I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this question over the last several months. Head Start Basketball has been in existence now for 25 years. (Yes, that is hard to believe and it feels like we’ve been around forever.) It has always been my mission to teach the game of basketball the “right” way and be a positive role model for the kids that attend our camps or train with us. Since I started writing this blog a little over two years ago I’ve learned a great deal about how coaching impacts players well beyond the x’s and o’s. I’ve learned about why kids play basketball in the first place (it’s fun) and why they stop playing (it’s not fun anymore). I know that I’ll never stop learning new aspects and subtleties of the game. I’ll never stop trying figure out ways to make basketball better for the kids who play it.
This was my third year coaching my son and 8 other 5th grade boys on a community travel team. We have a terrific group of kids and parents that make coaching the team a pleasure. Prior to coaching my son’s team I mostly worked with kids during a one week camp setting or over several hours of individual/group instruction. In a one week camp or over many hours of training it is easy to help a player develop their basketball skills, but it can be much more difficult to impart the life lessons and character development skills that really make a difference in the lives of young athletes. My son’s team has given me a great opportunity to impact the boys on the team in more ways than just improving their basketball skills.
Last season I decided to start looking for ways to really grow our kids as people as well as players. I wanted to do a season long character/leadership/team building program. Both of the past two seasons I put together a Team Notebook for each player that began with our team’s core values (We are hard working. We are resilient. We are selfless. We are honest. We are grateful. We are kind.) A section that described who we are on the basketball court (We share the basketball. We play outstanding team defense. We are great teammates. We are coachable.) I included a few inspirational quotes. (Your work ethic should be your greatest asset. Playing hard must be a habit. It is the job of each team member to help others be successful.) I included the following statement that I adapted from the Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
On this team, we use the demands and stress of competitive basketball to most importantly help you become strong, resilient people of great character. We care about your basketball, but we care more about who you are becoming because of basketball. Our most important objective on this team is winning with character. Every day represents another opportunity to grow in self-control, respect for others, persistence, positivity and trustworthiness. No matter how far you go as a player, if you use basketball to strengthen your character, basketball will always be a priceless gift.
Once a week we did a lesson for the first 15-20 minutes of practice that focuses on one of our core values. As an example, one week we talked about hard work, what it looks like, and how it can help us an individual and as a team.
We tried focusing in on one part of our team culture/core values in each practice. I put the culture statement at the top of the practice plan and kept coming back to it all through practice. The focus for the first practice was on listening whenever a coach was talking and looking the coach in the eye. Every time we gathered together we reemphasized that point. By making a conscious effort to instill our core values and build our team culture I believe our players will grow as individuals, be better teammates, and in turn we’ll be a better team.
Why do kids play basketball? To have fun, be with their friends, to do their best. Why should we coach? To make those things above possible and to impact our players lives using basketball as a tool.
I’ll be revisiting my son’s team in future blog posts with updates about how the season is going from both a culture and basketball perspective. In our team’s final game this season the referee pulled me aside near the end of the game and said to. “I love your team. They just keep their mouths shut, play hard, and go about their business.” I could not have asked for a greater compliment than that to sum up what our team culture was all about. I shared the referee’s statement with my team after the game and as I did so I got a little emotional. I was so proud of my players. knowing that an outsider was able to recognize the culture we had built.
I’m excited about the opportunities that Head Start Basketball has provided me to impact the lives of so many young players. This is the next step in my journey to grow individual players, teams, and the game that I love.
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