How much of a coach’s job is player development?

The April 19th ESPN the Magazine features an interesting question and answer with Stuart Scott in relation to former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow:

Alex [Japan]: But why wasn’t his [Tebow’s] motion fixed at Florida?

Stuart: Did it need to be fixed? He won a Heisman and two titles there. Maybe he’s not NFL ready, but he did what was necessary in Florida and is willing to do what’s necessary in the NFL. He’s a dedicated athlete.

Stuart Scott’s answer begs a question: what is the coach’s responsibility to his players and his team? Is his sole job to maximize the potential of the player at the college level or is he responsible for preparing the player to succeed at the next level?

College coaches cry about their role as teachers. However, if their job is to maximize their players’ performance at their level, with no responsibility to the future, is that really the role of a teacher? Is an Algebra teacher solely responsible for ensuring that her students pass an Algebra test or is there some responsibility that they are prepared for the next year of math work?

If we accept that the job of a millionaire college coach is to maximize his players’ and team’s talents at the college level – just win baby! – because it is essentially a professional level, what about a high school coach? Is a high school coach’s job to maximize his players’ and team’s talents and win a league, section, area or state championship or does he have a responsibility to develop his players for the next level, too?

For instance, if I have a great 6’4 player, should I maximize his potential as a high school post player, without developing the tools to play on the wing in college, because it gives my team the best chance to win a championship or am I responsible for also developing those wing skills that allow the player to move on and play at the next level?

At what point does a coach’s primary role shift from teaching and developing skills to maximizing potential and winning games?

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

15 thoughts on “How much of a coach’s job is player development?

  • I think that it depends on the agreement that exists with the coaches’ superiors and the coach. In the case of Meyers at Florida, it is going to catch up to him because he will not be able to recruit a top flight QB. Then again, in his system, he may not want a “Pro Style” qb.

    While I would like to say that a high school coach should be more interested in player and personal development than wins and losses, I think the question would need to be asked to the AD/decision maker. If your coach shows a track record of developing good players and citizens, but can’t win games, does he get to keep his job? Obviously you will not get and honest answer on this because everyone will say it is all about the kids. Most people will not be able to see past the wins and losses because that is how a “good” coach is measured.

  • I believe college is the time where a coach’s focus needs to be on winning games with the players he has. At that more “elite” level, a player is prepared enough to pursue his own development and equip himself with the skills he needs for the next level…to a certain extent.

    Don’t get me wrong…we need instruction and mentoring at every level. But at the college level, the instruction and training is quality stuff and the athletes have demonstrated excellence to get there. They are capable with extra effort of working on those things they need for the next level of competition.

    Perhaps, in post-season and off-season workouts the coach could include some specific next-level development training for his players but pre-season and in-season are focused on preparing the team to win games.

    For your high school example, I wish the coach were responsible for working to develop his athletes for the next level versus strictly winning on his current level. It does no service to the game to rack up wins at the cost of developing high quality basketball players.

  • High School Varsity Coaches have to balance at least 3 responsibilities: 1. to the players and their development, 2. to the community, and 3. to themselves.

    1. Head HS Coaches should be very involved in the development of their players, but the question is “when?” If you are lucky enough to be able to be involved with the MS coaches, then it should start there. If not, as soon as players enter your program as freshman they should be evaluated and placed into the appropriate developmental group. I am big on development, so all 3 group practices are developmental, its just where they start thats different. You may sacrifice some wins at the beginning of your Head Coaching career, but overall I think this is the way to build a steady stream of talent coupled with players that youve developed since they were (at least) freshman. Again, I think the first couple of seasons of committing to a development style program will be rough, and maybe even the first few games of the season, but in the long run it will payoff huge. If youre not developing players in high school, then youre not coaching basketball.

    2. I think we have a responsibility to the community to act appropriately with players/refs/other teams during games, put out a product that the community enjoys watching, and being competitive to the schools in our league. I dont really respect coaches that throw fits on the sidelines and scream in players faces, I dont think anyone should act this way at anytime, let alone coaching a basketball game. The community pays your salary, and I think with that I think you need to act right in front of them especially. Some may not agree with me here, but I think we need to put out a product that is enjoyable to watch and be a fan of. To me that means an exciting atmosphere, cool warmups, great music, and loud fans. During the game it means, to me, a high scoring fast paced team that shoots – a lot, on defense it means a pressing intense shut down Defense that takes pride in every stop. It means getting pumped on the bench (think Pete Carrol) for your team and celebrating like crazy for great plays. Thirdly, I think we have a responsibility to compete with the teams in our league. No one wants there alma mater or their community school to be the doormat of the conference every year. No one likes to come out and watch their team score 30pts a game and get smoked by at least 20 every night. Varsity basketball is about being competitive, and I think we owe it to everyone to put together a team that can compete with most teams in the league.

    3. Win/Loss records matter. League championships matter. Playoff wins and state appearances matter. If you know anything about basketball you know that there are so many other factors out of your control that contribute to this number, that it is almost meaningless. UNLESS UNLESS UNLESS the sample size is over an extended number of years and you can prove that you didnt rely on a couple or 3 years of talented kids (that you probably had no help in developing) to win you a bunch of games. I dont care what a coach has done in 2 seasons, show me what he’s done in 10. OR show me that he’s doing something to be good for the next 10.
    HS Coaches have a responsibility to themselves to win games (in my opinion this should be done through a development style program like a described above) in order not to sabotage their own career. To me, if you take care of player development appropriately this will take care of itself, so it shouldnt really be worried about. One place where records dont seem to matter as much is in college/NBA where its all about who you know or what your name is or what size school youve coached at. I cant figure that one out.

  • I would love to agree with everything you said coachlittlejohn, but the sad fact is that coaches are not given the opportunity in most cases to get those 3, 5 or 10 years of track record unless they win right away. It is not limited to basketball. I went to a high school baseball game tonight that featured, in my opinion, the second best coach in section history. This coach who has a proven track record of talent development and victories is in the process of being pushed out of his job. He is winning this season, but if he does not make a big push to win it all, he will be pushed out the door. This is a proven coach. If he wants to continue to coach, he is going to need to win at all costs. Sad, but true.

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