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4 Lessons I Learned from Coaching Youth Basketball

The 5th grade boys basketball team that I coach finished its season recently. We won one game! More importantly, memories were made and lessons were learned—lessons that reach far beyond boys’ basketball.


1. Focus on the fundamentals

Not once throughout the season did we face a team that played man-to-man defense. Not one time. Not even for a minute. It was 100% zone defense. It completely surprised me. Most of the elite youth training programs utilize man-to-man defense, with good reason, but I guess the teams we faced were in a hurry to deceive and put winning above all else. Why? It won’t make them better players in the long run. Ultimately, not understanding the basics first will hold these boys back.

But that’s always the temptation—to skip over the basics and try something fancy. Do that in youth basketball and you cripple the kids’ development as athletes. Do it in business and you’re likely to fall for some scam that sounds too good to be true because it is. Focus on the fundamentals. Build up from there, but always remember to keep the basics strong. You can’t go wrong that way.


2. Remember the priorities

Youth sports is for kids. I’ve seen so many adults who don’t seem to know that. They make it all about them. Yes, seeing your kids play, or coaching youth sports, can be incredibly rewarding. Yes, it’s exciting to watch them win. But parents yelling at the kids from the sidelines? Doing whatever you have to do to steal a win? I’m sorry, but to me that just obviously crosses a line.

It’s less obvious, but how many times do we see people missing the point in a similar way in other areas? Like treating customers or team-members badly in order to make a buck? Or forgetting to have a life because they’re so busy having a career? There is a time and a place to give it all you’ve got and go for the win, but there are also times and places that are for something else.


3. Sports is an outlet: enjoy it

This is a big one. Life gets so busy that anything other than work can feel like a waste of time—it isn’t. Going to a practice or a game, focusing on something other than my business, has always been like a re-set button for me. Even more importantly, coaching is a way to get outside myself and really put the focus on others. That keeps me going.


4. Enjoy the people around you

This past season, we lost our final game. We were up against the best defensive team we’d seen all year. They had wing defenders as fast as 16-year-olds. As we all realized loss was imminent, frustration set in. The third quarter ended and I asked one simple question:

“Do you guys enjoying spending time with everyone on this team?”

All the kids answered with a resounding “Yeah!”

“Then let’s go out there and have fun. Let’s play for each other, let’s make some shots and let’s enjoy this last quarter of basketball together.”

And that’s what they did. The kids played their best quarter by far and every one of them was smiling! They finished really strong, but we could have lost 100-0 and it wouldn’t have mattered because these kids genuinely enjoyed each others’ company.

In business, if you don’t like your co-workers, employees, or boss, then do something about it. Change your attitude, change your workplace, or change jobs. All the money in the world can’t buy happiness, but even if you lose the game, if you are around people you enjoy, then you win.


Remember that game we won?

It’s not about winning and losing in youth sports, but our win near the end of the season was pretty incredible. It wasn’t even so much that we won as that the kids never gave up and at the end they got something to celebrate. One of our players had been seriously ill. He could not play the remainder of the season and his father had had to give up coaching to care for him. It was a really tough time for everybody. But for the game we won, the boy that had been sick came to sit on our bench and he was as into the game as anyone. His dad was there helping to coach, too. We won a close, exciting game. Every member of the team contributed in this achievement. All of the players were jumping up and down, celebrating, having a great time together. Me, I just got to watch these kids go through a season (a first, for some of them) and I can take away these memories and lessons which I am now sharing with you.

photo credit: Das ist Dein Weg // This is your way via photopin (license)