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Why Do You Coach?

by Mike Batell

**A warning to all of the offensive and defensive geniuses out there - this article does not have any diagrams. There will be no Xs, and there will be no Os. Instead, I hope to take my fellow coaches beyond basketball strategy to what is truly important about coaching this game we all love.

I'd like to pose the following question to the reader: Why do you coach? If your answer is somewhere along the lines of money, prestige, fame, power, or control, I ask that you re-analyze your answer after reading this article.

When I am asked this question, I instinctively respond "Because I love coaching." However, the whole answer is much deeper than that. While I certainly enjoy the excitement of competition and the thrill of winning a nail-biter against a conference rival, basketball is about much more than winning and losing games. I coach because I feel that -- through basketball -- I can teach my players life lessons.

First of all, I teach my players about the often overlooked importance of finding a lifelong dream. They are encouraged to discover a pursuit which they can pour their hearts into. In a sense, I suggest that they become "dreamers." By choosing a vision of their own futures at a young age, they acquire confidence and endurance -- virtues necessary to ride out the turbulence of life.

Secondly, my players are taught that, in order to achieve their dreams, they will have to persevere through the toughest of adversities, the lowest of lows. "Don't give up. Don't ever give up." These are the inspirational words of a true hero, Jim Valvano, who died after a courageous battle with cancer in 1993 -- just ten years after leading the NC State Wolfpack to an "impossible" NCAA Championship.

Next, I underline the value of an education. Far too often, kids are pressured into sacrificing academics for athletics. Priorities must not only be set, but also faithfully adhered. Through the combination of education and dreams/goals, a coach has the ability to open up opportunities for kids, which they themselves would have never imagined to be available.

The importance of family can also be emphasized. Obviously, when people hear the word "family," the first thoughts that come to mind are "Mom, Dad, brother, sister, grandma, grandpa." But a basketball team can also constitute a sort of "second family." In fact, many of our athletes come from a background that lacks a strong family atmosphere or father-figure. A cohesive basketball team shares many traits of a family: strong bonds, respect, sacrifice, the ability to work through arguments, and the compassion to provide guidance when confronting problems.

A coach must continuously demonstrate concern for his players. As Mike Krzyzewski writes, "If we do all we can in showing concern for our players, we will be rewarded by seeing our players develop as people while they are developing as players." My players are reminded throughout the season that I am always available to talk with them, whether it relates to issues regarding basketball or not. Even if it's 3 o'clock in the morning, my phone is always on the hook. Dean Smith takes great pride in the fact that past players frequently seek his advice when confronted with life's crucial decisions. A coach should strive to establish relationships with his players that transcend the basketball court.

Through enthusiasm, my players are encouraged to add electricity, excitement, and flavor to every aspect of their lives. As Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed, "Nothing great has ever been accomplished without enthusiasm." Enthusiasm can be seen through laughter, through a spirited voice, or through passion in one's eyes.

Finally, I teach my players that there is much more to life than basketball. This fact was tragically brought to our attention when the younger brother of one of my players was killed in a car accident while traveling to a tournament championship game. But it was through this tragic event that I saw how truly special my players are. The amount of care and concern that they showed for their grieving teammate was remarkable. Possibly the single most important thing I have ever done in my life was to help that young man through that critical period in his life.....…Why do I coach? That is why I coach.

Mike Batell is the head coach of the men's basketball program at Drew College Preparatory School in San Francisco, California. The Drew College Preparatory School is a member of the Bay Area Conference.

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