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What is Your Program All About?

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Athletes can learn valuable lessons about life by playing sports. Photo: Randall Hill, Reuters

By Dr. Cliff McCain |

As a young coach, I was always looking for advice and tips to have a successful program. I would read books, watch videos, and pick the brains of veteran coaches at every opportunity. The best advice on program building was very simple – “you can be good at anything you want to, if you decide to be.” When an older coach told me that, I was taken aback. “What do you mean?” I said. He just explained, “if your school decides to be good at something, it can be done.”  We talked on and it was like a light bulb went off and I understood. Decide what that area is you want to emphasize and take steps needed to strengthen that area. If you want to have a great science department, hire the top teachers, enter science fairs, and build a quality lab. If you want to excel at football, hire quality coaches, get the best equipment, and play a tough schedule. You have to commit to what your focus will be. You cannot just say we are “a basketball/football/band/etc. school” and do nothing to push that program forward.

The same goes for you as a coach. Decide what is important to you and your program and do the things that will get you to the place you want to be. As a basketball coach, I wanted defense to be my focal point. Once I made this decision, I went about achieving this in both a physical and a mental way. Physically, every day of practice began with a set of defense of drills that emphasize points such as closing the gap and defending screens. Whether it was a preseason camp or postseason tournaments, those drills were the first thing we did on the floor. From a mental standpoint, we did little things to promote a defensive mentality like breaking down the huddle with the word defense, emphasizing the importance of defense on scouting reports, and praising the defensive efforts of players who may not show up in the box score.

These were simply things I did in basketball. But the idea applies to all sports. Find what you want to be your calling card as a team and do the things to make it happen. Other sport examples might include: emphasizing having a quality passing attack in football by participation in 7 on 7 leagues, being a great baserunning team in baseball by doing speed enhancement drills, and putting money into the best equipment to be a top-notch powerlifting squad.

This is not “rocket science.”  I do not think I have reinvented the wheel by making these suggestions.  But too many times I have seen coaches talk about being great at this or excellent at that, but nothing is done to make that statement a fact. You have to make it a priority with actions. I would not tell someone what is important in their program. Only you know what area you want to emphasize.  Decide on that point and go to work making it happen!

Dr. Cliff McCain is an  Assistant Director for Athletics Academic Support at the University of Mississippi. He spent two decades as a coach and administrator on the secondary level. In addition, he currently serves as an online instructor for Grand Canyon University, Holmes Community College, and Southwest Tennessee Community College.

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