Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Quick Hitter - The Philosophy

I went to a basketball coaches clinic a few years back and had the pleasure to see a presentation by Jim Larranaga, current head coach of University of Miami (FL).  At the time Coach Larranaga was head coach at George Mason University and he recounted how he had once been asked by a veteran coach,  "What does it take to be a quality coach?"  Coach Larranaga shared that when asked that question he, like many young coaches, thought that the first thing he needed do was pull out a 500 page playbook, and say, "Here look at all my detailed plays.  This is what makes me a good coach."  The veteran coach smiled and shook his head and said, "Son, you need to take all that, and come back with 1 page."

What Coach Larranaga learned that day, and I likewise is this…what makes a good coach is not his detailed playbook, but a philosophy…one that can be expressed in a very straight forward and concise way.

So, what is my teaching-coaching philosophy?  Well, here it goes, my 1 page philosophy that I actually wrote 11 years ago as a Lehman College grad student earning his teaching degree: 


As a teacher and coach it is vital that I have a compass that will help guide me on this journey.  I speak not of a compass of teaching curriculum or coaching X’s and O’s.  Rather, it is a moral compass, one that reflects my identity and integrity and expresses my philosophy on the best way to reach and teach student-athletes.

One of the core tenets of my philosophy is linked to a quote attributed to the legendary UCLA basketball coach, Jon Wooden – “Young people need models, not critics.”  We seem to live in an era where adults disdain their youth.  It is a criticism that young people have nothing to offer society.  As Parker J. Palmer cites in his book The Courage to Teach, “young people remain marginalized in our society - and their plight has worsened since the 1960’s as we have become more and more fearful and dismissive of our youth.  Implicitly ad explicitly, young people are told that they have no experience worth having, no voice worth speaking, no future of any note, no significant role to play,” (pg. 45).  This sort of criticism creates a culture of fear that is not conducive to excelling in the classroom or in a sports team environment.  There is a detachment from teacher/coach to student-athlete.  A teacher/coach must embrace the notion of being a role model to their student-athlete and not a critic.  Judy W. Eby cites in her book Reflective Planning, Teaching and Evaluation for the Elementary School – A Relational Approach, “the teacher’s character and moral code set the standards and the tone or climate for the classroom.” (pg. 6).

What Ms. Eby writes of applies to the teaching of children and the coaching of young men as well.  As teacher-coach, it is imperative that I establish a climate that reflects my character and moral code.  For me, the climate I always wish to impart is this: every student in my class has value; every student-athlete on my team has value, from starter to 12th man.  I believe in a climate where students and players know they have a voice.  It is a voice that enables them to feel ownership in the class and the team.  A voice whereby they feel they’re able to share any insights and/or concerns they may have regarding class and team dynamics as well as the X’s and O’s of game strategy.

I do believe that, ultimately, classroom and team success comes down to these four keys:

Toughness:  It’s a fighter’s spirit that a student brings to the classroom, and every assignment and test; a fighting spirit that a player brings to every practice, every drill, every game, and every possession.  It’s a competitive fire that enables students and players to overcome any adversity that may come their way.  Be strong…always.

Play for Each Other:  Be unselfish.  Want to see your classmate and teammate succeed.  In basketball, means not only being a capable passer, but a willing passer, be willing to help on defense.  The good you do for others in this game, the good you do for others in life, has a way of coming back to you.

Play to Win: This has nothing to do with the final score of a game or a test.  Rather, it simply means to give maximum effort…always.  Don’t just go through the motions.

Have Fun!!!:  Play and learn with enthusiasm.  Enjoy the game.  Enjoy life.  No matter the ups and downs that come with the game…no matter the ups and downs that come in life…it’s a beautiful game…it’s a beautiful world!


As I shared earlier, I wrote this over 11 years ago.  With perhaps a few tweaks here and there, it still serves as the foundation of my coaching-teaching philosophy.   I have witnessed a players sense of ownership.  In the heat of battle they feel comfortable enough to say, "Hey, coach, we have to come out of that zone." Ownership is a player calling a timeout on their own when I'm in my Phil Jackson-let's not call a timeout-let the players figure this one out on their own-modes. :-)

In making players feel they are of value and of worth, they will show how they are invested in a team's success.  They will show they have a voice…a voice that matters.

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