Coaching at Summer Basketball Camps

Last week, I spoke to a well-known coach/ESPN analyst. He was nice enough to talk to me about my job search frustrations. He said that my problem was my circle – essentially, I need to know some names well enough for them to feel comfortable calling on my behalf. He suggested that I work some camps to grow my network.

I worked a number of camps when I was younger and have virtually no contacts. One summer, I worked every week, traveling from Cal to University of Arizona to Gonzaga University to Stanford University to USF to Sly Park to University of Utah and more. I skipped my last week of college to take a red-eye flight to Oklahoma City and work the University of Oklahoma camp.

The head coaches rarely bothered to attend their own camps. I met Ben Braun on the first morning of the Ben Braun Basketball Camp at Cal and did not see him the rest of the week. He hurried off to play tennis as the camp started. Steve Lavin shook my hand, and the hand of every parent, on the first day of camp, and then vanished never to be seen again. Mark Few spent the week fly-fishing while I worked the Gonzaga camp.

I gained respect for coaches like Dick Davey at Santa Clara who worked the snack bar at his camp, and Kelvin Sampson whose entire staff was involved, and Tara Vanderveer who was around and taught some sessions. Oklahoma’s and Arizona’s camps with Sampson and Lute Olson were the two that best took care of the coaches.

Rick Majerus was in and out all week, but he was brilliant when he was there. Olson’s staff was involved, and he hovered from above. I networked with guys like Josh Pastner, as I sat in his office and discussed the jump stop, and Tommy Lloyd at Gonzaga and Scott Garson, now at UCLA. But, it was camp. None of them can say whether I can coach or not based on camp, and I would not ask any to call an athletic director on my behalf. A parent called Sampson after camp and told him that I did a great job, but I never heard a word from him, and my request for a letter of recommendation was never filled.

One reason that I stopped working other’s camps is because I disliked the other coaches (the hired help), and I was not in a position to affect their behavior. I remember sitting at a lunch table with 5-6 other coaches at Stanford University’s women’s camp, and the coaches did nothing but complain about players. I finally got up and told them that the reason that they had so many problems is because they spent all their time blaming the players and never examining their own faults.

At the Stanford camp, I yelled at another coach because she spent the entire game flirting with one of the college players. She was hired as a D1 assistant coach that summer. At the UCLA men’s camp, I had to coach two teams because a “coach” took off to hit on a girl who walked by the outdoor courts. At the University of Arizona women’s camp, I found a 9-year-old girl lost and crying on the street between the gym and the dorms, and on another day, I waited on the edge of campus with two 15-year-olds to be picked up because none of the other coaches would walk from the gym to the dorms; they drove or took golf carts.

These coaches worked camps to network, not to coach young players. They acted as if they were too good for the campers. They complained about having to teach younger players or work stations or walk across campus. They sped to the dining hall to get a seat close to the college coaches, while I walked a crying 9-year-old across campus and found two responsible, likable high school campers to be her friend.

I worked camps because I love to work with players. I love to meet new players and teach them something new. I like stations. I like being on the court. I love watching a player work on something and finally get it. I stopped working camps because it became too frustrating to work camps filled with dumb drills, incorrect teaching, and incompetent coaches (the camp coaches, not necessarily the college coaches; I have a lot of respect for Tara VanDerveer, for instance, but many of the camp coaches were awful).

At Stanford University’s girls’ camp, a girl from Alaska asked me to teach her a move from the And1 Mix-Tapes. We rushed out of the cafeteria after eating and worked for the remainder of the lunch period. Each day, a new girl would see us and ask to join. By week’s end, 5-6 players skipped their break period to work out (players who the other coaches were complaining about and saying would not work hard). The other coaches stayed in the cool dormitories and napped during the break and then rolled their eyes when they got to the court and saw us working out, with the girls covered in dirt and sweat from the asphalt courts and the midday sun. Prior to the 1v1 finals at the end of the week, both finalists (friends from the same high school) approached me separately and asked me to show them some moves to use in the competition.  They did not ask the current Pac10 assistant who led our individual-move stations or any of the other coaches.

The same scenarios played out at several camps. I worked the University of Arizona girl’s camp. We did stations, like most camps. After I finished leading a station, a mother came out of the stands. She was watching her daughter. Her daughter had been in a different group. The mother asked me to work with her daughter at lunch because she wanted to learn the drills and things that I did in my station because she did not think that the person who led her daughter’s group did anything worthwhile. I worked with the daughter, and soon had a small group working with me at each lunch period. The other coach is currently a WNBA assistant.

At Snow Valley Basketball Camp, they had a “guard expert” doing extra workouts in the morning (went on to coach in the WNBA). Several girls went on the first day and then asked me to wake up and work out with them on the outdoor courts before breakfast because they felt that they did not get anything out of the extra guard sessions with the expert. He was there for one purpose – to lead the guard workouts. I woke up, led the workouts and worked the camp the rest of the day.

At the old girls’ Superstar Camp held at U.C. San Diego, I was the only coach who walked between the gym and the dorms. The other coaches rode a golf cart. Several players told me that I was the only coach who would talk to the players or coach them. The other coaches were too big time to talk to the campers. My team ended up winning the championship after losing most of our games during the week. Other coaches, including junior college head coaches and WNBA assistants, jokingly accused me of sandbagging. The truth was that I knew most of their players’ moves because I had been working with different players during breaks, before camp, at meals, etc. When the camp had the tournament, I had a scouting report on each player from my own workouts, while other coaches barely knew the players’ names as they were too busy at breaks patting each other on the back and telling each other how great they were at coaching.

At the boy’s Superstar Camp, on the first night, a player asked me to work on his shooting. I don’t know why he chose me out of all the coaches, but I agreed. A director came into the gym and said we were not allowed to do extra practice. Later in the week, the director told me that I spent too much time working with the players. I apologized for misunderstanding the camp’s objective, which obviously had nothing to do with helping players.

At UCSB’s Elite Girls’ Camp, I showed up to assist with an extra session. The assistant coach had me lead the first day, and then gave me control for the week. She is a featured speaker on player development at an NCAA convention this month!

Now, I find out that all that time working with players was a waste of time professionally because the coaches who ignored the players and griped about the players at the lunch table or who drove cars between the gym and cafeteria so they did not have to talk to the campers or who could not be bothered to learn their players’ names are now D1 head and assistant coaches and WNBA assistants. They spent their time networking and ass-kissing while I worked with the players, helped the players, and enhanced the players’ experience, and I cannot get an interview because I do not have enough friends in high places.

That’s the business. It doesn’t matter if you can coach. It doesn’t even matter if you want to coach. It matters who you know. If only someone would have told me when I was 22 that I needed to stop working hard and doing my job, and instead, when officiating a game, stop officiating and leave the court to network with a college coach, as one coach did in a game that my team was playing. It’s apparently better to sit indoors, ignore the campers and gripe about your own players as a bonding experience with other coaches, as opposed to coaching campers. It’s absolutely insane that so many of these people who worked camps with me have jobs because they were terrible.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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