What I Learned From Coaching Junior High Basketball

About a week ago, our school’s 7th and 8th grade basketball team played their last game of the season, and anytime something ends, it provides a good opportunity for us to reflect and evaluate our experiences. Doing so this week, I want to focus on a few lessons I learned this year. Before going any further, I need to admit it was not, record wise, a great season. We went 6-6, pretty well the definition of mediocre. So, rest assured, my lessons learned are not, primarily, basketball based. That said, it was also one of my two favorite coaching experiences after three years of coaching multiple sports. As I was trying to explain why to someone, I realized there were two big lessons I either learned or had reinforced for me.

  1. You have to earn the right to be loud. The first lesson learned came from an interaction with one of our better players. It was a standard example of big fish/small pond. He knew he was one of the better players, and for a couple years in a couple different sports, we’ve been talking to him about taking a leadership role. Before I go any further, you have to understand, he’s a really good kid. Every part of that is true. He’s really good, but he’s still a kid. Anyway, he wanted to be a leader selectively. He liked directing his teammates, offering advice, telling them where to be in a play, etc., but he didn’t always live up to the standard he set for everyone else. Anyway, at practice one day, he was being lazy and sloppy in a drill, and worst of all, was disrespectful to another coach who called him on it. I let him have it. If he wanted to be able to get loud with his teammates, then he had to show them the work. He had to earn the right to be loud before he would be heard. To his credit, it was a night and difference the rest of the season. He learned, and then he put it into practice, and his teammates and he both rallied for a strong finish to the year. In the same way, before we get loud, either in our actual volume, or just pumping the intensity or aggression in our message up, we need to be sure that we’ve earned the right to be heard by the person or people we’re talking to.
  2. There is real joy in the process, no matter the results. Like I said earlier, I’ve been part of better seasons, but I’d be hard pressed to say there was a team I liked coaching more. As I thought about it, I realized it was a proof of concept for something Brandon and I have talked about before, that you can’t evaluate everything based on the end results. In basketball terms, not every made shot was a good shot to take, and not every miss was a bad shot. Just because it didn’t lead to a bunch of wins, it wasn’t a waste of time to put in the practice. In everything we do, we have to keep in mind that there is a difference between making a mistake and something just not working out. I’ve learned again and again that I can only evaluate my choices in terms of the things I can control. As long as I believe that my process, the steps I took, are the best I could have taken, then I can live with whatever results may follow.
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