label what these slogans mean, can they then be less robotic and more effective? They would be thinking for themselves instead of everyone in their life thinking for them (ROBOTIC!).

But it starts with us. When we set standards, we have to remember WE ARE THE STANDARD.

I will conclude with this. I heard this from a podcast with Dr. Colleen Hacker, mental skills coach for a variety of Olympic teams and is a sports psychiatrist. When babies first learn to talk, they label everything: mom, dad, bottle, toy, etc. Can your players label when they see, feel, talk about being a good teammate, or getting over mistakes, or what does it mean to be mentally tough and what does that look like? The more we know how our players think, the more we can help them grow and develop. 

Model, Model, Model. Show, Show, Show. Action-Oriented.

Kids don’t care how much you know until they know you care about them! Be intentional with your actions. 

When we share our stories and are vulnerable, it is amazing how much more comfortable the players are in sharing their stories and thoughts. They need to know we are not invincible or perfect; we are human and were once a high school student-athlete.

Please reach out if you have any suggestions on this topic. We are always looking for new ways to get into the minds of our kids to help them grow and develop.

Thank you Feel for the Game guys. Your time and organization has been greatly appreciated. Thank you for growing the game!

Gretchen Miles


Coaches Meetings Beneficial to Program

Tom Bradley, Head Coach at Orleans High School, Orleans, IN

When I became the varsity boys basketball coach at Orleans High School, one of my first tasks was to hire a coaching staff that I had confidence in doing what was best for the program that I had in mind.  I feel this is a key to any program – hard working coaches with the athletes and the program’s best interest at heart.  To me, the lower levels are not about wins and losses.  It is about teaching basketball fundamentals and teaching young players how to always give their best.  Preparing players for their future basketball career starts with the basic skills and developing a solid work ethic.  

To accomplish the above goal, the communication of coach to coach and coach to player is vital.  Every coach needs to be on the same page.  That is why we have coaches meetings for the whole staff.  From elementary to varsity, each coach attends our meetings during the entire season.

To begin, I survey the staff to find out what day and time would be best to hold our meetings.  We do our meetings every other Sunday evening at 7:00 at the high school.  We host at the high school so we have access to the court to show drills and offenses/defenses.  I want our coaches to have confidence in what they are teaching and by showing on the court, it helps give them this confidence.  

Many weeks before the season began, each coach had been given a “Coaches Handbook.”  The handbook contains information covering Orleans Bulldogs Basketball.  This is the blueprint of the program.  It contains player and coaches expectations, communication with parents, sample practice plans, drills to be used – divided into categories to develop all aspects of the game, offensive and defensive expectations, offensive and defensive sets and schemes to be used at each grade level, and much more.  Coaches are given these early to have time to study the material before the season begins.

At the first meeting, I pass out supplies and program information to the coaches.  Here are the agendas from our first two coaches meeting of last season.

At each meeting, we discuss reports from each team.  I want to know what is being taught, what problems that might have occured, and answer any question that a coach may have.

An assistant coach and myself attend all early season practices possible of every team.  This gives us a chance not only to get to know the players better, but also to help our coaching staff in any way we can. We also help our lower level coaches select members of their teams.  Sometimes there are tough decisions to be made in terms of who makes the team.  By having high school coaches at tryouts, the pressure of making cuts is reduced.  An agreement of three or four coaches on which players should be on a team helps if a situation should arise from an upset parent.    

Communication among coaches is a huge key in terms of the success of any program.  By having these meetings, we are able to talk about every aspect of our program.  Also, it is a way of limiting problems that might have come up without communication.  

Our meetings give the staff a solid connection.  Not only do we speak of basketball, we also get to know each other better by having time to build our relationships.  The meetings have been something that I have always looked forward to and have really enjoyed.  Being there for each other is something that every coach needs.  This has been very beneficial to us over the years.

Building Blocks for a Successful Program

Aaron Thompson, Head Coach at Evansville Christian High School, Evansville, IN

Fundamentals.  Growth Mindset.  Culture.  These are common words used by coaches and leaders across the count, especially in the sports world.  Without meaning…an understanding by the team of what they mean…”words” are all they will ever be.  Successful coaches are the ones that can not only provide the meaning of these words, they can make them live day in and day out within their program and produce uncommon results.

