Building a Foundation for your Program

Are you the new head coach for a high school basketball program? 

Did you just get volunteered to coach a youth team in a recreational basketball league? 

Either way, you have my congratulations. You have just been given an exciting opportunity to create something special - a basketball team. Why is it so special? It is special because the players and their parents will probably remember this team for the rest of their lives. If things go well, it will bring joy into their homes. If things go badly, well Ö like I said, they will remember this team for a lifetime so it makes sense to build it right.

The most exciting thing new coaches look forward to is getting the kids on the floor the first time. What kind of talent do you have? What are the groupís weaknesses? A new coach can hardly wait to implement new plays and defenses and then go play somebody to see how well you stack up.

If that sounds like you, slow down, take a deep breath and relax. Youíre way ahead of yourself.

This article is about building the foundation and framework of your program. It is absolutely essential to figure out how the business end of your program is going to work before you grab your clipboard, whistle, a bag of basketballs and head down to the gym. This is important, because if you neglect to build your infrastructure, you wonít get too far into your season before youíre unable to spend much time coaching. Youíll be too busy dealing with unexpected problems and have insufficient resources to solve them.

And now itís time for the good news. If your construction is solid, all the important parts and pieces you need will fit together well. People will be able to look at your organization and quickly see how things are designed to work. Even better, the folks in your program will see where they belong. Their place and their role(s) will be defined. They can plan ahead. They wonít be surprised or disappointed as the season unfolds. Best of all, you look like you know what you are doing!

First we need to examine our program structure and our coaching philosophy. These two pillars of our program need to be understood and accepted by our players, coaches, administrators and parents. Once that happens, roles and expectations fall into place with a clearer sense of purpose. 

1. Program structure and scope

The basketball program doesn't follow a standard, top-down, corporate-style organization. There is no real boss. In a sense, the players "report" to coaches on up, coaches report to administrators and the administrators answer to the parents; but, in reality, direct management of the program is expected from the coaches. The administration manages the facilities and provides governance in the interests of the school system. The parents, by design, have no direct control over the basketball program much like they do not control classroom instruction. That job is delegated to trained professionals. If the parents are unhappy with the service, they have opportunity to communicate to the teachers (coaches) and ultimately complain to the administration. 

But, parents do not get to run the show. That's hard for them to accept, but itís a very necessary distinction.

Picture a circle around the names of the players. That's the core of the overall team. A slightly larger circle surrounds that and it represents the coaches. Around that circle is another depicting the administration. And, very importantly, there is one more circle for the parents. To exclude them from the team is an invitation for discord. 

Parents need to truly belong to the team and believe they are integral to its success. Ostracize them and they will complain. Parents will be happier if they will feel like they are part of the team and then, best of all, you can give them work to do. The best answer to parental complaints is, "You can't rock the boat if your too busy rowing!" Parents should be recognized and appreciated as team members. Appreciate them in any positive way you can, a frequent ďthank youĒ, team apparel (like a jacket or T shirt), and a gift certificate at the end of the season. Now, once the parents are visibly on the team, its easier to define what their roles are, and Ö what their roles are NOT.

The parents need to see the scope of the team displayed and explained at the very start of the season, just as soon as you have your team(s) picked. Once they see organization and structure and how they fit in, the program will make more sense to them.

These links provide lists of roles needed in your basketball program. The more people you have to help, the better. Many hands make light work. Assign as many tasks as you can to your at-large team. The playersí overall experience greatly improves every time a parent steps up to help. Thatís what makes it worthwhile. Hereís a PATH to a successful program:

Player Expectations
Assistant Coach duties
Things parents can do to help
Head Coach responsibilities

2. Coaching Philosophy

A coach needs to phrase the programís philosophy in such a way that players, coaches, administrators and even parents can understand it and can repeat it. Boil it all the way down until you get to the essence. What is your philosophy based on? Once you know your core values, then it is so much easier to clarify expectations concerning team goals, discipline, and even your style of play. Remember that the team includes everyone in the four circles, so the philosophy applies to all members. Avoid the hypocrisy of holding the players to one standard of behavior while the parents and coaches are allowed anything less.

Where to start? It may help to view other coachesí philosophies and see what they have that also fits your personality. Introspection on your part, however, is necessary. Donít just grab anything that you think will sound good to other people. You need to believe in it. It doesnít need to be perfect at first. But, it needs to exist, so use part of your day to put it down on paper. In time, your philosophy will adjust to fit you perfectly. 

