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Coaching insights and strategies: Change is a great thing!

   Editor's note: This column is the first in an occasional series by Skeet Whitlow offering coaching insights and strategies.

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   I recently was doing some work for a coach and team developing some suggestions for the upcoming season. The coach stated that he hoped that I was not going to recommend or suggest many changes from last year. My innate response is that "change is a great thing!"

   Almost every day I am looking to get an edge by learning something new that will make me better as a basketball consultant and coach. I carry a notepad with me all the time as I might just hear or read something that improves my knowledge or skill level. I am proud to state that I am a lifelong learner.

   Over the past year I have been meeting with Mike Dolan, a Canisius professor. We have been researching and working on an elite-level athletic seminar model with the focus on leadership, mental skills, mental toughness and the "grit" factor. I call Mike one of the godfathers of Western New York hoops. He is the patriarch of a well-known WNY hoops family. His wife Kristen is one of the top coaches in the area and one of his sons is Greg Dolan, who was the Western New York player of the year in 2017. All of his other children have been or soon will be All-WNY and most likely all will play in college -- two already do.

   Mike is extremely knowledgeable and really understands the game of basketball. During our meetings we always gravitate to basketball, teams, coaches, programs, strategies and what is going on here in WNY, which is the market where we will pilot test our seminars. Simply put, I learn from Mike every meeting session; he changes my thought processes and I integrate what I learn into my knowledge base and I use it. Why? Because it makes sense and I am at least smart enough to realize this. In sum, Mike Dolan changes my thinking and that is a great thing!

   Most high school coaches are on the threshold of planning for the start-up of their seasons. Let me suggest sitting with your coaching staff and conducting a very detailed assessment or what I call a "needs analysis" of all the data points and information you have from last season. Then, develop a "new action plan" for the upcoming season.

   Together set realistic goals and then clarify these goals to all your players so they understand the direction you want to lead the team. Most importantly, develop a realistic strategic plan. Have you discussed or shared individual player role definitions for your players? Have you gone a step further by communicating the how you plan to get the team to transition towards its season end objectives?

   Someone once said, "If you do not know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else." Old habits are sometimes hard to break and resistance to change is an inherit quality we get socialized to before we know it is going on.

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   Ask yourself this question: "What can I change this season to make me a better coach and our team the best it can be?"

   Break from poor strategies and tactics of the past that have not produced favorable results. Quite simply, if you have had a poor track record of success and consistently losing records, step back to review your results and implement some viable change processes. I suggest resisting the same old tactics and escape the gravity field that pulls you back toward your same old past-season practices.

   Brainstorm with you staff in great detail to find more effective approaches. Making necessary changes on an ongoing basis with a relentless pursuit of "continuous improvement", is the ticket. The Japanese call this approach "Kaizen." Simply stated, "Kaizen" is an optimistic method of fixing what does not work and improving on what does.

   Brad Stevens, the Boston Celtics coach who is one of the most cutting-edge and contemporary coaching leaders of our time, is said to employ principles of Kaizen in teaching and leading his teams.

   Lastly, I will leave you with this thought: Open yourself to change and even high-velocity change processes wherever they might come from. You will learn how to embrace change and the new tools of change will make you a better coach and your team much more productive.

   Change is a great thing!


Columnist Skeet Whitlow D.F. "Skeet" Whitlow earned a degree in psychology from Barton College and did graduate work at Duke University. The Western New York resident has been involved in coaching basketball at a variety of levels and worked as a business manager and in the human resources field.

  
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