I took over the head coaching job at Evansville Christian High School in mid-October of 2018…three weeks before our FIRST season as a high school basketball program.  While I had been involved in the planning of the program for a year, it wasn’t until October 15th that the baton was passed.  The school has been in existence, from K-8, since 1975.  In 2016, ECHS began offering high school classes for Freshmen.  This month, those Freshmen will be graduating.  

Our first campaign…albeit a 1-16 record…was a success.  The success was not in the number of wins we achieved (obviously), but rather in getting the program off the ground and creating a path for future teams to follow.  Evansville Christian joined the newly formed Southern Roads Conference and its lone win was against the eventual conference champions.  Furthermore, five other contests were decided by 5 points or less.  Not too bad for a team that only had eight players, two of which had less than two years of playing experience.  This past season, we experienced huge growth in our program as we nearly doubled our number of players, added four assistant coaches, and had a JV team.  ECHS posted a 12-12 record, won the Southern Roads Conference with an undefeated conference record, and made it to the Indiana Christian Schools Athletic Association State Finals. 

There were many conversations about where we needed to focus our efforts when starting a program.  There really isn’t a blueprint on how to do it at the high school level.  On the court, I knew we had to drill the team on fundamentals.  When you walk into a gym and don’t have enough players to scrimmage, there aren’t a ton of options.  When those numbers doubled, our staff continued to focus on those fundamentals.  Collectively we don’t have the highest basketball IQ.  Individually, we do not have a “star” that can get us a bucket when we need it.  So every practice, we work on the same fundamentals: being ready to shoot, stepping into the shot, stepping when making a pass, finding the right angle to pass, pass fakes, Mikan drill, etc.  I have listed the fundamentals under, “points of emphasis” each year in our team notebook each player receives.  Each time we run the drills, we find it important to give the “why” for doing it.  The kids need to understand why the repetition of each drill is necessary.  When they see it, hear it, and do it, progress can be seen.

One of the most difficult aspects of starting a new job, a new position, a new program is changing the mindset of individuals.  How often do we hear things like, “…this is the way we have always done it…”?  It is difficult to get a 16-year old to believe things and see things differently.  However, it is sometimes nearly impossible to get parents to think differently.  With a K-8th grade school that had been in existence for over 40 years, Evansville Christian had an established youth sports program.  Each year, the 8th graders would play in their last year of sports at ECS before going to one of the many high schools in the area.  The emphasis was always put on that 8th grade year as the “final” year to play at ECS.  That is not so anymore with a high school program that now has Varsity and JV teams.  

We are in the process of changing the grade school and middle school programs to operate more like a feeder program as opposed to individual teams that compete at different age groups.  We have pulled a couple of our teams away from leagues they have competed in for years to play school teams.  We have held multiple meetings to provide updates to the families as to the progress of the program.  We also have changed the coaches at various age groups so kids can be introduced to different styles of coaches.  All of this is done in an effort to get away from the fixed mindset of doing things out of a historical perspective.  We want kids to learn and flourish with the growth mindset that will develop more skills and confidence in themselves.  We aren’t out to win games at all costs in the 4th grade…we are out to capture the hearts of the kids and invest time in them so they have the opportunity to perform at their best.  Ultimately, we want everyone associated with our program to not just see the present, but have a vision of what the future can be.

During our first season, we spent the majority of the time focusing on building a foundation for the basketball program.  I instilled the concept that a house is only as good as its foundation.  The core of that foundation is the culture that is created.  In order to cultivate a positive culture for our team, I created a mission statement for our program.  It isn’t anything fancy or even original, but it is something we strive to follow every day.  It’s a combination of our school’s mission, the athletic code of conduct, and my vision of the program.  It reads: 

“Building a successful tradition of basketball by using the talents God has given each of us and prepare our players for life beyond high school and basketball.  Through our talents…and as a team…our goal is to improve as Christians, compete as Christians, and win as Christians.”  

