After four years coaching the class of 2018 WI Shooters AAU basketball team, our journey as a group came to an end last weekend. A flurry of emotions came through me as I addressed the group as a whole for the last time. Special kids, special parents, and a lot of memories that will never be replaced. In the days that followed, I have reflected a great deal on all the things we were able to experience. The road wasn’t always smooth, but even through the rocky points, I can say with certainty that we all grew. We became better individually as well as collectively. From a personal standpoint, I learned a great deal about the developmental process, coaching, players, parents, and about myself as an individual. Naturally, I wrote some of it down and have decided to share it here. I hope you can find something that resonates with you in my reflections.

Not everyone is going to buy into what you’re doing as a leader; keep sharing your message and loving people anyway. As a coach, I had parents who disapproved of what I did and the decisions I made within our team- sometimes they made it personal, sometimes they just strongly disagreed with philosophy, but I always did my best to never let it affect how I shared my message and how I loved and coached their kid. It wasn’t always easy, but I always tried to stay true to myself and give people the love and respect they deserved regardless if someone disagreed or agreed with what I was doing.

Surround yourself with great people. We hear it all the time- but it’s absolutely true. I was incredibly fortunate to have directors, fellow coaches, and friends whom I could trust. Having a strong support system can keep belief when there is doubt and hold people together in times of uncertainty. Being surrounded by great people also makes us stronger- we benefit by having their strengths and abilities to add to or supplement what we’re already doing! Whether it’s an idea, a nod of approval, or something they’re seeing that we’re not, being surrounded by great people will always elevate us as individuals in any endeavor in our lives.

Confidence fluctuates. That makes us human. There were times I went into a game with a bad feeling, there were other times I was just really nervous about a particular game. I used to get the same feelings as a player. THIS IS NORMAL. I used to think that there was something wrong with me if I didn’t feel confident all the time. Social media always tells us that, “Preparation leads to confidence.” So I’ve always taken that as “if I feel nervous, I’m obviously not prepared”, but I’ve learned that’s not the truth. We are all human beings and we all naturally go through ebbs and flows with how confident we feel in the moment. Sometimes we are going to be nervous and uptight no matter how much we prepare or how hard we’ve worked. I can remember my first ever speaking engagement to 200 corporate executives who flew in for a conference from across the country. I prepared for months. I gave the speech to a wall over well over 100 times. When the day came to give the speech- I was as nervous as you could possibly imagine. I played out everything that could go wrong, my palms were sweaty, heart was racing, and my arms were shaking grabbing the microphone- what did I do to combat this? Absolutely nothing. I just went on stage and started the speech and by the time I was two minutes in- the nerves were gone and I felt a wave of extreme confidence. No matter how much you prepare, your confidence will fluctuate- that’s completely normal. The solution isn’t to lie to yourself or fight that emotion- the solution is do nothing. Just keep going. Stay in the game. Those nerves will be gone before you know it!

Building great relationships gives you room to make mistakes as a leader. I messed up a lot as a coach and I probably will mess up more times in the future. Like players and officials, coaches are imperfect too. You hope that you make all the right decisions and press all the right buttons- but the truth is often times you don’t. When you have built relationships and when your players know you care and love them unconditionally, it comes back to you as a coach. When you’re off as a coach or when you don’t have your best performance, your players will still trust you and do their best for you, which is one of the strongest testaments to a coach. It all starts with the relationships you foster with your players. When you treat your players with love and respect and care for them as people, not just players, they know, and trust me- they will do just about anything in return to show that they love you right back- even on your worst days.

Mastering self-awareness. How well do we know ourselves? What are the driving forces behind our actions? In order to improve at anything in our lives, it’s important to unbiasedly observe and be completely transparent with ourselves. The more we are aware of our own tendencies, actions, and motivations (good & bad), the more likely we are to respond intentionally and conscientiously to an event or circumstance.

Emotional Intelligence. How well do we understand the people around us? As a coach, parent, teacher, manager, or anyone in a leadership position, self-awareness coupled with emotional intelligence is crucial. Different situations and different people call for different tactics. For me, I always try to have a handle on my players when they walk into practice. Are they upbeat and talkative? What does their body language look like? Are they going to need a “kick in the butt” type of a message or a little extra love and support that day? When we are in touch with and can relate to those in which we lead, we are more likely to deliver beneficial instruction and feedback.

Be patiently impatient. I heard this the other day listening to a podcast and really liked it. It’s another way of saying “trust the process”, but it means that while we trust that the end result will work out the way it’s supposed to- each and every day we are still immersing ourselves in the actions it takes to reach our desired destination. I’m a big believer that things play out the way they are supposed to- but too many times it’s taken as “just be patient and everything will work out”- that’s only true to a point. While we’re waiting and being patient, we better be controlling the things we can or we will just be waiting on a dream or a goal that will never come to fruition.

Enjoy the ride. Such a cliche’ statement, but couldn’t be more true. I feel badly for parents who are constantly caught up in social media, comparing their kid to other kids, questioning every decision a coach makes, or feeling the need to lecture their kid after EVERY game on what he or she did wrong. Not only does it make the parents’ life miserable and stressful, it adds a ton of external pressure to their kid. As hard as it may be, let kids have joy in playing the game and competing. If they really love it- they’ll put extra work into it. When they really have a problem (not just being a little upset after a bad game)- they will come to you. Until then, support your kid, find joy in watching them play, and cheer for their teammates’ success just as much as your own kid. Enjoy the ride, because it will be over before you know it.

Thank you for reading!