Basketball Coaching Mistakes Part 3

This post is the third part of an article that Washington women’s coach working on to detail his move from assistant coach to head coach. The article is entitled “418 Mistakes Later” and he is still adding to it.

I know that he is much harder on himself than he should be, but the points he makes are lessons to consider for all coaches, not just head coaches.

Here are links to the first parts of the article:

Coaching Mistakes We All Make Part 1

Coaching Mistakes We All Make Part 2

If you would like to be included on his weekly newsletter mailing list, please let me know and I will send your email address to him to add.


When you get your opportunity to be a head coach after years of being an assistant coach, you have a mountain of ideas on who you think you want to be. You have been watching your mentors for years making mental notes of ways you want to be like them and ways that you don’t want to be like them. You have been attending clinics hearing speakers filing away bullet points of this you are going to do some day. You have observed, studied, researched, and compiled. You have most likely put together some form of portfolio for a hiring committee that details everything you have been thinking about. Probably took it to Kinko’s and had it bound even. It’s yours, but is it YOU?

I am not saying any of the above is a bad idea. But, I am saying, be careful of who you say YOU ARE, before you know who you are.

My biggest mistake in this area was talking about Process, process, process but in many causes becoming reactionary to Results. When that happens it alienates the people you are trying to lead.

You can’t preach process then turn around and speak about results. The very second you do this, the process loses its punch.

It’s okay to be results driven. It’s okay to be process driven. It’s not okay to teeter back and forth between the two.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have been a little more patient in announcing to the world who we were and what our identity was going to be. My mental image that had been conjured up over the years simply wasn’t doable in the timeframe that I had all worked out in my mind.

I didn’t understand how time consuming things can be. I didn’t understand how long it takes to assemble a staff. I didn’t understand budgetary issues. I didn’t understand many aspects of the position of being a Head Coach. As a result my alignment between process and results was often a blurred line. Creating confusion and uncertainty among the people I was trying to lead.

Don’t give you team three goals that they need to achieve to win a game, then lose your mind in the locker room afterward only to realize later that night they had met all three. Don’t set standards that are met yet don’t produce results. Don’t celebrate good results that were not reflective of the process. All these things are easy to do because of human nature. And are very easy to do as a young head coach.

Be patient in deciding who you are and who you want your program to be. But when you decide, stick to it and don’t get out of alignment with your team, your staff, your administration, and your loved ones.


Going from “being on a staff” to “having a staff” overnight is one of the greatest challenges I faced. It’s also an area that now, almost two years in, I continue to struggle with. It’s hard. My situation was particularly challenging because five of my staff members were co-workers, equals, and colleagues the day before my hiring was announced.

One day you are 100% focused on doing everything in your power to make your boss look good, do their job better, do their job easier, and being ready to do whatever is asked. Your world is focused on doing What You Do. The next day, you ARE the boss and your actions and decisions effect the lives and lives of families for other people.

As an assistant my actions reflected only on me.

As an assistant my decisions only had repercussions on me.

As an assistant my accountability was to one person.

As a head coach your actions reflect on numerous people… the people who hired you, the people who work for you, they people who you lead.

As a head coach your decisions impacts a pyramid of people that cascades down and down and down.

As a head coach you are accountable to more than one person. You have many people ‘UP’ the ladder now that you are accountable to.

The learning curve for making this adjustment is expected. Most people will give you some free passes as you learn to navigate the waters for the first time. But it’s NOT LONG ENOUGH… trust me.

You can read all the leadership books you want to. You can seek advice from mentors. You can have a plan. All that helps for sure, but nothing can actually prepare you for the daily dealings that you have signed up for until you live them.

So, with that said, I say, read everything. Have a plan. Talk to your mentors… AND then expect to get it wrong some. Don’t expect it to work perfectly. Be adaptable earlier than I was. Don’t be rigid. It’s NOT a my way or highway situation. It can’t be. There is a great book called YOU CAN’T FIRE EVERYBODY that I wish I had read before I made the move.

You have to surround yourself with people that you trust and trust you. This way there is an understanding that you are both working through the process of figuring it out. While there will be mistakes made on both sides, you can survive it all and in time will begin to thrive. It will become very obvious who believes in and who is faking it. You will learn valuable lessons along the way that will shape your identity and the culture that surrounds your program.

You need to know what inspires each member of your staff. From your “chief of staff” to your volunteer, you must have full understanding what inspires them to be a coach and drives them to excel in a profession that we all know can grind you down. Just like your players, each of them will be unique. You can’t treat them all the same. For some it’s good old money… incentives. Others it’s future jobs and responsibilities. Others it’s the being a part of the here and now. Other’s will be inspired by the intrinsic rewards being a part of team provides. Some day I am going to write up a FIVE LANGUAGES OF COACHING in reference to the great book by Gary Chapman THE FIVE LANGUAGES OF LOVE (which is a must read for anyone in any kind of relationship.) Until then, just be aware that what inspires you, doesn’t inspire everyone.

Sure you can get a staff of people that are inspired by the same things you are, but that is dangerous. Then you have YES people who may not tell you when you are wrong and when you are making these 418 mistakes!!!

Managing UP is a term I picked up from some reading. It’s how you communicate with the people who hired you and the people who hired them!!!

These are the people who believed in you most. They wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t. It’s imperative you keep them in the loop. It’s imperative you tell them things FIRST before they hear it from someone or somewhere else. People UP the ladder hate surprises. Don’t YOU hate surprises from your players? Well, you are one of their players!!

It’s okay to show them vulnerability. My direct supervisor told me from Day 1 it’s okay to be a little scared…. It’s a big deal to be a head coach and if it doesn’t cause you a little anxiety, then you aren’t really the person for the job and don’t have a full understanding of what is at stake!! That message drove me. And while I didn’t make many mistakes in this area, I put it on here so that you don’t either.

I fully believe that this is what allowed us to survive my 418 Mistakes and actually find a way to win 20 games, keep our players off the front page and on the sports page, and raise our team GPA to unprecedented success.

While this wraps up the 12 categories I mentioned in the beginning, it segues nicely into the fact that WE DID ACTUALLY DO SOME THINGS RIGHT!!!

That may become an off season project.

Until then, I hope this piece will help a variety of people. I hope it will help long time head coaches as well as young assistant coaches who may simply file this piece way for “their day”.

And yes, I do have a list of Mistakes I am making in year 2. For those of you scoring at home that lists stands at 57. Yes, I have made a few twice but only a few.

Some of the new ones of have been BIGGER while others are smaller.

Needless to say, making mistakes is part of the profession we are in. We are the ones who choose a profession where we invite people to (in fact beg them at times) to come into our workplace and watch us work. Can you imagine 250 or 2,500 or 25,000 coming into an insurance man’s office and watching him settle a claim. Or a surgeon preforming open heart procedure in front of that many people AND being broadcast on the Pac 12 Network!!!

We choose this profession. We have to accept the scrutiny that comes with it. In fact, you must embrace it!
You’re not going to be perfect. You can try to be, but you’re not going to be.

While you certainly don’t have to keep a running list of your mistakes, I do think every coach can benefit from recognizing their faults. Moving on from their failures and rebounding from them improved.

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