This is also placed as the first page of our basketball notebook.  We try to hold ourselves accountable to our mission weekly.  We constantly teach the boys what it means to compete, and how to respect your opponents, but also play to win.  We pray after practices and with our opponents after games.  Our weekly practice plans are accompanied by Scripture that we discuss.  Finally, our culture is unique as we are a private Christian School, so we openly discuss how we can use our talents to spread the word of God.  

The implementation of fundamentals, a growth mindset, and a positive culture is how we are building at Evansville Christian.  Of course we fail to hit the mark every day.  And that is okay.  We tell our kids that it is okay to make a mistake as long as you are giving 100%.  That’s what we are striving for from everyone involved…coaches included.  100% effort.  If we do that…and live our Mission…we will be a successful program.

The Role of the Assistant Coach

Abraham Schwartz, Assistant Coach at Perry Central High School, Leopold, IN

Holding the title of an assistant basketball coach for a high school in Southern Indiana could mean many different things.  Roles may vary from manager to janitor and sometimes, even parent. If you are an assistant coach, you most likely are not doing it for the money or the fame. Most people cannot name the top College or NBA assistants in the game; why should they know you? 

Many if not all of us coach because we love the game and we want to impact our athletes like someone once did for us. And then for some, it is also the desire to eventually grow to become a head coach one day.  I coach for all of these reasons, and plan to do it my whole life if God allows. 

The role of an assistant coach can look very different from one program to the next, but I believe no matter what program you are a part of, you should be doing the following with your team of assistants:

  • Each Assistant Coach (AC) should contribute a unique set of skills and strengths to the program.
  • Always represent the culture of the program and community while empowering the players to do the same.
  • Be present for everything; if the Head Coach (HC) is coming in an hour early, the assistant coach should be there as well.  
    • Serve as a role model for the team and be committed to working hard at all times.
    • Inspire the future players of the program by bringing energy to all youth events.
  • Serve the team by your willingness to do any task like sweeping the floor, folding the laundry, running the clock, etc.
  • Build personal relationships with each player alongside the HC and provide moments to share personal topics.
    • Relationships with players should always be professional, keep in mind sometimes players are intimidated by their HC and might be willing to share more with an AC.
    • Be familiar with the team handbook and team expectations and communicate directly with the HC on any player concerns.
  • Continuously contribute positive comments to all members of the program and speak in private with any member of the team if a problem arises.
  • Study the game and always be willing to learn more.  
    • Find a mentor that can guide you and prepare you to be a HC when the time comes.
  • Provide assistance to the HC with practice plans.  
    • Understand each drill and what skill is being taught.  
    • If the HC is sick, the AC can take over practice without skipping a beat.
  • Help communicate practice and game times, when the bus is leaving, or when meals are arriving, etc.
  • Memorize the scouting report of the opposing team, and your team’s game plan forwards and backwards.  
    • The AC assists with the organization of scouting reports by watching film or watching teams in-person.  
    • Be able to communicate the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team and their favorite plays.
  • Maintain the ability to draw up every single play and know all five spots of the team’s offense to help players when the HC cannot. 
  • Gather all of the equipment needed for home and away games and prepare them when the HC cannot.  
    • This takes stress off of the HC and allows them to focus on last-minute game preparations.
  • Assist with in-game decisions, and communicate ideas or thoughts when asked.  
    • The AC must understand when it is a good time to speak up and when to keep quiet (maybe most important).
  • Have all stat sheets prepared for practices and/or games.
    •  Always be ready to give the HC in-game summaries when asked. 
  • Always be aware of how many timeouts are left during a game, the foul situation, and who has the possession arrow.
  • Help calm and refocus an upset player coming to the bench.
  • Admit your mistakes in front of the team to show that everyone will make mistakes, but  also be willing to learn from them. 

Assistant coaches play a vital role in the growth of a player, a team, and a program.  Without them, many great things would cease to exist, but with them, a program’s possibilities become endless.  In my short time as assistant coach, I have made many mistakes but I never quit striving to learn and improve from them.  In order to become the head coach that I want to be someday, I know I must continue to serve and learn from one.

‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ ~Mahatma Gandhi