One of the things that Maine is known for is their beautiful coast lines and the lighthouses that adorn the shorelines. While these lighthouses have become somewhat of a tourist destination, their original purpose was much greater. The purpose of the lighthouse is to serve as a navigation aid for those at sea. They provide warning to oncoming ships of potential hazards while guiding them through the night and storms safely to shore.
A few years back, I started asking my players “Who is going to be our lighthouse?” Specifically, I brought this up when talking about playing a particularly chaotic pressing team. I wanted to know who was going to be the calm steadying force that would guide us through the storm that was their non stop full court pressure. Since then my definition of a “lighthouse” on the floor has expanded. Here are some of the qualities I now associate with being a lighthouse:
Over the course of the season 8 different players were recognized as the lighthouse of the game. Those who earned the lighthouse ranged from our 2nd team All-Conference players to a swing player who didn’t see more than twenty minutes of floor time on the season. Some days I awarded it, others the assistant coaches did, the team voted a few times, and even once the previous winner awarded it.
What we found is we all started to recognize and appreciate these qualities in ourselves and our teammates. We understood that these qualities had a greater impact on our overall future success than who may have scored the most points or had the most rebounds. In tense moments, I could look at players and simply say “lighthouse”, “come back to shore”, or “don’t get caught in the storm” and they would be reminded of the traits that make us successful.
So to any players reading this, I ask you to think about how you can be a lighthouse for your team? What ways can you be the beacon of light that guides them safely towards where you want them to go?
For the coaches that may be checking it out, how are you at being your teams lighthouse? In the chaos and storm of a game, where is your light guiding them? Also I’m curious, in what ways you instill these or similar traits with your teams?
It’s the Monday after February break and all but 10 coaches in Maine are feeling the same way I am, what now? For those of us not in the state games, there is no more basketball to coach. No more video to watch, no more games to scout, no more team building, no more practice planning, no more coaching, it’s just over. While you might think there would be a joy for our newfound free time, I find myself with this completely empty feeling.
My season ended over a week ago this year, but this empty feeling has been the same every year I’ve coached regardless of when the season ends. From mid-November until mid-February basketball and my team consume my life. During those three months, basketball takes priority over relationships, friendships, and family.
I’ve missed vacations, weddings, birthdays among many other things because during those three months I’m committed to giving 100% to the 12 to 15 athletes I get the privilege to guide. I spend countless hours watching film, attending games, planning for upcoming games and practices, checking grades, lamenting challenges with my fellow coaches, organizing dinners, planning team-building activities and securing guest speakers. I do all this under the constant criticism and vitriol from disgruntled parents who love to let me know how they would be doing it, that I’m not being fair, that they don’t like my tone, or I don’t care about their kid.
To be honest, the season is mentally draining. The game itself is enough to exhaust anyone between preparation and mentally replaying every game sleep is a luxury that is challenging to find during the season. As coaches though there is so much more to it than the game. You are working with teenagers who are dealing with life’s challenges. You serve as a mentor, tutor, guidance counselor, reference, and life coach all at once. You carry their burden for them at times and try to be a rock as they navigate their life challenges while oftentimes hiding the challenges you yourself are facing.
As draining as it is, there truly is nothing else I’d rather be doing. Coaching is a calling. I do it because I believe in my athletes' unending potential for success both on and off the court. I want them to know they have someone in their life that believes in what they can accomplish. I live for those “ah-ha” moments when you see the light bulb click in an athlete's head and they “get it”. That moment they accomplish something they didn’t think they could accomplish or mature into the leader you knew existed inside. Those are the moments I live for as a coach.
That is why I sit here in a sort of depression here today. When I’m not coaching who am I? What is my purpose if not to be impacting young people? I don’t get to teach any more life lessons to this group and that’s a sad revelation. For my seniors, who have grown so much in our time together, I never get to coach them again. I know they are all going to be amazing and successful people, but I’d give anything for one more practice.
This is the life of a coach. If history holds true the depression will last until about May, when I can start getting excited about summer basketball and the new season. I’m hoping that being open about it will help this year. Maybe some of my fellow coaches feel the same way today. If so, know you are not alone. I get what you are going through and even though you may be reflecting on the season feeling like you failed because you aren’t one of the ten teams left, let me be the first to tell you, you didn’t fail. You committed to do a thankless job and you did it your best day in and day out. While the detractors may be the loudest voices there are those that appreciate your efforts. And if you need to hear it, let me be the first to say I appreciate all you did this season. Whether our paths crossed or not, I know you impacted more young lives this season than some people will in their lifetime and that’s something to be proud of.
What would you say if I told you that you, as a coach, are not practicing enough? I don’t mean holding practices for your team, I mean practicing your craft of coaching. That’s right I think we as coaches need to spend more time practicing ourselves. I know your first reaction probably sounded a bit like an Allen Iverson rant but hear me out.
How many hours a week do you ask your athletes to spend on their game in the summer? Most coaches I’ve talked to will say they ask their athlete to work 1-2 hours for a total of 7-14 hours a week during the summer. If we say there are 12 weeks in the summer that would amount to anywhere between 84-168 hours spent developing their game. The question is do you spend an equal amount of time developing yours?
As coaches it is our responsibility to bring our best each and every season to our athletes. If we don’t work on our craft we aren’t holding up our part of the bargain. How can we expect an athlete to spend 100+ hours working on their game if we aren’t willing to do the same?
There are many ways as a coach you can develop your skills. I know many of us have full time jobs in addition to coaching and don’t think we have time to spend on basketball outside of the season. I think it’s our duty to make the time though. Here are some suggestions on how you can improve your skills.
1.) Volunteer at a Camp
Local colleges or other basketball organizations are always looking for volunteers to help out with their camps. Those that don’t need any extra help are often open to having observing coaches as well. You may learn new concepts in the camp or ways to teach things differently but most importantly you will surround yourself with other basketball minds with which you can share ideas.
There are thousands of books on basketball out there. Chances are if you have a coach you look up to he’s written a book or there’s one written about him. There’s book on running practices, developing drills, drawing up plays and more. Anything you need to know is available to you. If books aren’t your thing and you can’t commit to extended reading, commit to reading blogs. I have several listed on my website that I regularly follow if you are looking for ideas where to start.
3.) Listen to Podcast
Ok I couldn’t convince you to read, well how about listening to podcasts? You have to be in the car on your ride to work, so why not use that time to learn something new. Two of my favorite basketball specific Podcasts are Hardwood Hustle and Pure Sweat Basketball but there are many more out there if you are interested.
4.) Go to Clinics
Clinics are a great way to get a lot of information in a short amount of time. They are often held over a single day or a weekend. There are major clinics like Coaching U, PGC/Glazier, and Nike Clinics but also many colleges host their own coaching clinics leading up to the season. Do some research and find one that fits your schedule.
5.) Attend other teams practices
Try and go watch other team’s practices. If you are a high school coach, reach out to your local college and see if you can stop in. It’s been my experience coaches are very open to accommodating high school coaches in this. If you’re in college go observe a team that isn’t in your conference or division. You can always learn something from watching how others approach things
There are many more ways you can continue to grow as a coach but these are the top 5 to me. I challenge you to pick a couple and spend time working on your game this offseason. I would dare say the more time you commit the better your next season will be. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. Or if you are interested in joining my coaching circle drop me a line with your email. I love having coaching conversations amongst basketball colleagues.
State championship winning basketball coach, Chris Woodside, shares his journey of going from varsity boys coach, to becoming a men's college coach, to currently coaching girls varsity basketball as well as life lessons learned on + off the court.