Tuesday, 21 March 2017

More Coaching Perspective

The man to the left is Chris Larade. Larade coaches the Saint Mary's Huskies women's hockey team in the AUS, and he won his second consecutive USports Coach of the Year Award this past weekend. Chris is an outstanding coach, but he doesn't quite have the coaching record of UConn's women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma. UConn has 109 victories in a row and counting, and that's a record that may never be touched by any other team in any other sport. I made the comment this weekend at the Female World Sports School Challenge while watching the Minnesota Revolution play Shattuck-St. Mary's about the body language of some of the players when the Revolution got down a few goals. Yesterday, Auriemma brought body language into a hole new spectrum for sports.

Watch this video of Geno Auriemma talking about the type of players he looks for when it comes to recruiting and playing time. The man has built a program that simply doesn't lose, so his philosophy on building a team is one that every coach, parent, and player should be absorbing. The amazing thing is that it applies to any team sport on this planet in my view.

There's a lot of amazing philosophy in that video, but it comes down to a couple of key phrases about not scoring enough or not getting enough minutes. I hear this at minor-hockey games a lot, and it's bothersome because there are only six spots on the ice at any one time. I also see coaches playing favorites on occasion where specific players get increased playing time simply due to skill or bloodlines. Both sides need to realize that it's a two-way street when it comes to kids in sport and work together to see the success of the team be prioritized over the stats or minutes of one player.

Auriemma mentioned benching Breanna Stewart in his speech. Stewart is an amazing basketball player, and she was the first overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm. In high school, she was the National Gatorade Player of the Year, the Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year, and a McDonald's All-American. In college, she led UConn to four consecutive National Basketball Championships. She was the Final Four's most outstanding player a record four times, and was a three-time consensus national player of the year before jumping to the WNBA where she was named Rookie of the Year. So yeah, she can play a little.

Auriemma's team was led by Stewart, but his philosophies hold more water than how many points one can score. He said in the video,
"And if your body language is bad, you will never get in the game. Ever. I don't care how good you are. If somebody says, well, you know, you just benched Stewy for 35 minutes in the Memphis game a couple of years ago. Yeah, I did. That was to motivate her for the South Carolina game the following Monday? No, it wasn't. Stewy was acting like a 12-year-old. So I put her on the bench and said sit there."
Parents of minor-hockey teams would be outraged if a leading scorer was pinned to the bench for playing like an individual. Yet too often, it's this individuality that causes teams to lose games simply because coaches lean too heavily on those individual players or parents scream murder about how the coach isn't playing that player enough when it comes to winning. If we want to see sports help us develop great people, we need to start teaching good lessons early on in the lives of our children.

I'd wager a bet that Geno Auriemma would be successful in a number of sports that he coached with this team-first philosophy. He gets his players to buy into the attitude that if the team is successful, its players will be successful. He asks his players to show enthusiasm, excitement, and happiness for the accomplishments by her teammates, and takes note of those players who aren't contributing to the general positivity of the team. After that, it's all on the players to play the game, but their overall success is built on the same things that you and I would expect from family members: support, enthusiasm, and excitement for one another's achievement.

Sports teams are often compared to families in terms of the closeness that players exhibit. They know about each other's lives, they're involved in each other's lives, and they certainly enjoy being around one another. There's the occasional conflict, but what family doesn't have that? What Geno Auriemma has done is fostered that family-like environment into his team, and the result is that the UConn Huskies are the most successful team on the planet right now.

If your child is spending that much time under the guidance of someone else and around other people who have the same interest, wouldn't you want him or her to have the same support he or she gets at home in his sporting endeavor? Maybe it's time to change the way we look at success in sports. There will always be winners and losers in sport because that's how games are setup, but team success should be the same as family success. If everyone helps everyone else on the team, amazing things can be accomplished!

Well done, UConn and Coach Auriemma! You're changing the spectrum of sports for the better with your philosophies, and everyone will be better off for it. Let's hope that a few teams begin to put your ideas to work in their own programs!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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