This question has crossed my mind all too often throughout my basketball career. After much thought and experience I still don’t think there’s a definitive answer. I’ve often found myself afraid of pursuing a full-time coaching career because of the level of difficulty and delicacy that comes with the position. As a coach, whether you ask for it or not, you are ultimately a parental figure to your players. If you’re athletes are anything like I was, they’ll hang onto your every word and try their hardest to make you proud. It’s your job to inspire them, to nurture them, to protect them, and to help them grow. Unfortunately, most of the time your salary won’t reflect all these things. There isn’t anyone counting all the hours you spend off the court/field trying to mold your players into not only better athletes but better people. It almost isn’t fair. But it’s your job.
If you asked me what my definition of a ‘good coach’ was… I’d say it’s the one who first shows up and second makes the biggest positive impact on athletes. Showing up is half the job. As a coach, you’re on the clock 24/7. You don’t stop being a mentor to your athletes because it’s 11pm and you had a long day. If a player reaches out to you for help at an untimely hour, ideally you should be there to answer the call. However, just because you’re there at every game and practice does not make you the best coach. How are you impacting your players? What kind of values are you instilling in them? With every decision, you are molding your players to eventually follow in your footsteps. That means making decisions that may not win you the game but will teach your athletes responsibility and accountability. That means treating everyone different but equal. That means preparing your athletes for life outside of sport. These decisions do not go unnoticed. Athletes are the first to notice when a coach is unsportsmanlike, shows favoritism, or has little to no interest in the players beyond their physical capabilities.
All too often coaches get caught up in making the game about themselves. They want to win. They want to be acknowledged. They want to make money. The moment the game becomes more about the coaches than the players is so detrimental. Which takes me back to my fears of full-time coaching. I would never want to be responsible for an athlete’s loss of confidence or their love for the game. And I fully believe coaches possess that power. I think my time here and actually being on the other side of the game has opened my eyes up to how hard it is to be a good coach. As a player, you just expect your coach to get it right. You don’t think about the pressures that come with. While I can admit it’s not always easy to make the right decisions, I will say as a coach you can never lose sight of right and wrong. I’ve lost a lot of games as a coach because it was more important for me to see my players feel included and worthy.
My favorite coach to this day is a man who changed my life from the time I was 13 years old. He wasn’t always nice and soft spoken but he was real. He opened my eyes to how much potential I had. He made me challenge myself. He was always honest and I never once doubted how much he cared for me. We don’t always get to keep in touch at this point but he’s always in the back of my mind. To this day, I still owe a lot of my success on the court and off to him. I hope that if I do pursue coaching (of any kind) that I can have that kind of impact on my athletes.