A Lesson from Hall of Fame Basketball Coach Dean Smith


It’s the number of players Dean Smith coached in his time at UNC, it’s the number of calls he would make every year to former players on their birthday to talk to them, and after his death in 2015, it was the number of $200 checks he left for his former players with a note to “enjoy dinner out with the family, compliments of Coach.”

Even after his death, he wanted his players to know they were loved.

Our Favorite Coaching Moments

Most coaches love to hear from former players. Whether it is a text, phone call, wedding invitation, Christmas card, or baby announcement; these are some of our most special moments in coaching.

We coach for the relationships, and these points of contact are special—regardless of how small. They provide some validation for our coaching. We care about how our former players are doing. We want to know we made a positive difference in their lives.

But how often do we just wait to hear from them?

Keep Investing

When reflecting on some previous players, I often think, “I haven’t heard from him in a while.” Then, I keep waiting!

Here’s my problem with my own thinking: If we say we care about our players as people—not just for what they do for us on the court or the field—then why do we stop investing in the relationship after they are finished playing for us?

Now, I get it; it takes a lot of effort, and we are busy with the players in our care today, but Hall of Fame Coach Dean Smith was a very busy man, as well! Still, he found the time to pick up the phone and call. He never stopped caring for his players. It wasn’t just something he said; it was something he did.

Our influence as coaches doesn’t stop when players leave our team, and our investment in them shouldn’t, either. Whether it be a text, phone call—or, in Dean Smith’s case, a $200 check for billionaire Michael Jordan—don’t stop showing you care!

5 Ways to Invest in Players After They Leave

How can each of us continue to invest in our former players?

1. Text: Schedule a daily or weekly reminder in your phone to send a former player a text.
2. Birthday Call: Pull a Dean Smith! Mark your calendar with former players’ birthdates and send them a card or give them a call.
3. Yearly Update: Send former players a letter with updates on the program, your family, and a short personal note to each of them.
4. Honor: Don’t just honor the player whose jersey you retire; honor all your players by inviting them to an alumni night and dinner after the game.
5. Connect the Past and Present: One of the most powerful experiences for your team is to simply bring former players back to share their experience, and how it helped them become the people they are today!


Dean Smith Washington Post Article