Guest Article by Jon Barth

The day we beat one of the premier teams in our area for the first time in 11 years was NOT my greatest day of coaching.

The day we completed our third upset in four days, after starting the season 0-8, to claim a 3rd place plaque in one of our tournaments was NOT my greatest day of coaching.

The day we won the school’s first Regional championship in 18 years was NOT my greatest day of coaching.

Without a doubt, I enjoyed those days. But the warm fuzzy feelings they produced have faded away.  There is another day which had a much greater impact on me.

It was near the end of a rough season. Not only did the losses greatly outweigh the number of wins during this season, but the culture and chemistry of our team were in shambles. Bickering and blaming were commonplace. I even asked our principal to help me address the team’s dysfunctional behavior.

According to some of my players’ parents, it wasn’t my job to help our players improve their character. My only job was to win games. I believe in order to compete at our highest potential and win games, we have to exhibit strong character when times are good, but especially when they are bad.

But more importantly, my first priority was to make my players better people. And in that situation, I determined I needed to take action as the leader of our team in order to build a more positive culture.

I decided I needed to hold certain players accountable to the standards of our basketball program and take away their starting positions and cut their playing time. I had tried to send a message in this manner at previous times in my coaching career. Sometimes the kids responded and improved their level of effort, teamwork, and performance. Sometimes the response was not so great. 

Let’s Talk

I had two of the players ask to speak with me the day after our team meeting where the principal and I addressed the team. I met with each of them individually for over an hour.

We didn’t talk about improving their shooting form and we didn’t talk about getting in a better stance on defense.

We talked about the stresses they felt from their parents to perform. We talked about the pressure they put on themselves to perform. We talked about ways I could change to coach them better.

We talked about life.

I will never forget the compliment one of the players gave me that day. He said the biggest reason he respected me was because of my willingness to listen to anyone, but still make decisions according to my own principles and values.

During these conversations, I learned a tremendous amount about these young men and I gained a deep level of connection to them. Despite the challenges I faced coaching these players, they hold the same special place in my heart as all the other players I had the privilege to work with.

And these two players made me a better coach and a better person. One of the things I learned from the conversations that day is those young men were yearning for someone to hear them. They had frustrations and they needed me to listen. 

Not a Storybook Ending

I wish I could give you a storybook ending. I wish I could tell you we won the rest of our games that year. In fact, we didn’t win any more games the rest of the season. And following the next season, I was fired for not winning enough games and being too focused on building character.

Do I have any regrets as a high school basketball coach? Just one.

I regret I didn’t have more conversations with my players like I did on that day. I wish I had done more to actively show those young men how much I truly cared for them. My greatest days of coaching were the ones like this when I coached the heart of my players.

So how do we improve our relationships and connections with our players?

I believe the first step to being a better coach (or teacher, or parent, or leader, or human being) is understanding our own story. It is important that we reach deep inside ourselves to make sense of our own experiences so we can use them to fulfill our greatest potential and impact the world. 

My own transformation has come through my quest to seek God’s purpose for my life and become a better husband, father, son, brother, and friend.

I would like to challenge you to use The 1% Journal to harness the power of journaling and start writing your own story. When we reflect on our past experiences and look to the future with a vision of who we were created to be, then we can seize the opportunity to write our own story each day.

“Life is about finding the greatness we have inside and then giving it away to the rest of the world through the relationships and connections we create.”

-Jon Barth

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