To read my coaching philosophy, you can click here. 

Coaching Philosophy Basics:

Three things are required to hold a program together: Purpose, Trust and Respect.

The philosophy must apply to all members of the overall team, not just the players. Even the parents need to know their purpose, trust coaches to do their job and maintain respect for everyone in the program. 

Purpose could be successfully expressed as ďDo Our BestĒ, and it could contain more specific goals such as player development, reaching the State Finals, and even having fun along the way. To achieve our purpose, players, coaches, administrators and parents must perform their various roles. For example, the players must execute our style of play and the coaches must teach it. Parents should have the opportunity to understand our systems so they know what the players are trying to do on the floor.

Trust is a critical element of teamwork. Perhaps your coaches trust each other, but how many of the players and parents trust them? How many of your players even trust each other? Do the coaches trust the parents? You cannot succeed without building trust. No way. 

You can start by entrusting our players - to get good grades, to get to practice on time, to play in the interest of the team, help raise money, to represent their families, school and team with honor. They may need to grow up some to earn such trust, but thatís the whole point. Donít inhibit their growth by taking care of their business for them or looking the other way when they fail. You can never really trust your players until they have the opportunity to meet their obligations on their own and of their own free will.

Coaches must be trusted to prepare the players for competition. By trusted, I mean the coaches are given the support and distance needed to perform their role. Players that doubt their coaches cannot derive any value from them. Parents that criticize and instruct from the stands undermine the coaches.

Parents must be trusted to help with the many roles required by the program. Many times coaches are reluctant to relinquish any control to parents. The result is overworked coaches, disenfranchised parents and a weaker program. Give the parents responsibilities. Itís amazing how much help they can provide.

Trust is scary because people sometimes fall down on the job and then everyone on the team suffers to some degree. When a person lets their teammates down, they need to understand they have broken a trust. Trust very precious and it is very difficult to repair. Thatís why it is such a powerful motivation to be responsible. True trust allows room for forgiveness. A person given a second chance usually becomes a dedicated member of the team.

Respect is both earned and learned. Some programs are rife with examples of disrespect. Allowed to continue, they will only get worse. Some of the behaviors exhibited by players is simply a selfish defiance, but escalates if unchecked. Other behaviors, like poor listening skills, are done in ignorance, but nonetheless undermine respect for one another. These need to be taught just like any basketball skill. In any case, we must insist on respect for everything relating to our program. While coaches can set a good example, they must also both teach and enforce matters of respect.

The coaching philosophy should clarify which actions are correct and which are not. For example, let's say a parent approaches your bench during a game to tell you what defense to play. Was that action respectful? Does he trust you? Did he support the teamís purpose by performing his role as a parent? Had parental roles been defined at the start of the season and shown how they relate to our program's philosophy, this parent would've known he was clearly out of line. All the other parents would have known, too. Think about it.

A huge benefit of a plain, cohesive coaching philosophy is that you donít need a lot of rules. The philosophy should simplify disciplinary measures. While its possible to make a list of infractions and a complementary list of progressive punishments, that list soon becomes long and open to interpretation. Instead, when a player makes a mistake against the program, perhaps by not letting his coaches know he would miss practice, that should not be construed as just a broken rule with a pre-determined consequence, but rather a matter of conscience in that he let his team down. Letting your team down is a serious thing. It should affect the emotions of the whole team. The consequence should be visible and memorable, such severe running or pushups after practice, then put behind for good. By the way, I don't advocate restricting game time for such offenses as it affects the entire team and cannot be uniformly and fairly applied to starters and non-starters. A physical penalty like 200 wall touches, is memorable fair and consistent.

In summary, it will take real teamwork for your program to succeed. The elements of teamwork are unity of purpose, trust and respect. To reach the team's potential, each player must be resolved with the same purpose - be our best. Players must learn to trust one another completely. They must demonstrate respect at all times for their program, their opponents and themselves. The scope of the team is much larger than the player roster. The program's administrators, coaches, players and their parents are all part of the team. The best of teams will have all of these teammates working in concert. Teams that fall short of their potential will do so because of divisiveness more than any other reason.

So, there you have it. Build your program upon a solid foundation - your coaching philosophy - and a organizational framework that includes your players, coaches, administrators and the parents. The links above offer long lists of roles and responsibilities for each team member to help you build your house. Just make sure it has strong bones and it will stand strong for a long time.