Coaching Xcellence Weekly

This is the March Madness edition of Coaching Xcellence Weekly. This time always proves to be the best time of the year! The stories this time of year are always incredible and reflect the significance that a sport can have on people, whether it’s the participants or the fans.

Bruce Pearl – A Teachable Moment Used Well

There has been a lot written and said about Bruce Pearl and possible transgressions he has had in his career. However, his Auburn team’s heartbreaking Final Four loss to Virginia and his reaction with his team afterwards should be talked about for awhile. With Virginia down two points in the closing seconds, their point guard Ty Jerome committed a double-dribble that went uncalled by the officials. Kyle Guy made three free throws after a controversial foul on a three-point attempt and Virginia won the national semi-final game. What was so impressive was Bruce Pearl’s reaction. Rather than complain and berate the officials, or even at minimum, question them, Pearl stated that everyone makes mistakes and focused on how to properly handle losing. This message to his team and, even to sports fans, is an educational one and one that should be celebrated as a teachable moment that was well utilized.

Tom Izzo – Demanding, Demeaning or Both?

With Michigan State reaching the Final Four this weekend, I want to reflect on one of the biggest stories of the this year’s NCAA Tournament. That came when Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo ripped into one of his players, Aaron Henry, during the Spartans’ first round win against Bradley. I saw lots of commentary on the tongue lashing and social media was all the rage with opinions. Did Izzo lose his mind and go too far off the rails with Henry? Maybe. I found it interesting that Henry responded by playing productively in that game against Bradley and then had an efficient outing in the second round game against Minnesota. The situation brought to light one of my favorite teachings when it comes to coaching: Be demanding without being demeaning.

Did Izzo demean Henry in this situation? I don’t know. Maybe. You and I can’t really be the judge here. We don’t know what Izzo does outside of games to build relationships with his players. Some of the commentaries I read about the incident commended Izzo for his relationship building with his players, and even their parents, off the court.

The Izzo situation reminded me of a recent post-game press conference interview. My friend Scott Kerr, head coach at Cincinnati’s Purcell Marian High School, advanced to the Ohio High School State Semifinals a couple weeks ago. I coached against Scott numerous times and have watched his teams play on many other occasions. He coaches his kids as hard as any high school coach I have seen. I know he demands a lot but that is what has made him successful. And his players love him. In Scott’s post-game press conference after that state semifinal loss, you can see how much Scott loves his players and how much they love and respect him because he demands their best. This press conference proves that Scott fosters those relationships off the court. It all comes down to whether that there is love and respect between coach and players. The question of demanding vs. demeaning in the Izzo/Henry situation boils down to what happens off the court, not what happened on the court in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Lipscomb – Coach Meyer Looking Down from Above

I watched the Lipscomb Bison advance to the NIT championship game last week. The late, legendary Coach Don Meyer coached at Lipscomb for many years and I am sure Coach Meyer was looking down proudly from heaven. I had a chance to hear Coach Meyer speak a handful of times before his death but I will always have the memory of hearing him in 2010 the same day as the Final Four games I attended in Indianapolis. An “all-time” basketball day for me.

ESPN baseball guru Buster Olney authored the book How Lucky You Can Be a few years ago about this ultimate “Coach of Coaches.” While coaching at Northern State University, his last coaching job, Meyer was in an almost fatal automobile accident on a North Dakota highway in 2008. After emergency surgery, doctors diagnosed Coach Meyer with cancer. Olney’s book in both motivational and inspirational…one of the best I’ve read.

Here are three rules that Coach Meyer had for all of his players in his program:
Rule No. 1: Everybody takes notes.
Rule No. 2: Everybody says, “Yes, sir,” “Yes, ma’am,” “No, sir,” and “No, ma’am.” In other words, be courteous to everybody.
Rule No. 3: Everybody picks up trash.

Perry Reese, Jr. – A Coach Who Changed a Community

This one is from the archives. The Ohio High School Athletic Association honored Perry Reese, Jr., with the Naismith Meritorious Service Award last week at its state Final Four. Reese, an African-American Catholic, entered Ohio’s Amish country in Berlin in the 1980s and transformed the community beyond just basketball. Sports Illustrated published this article about Reese, which was reprinted as one the magazine’s 60 best articles in the 60th anniversary of the magazine in 2014.

Research Proves Youth Sports Linked to Lower Depression

This isn’t necessarily March Madness-related but I love these articles regarding youth sports. This Chicago Tribune article details some research showing that if youth participate in sports they are less likely to suffer depression. I found the theme of community in this article as a by-product of the youth sports experience interesting in that it contributes to less likelihood of depression.