IDENTIFY YOUR PLAYERS
Most first time head coaches are excited and thrilled to take on their new responsibility. My first head coaching positon was at Prairie View A&M University. Like many, I was excited and motivated to be great and prove I was ready for this challenge. Prairie View had a rich women’s basketball tradition, but sometimes traditions can begin to fade so how do you restore those success stories? You win. Winning solves all problems, right? I’m not saying that the previous statement isn’t true however the statement does not include how to win or that you need others in order to win.
I had the 30, 60 and 90-day plan down pat and used it religiously to make sure I stayed on track and remained focused. While I was waiting for my staff to be officially hired, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity for me to spend quality time with my new team. I’m a people person and coming from a large family, I value and love the different bonds I have with my siblings. My current roster only consisted of six players although I had met with each of them after being hired, my first individual workout confirmed that I knew them as basketball players and not young ladies. I knew then that I had put the “Cart before the Horse” and would have to put basketball to the side and get to know my players better.
I began to study every player on my roster. I wanted them to know that I cared about each of them as a person and not just as a student athlete. I could tell you where they were from, who recruited them, how many points they scored, how good of a defender they were and how they could be successful in my system. Those workouts were tough for them but at that time and I wasn’t sure what motivated them, how far I could push them or if they truly loved basketball. You can only command things from people you care about and they in return know you care, therefore the workouts were uncomfortable because I could not ask those players for their best, before knowing what they considered to be their best.
Throughout that month, I dedicated as many hours as I could to building relationships with them outside of just basketball. Engaging in conversation granted me the opportunity to identify who they were and what they needed from me as a coach and leader. I wanted to look each of my players in the eye and love them unconditionally, but you can’t get to that point until you get to truly know someone.
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP
A quality relationship isn’t developed over night, it takes time. And even when the best relationship is developed, there may still be tough and challenging times. Most player-coach relationships begin during the recruiting process of a player which makes it easy when they arrive on campus. However, when you inherit a player you must work twice as hard to build those relationships. You have to earn their trust while getting to know them on a personal level all while trying to make changes and implement a new system.
As a head coach, you already feel that there is not enough time in a day for you to achieve everything on your agenda so finding time to build those relationships is harder than you can imagine. But manufacturing the time to build those relationships with my players those first two years benefited all of us. I felt that the prerequisite for success was Love. I coach with all of my heart, so Love benefited me. I had to show them I cared and that I would put in the time to give my best every day. By having an open relationship that allowed the girls to be comfortable being uncomfortable and demanding excellence daily, both on and off the court, the ladies developed a personal confidence that carried over to the court.
Going into my second year, we had achieved confidence- I had a team full of confident young women who still needed structure. It is a difficult challenge to instill structure within a program when players are accustomed to doing things “Their Way”. I found that in order to instill discipline and structure, I had to build a positive relationship with each member of the team that aligned with my program’s culture. Building a relationship meant I had to be transparent and authentic with my players. I had to understand them but needed them to understand me.
Coming from a large family, I have always found it easy to understand different perspectives without judgement. I felt that it was important they understood that we are all human and mistakes will be made, but I was here to help guide them through obstacles and won’t judge them. My players soon understood in order for us to have a relationship both sides had to be honest, although I was the coach, I would be honest with them even when it was tough on me. Building any relationship has it’s challenges, and let’s face it, building and maintaining positive relationships with young adults, trying to find “Their Way” can definitely be challenging, but once those relationships are built, and they understand that you are committed to giving them the best college experience available, they will start to see things “Your Way”.
Remember, building a relationship is just the beginning, you still have to work to maintain the relationships, their needs may change through the time you have them, stay current.
SUSTAINING THE RELATIONSHIP
A roster generally contains 13-15 players on it and your relationship with each of them is very important. You are going to ask each of them to give you everything they have and buy into your system, therefore, once you have established a relationship with each of them, you must be able to sustain the relationship. I always tell my players that communication is not the most important aspect of a relationship, but comprehension is. For example, I can talk with you for hours every day, but if you do not comprehend what I am saying, we are just wasting our breath.
Communication is the first step to comprehension, though. After you have put in the time to establish a relationship with your players, it doesn’t take much time to sustain it. I touch base with my players daily. It may be a call or a text to just check in with them or I may have them stop by the office for a visit. I make sure that through the communication, we both comprehend what meaning of our communication. I believe it is important to be an active listener with each of my players. I want them to know that they have my undivided attention. Sometimes they want feedback from me and other times, they just need to vent. It’s important to know the difference.
I feel it is important to always remind my players that I care about them as a person and not just an athlete. I want them to remember that I have their best interests at heart and if they need someone to talk to, I am there for them. I know that as time goes on, people’s needs change and I believe it is important to always stay current in their lives, so I know how to help them achieve their goals and how to motivate them to be the best person they can be.
This is a 24-hour, 365 day a year job. I try to always make myself available to my players. But at the end of the day, the most important part of sustaining the relationship is building and maintaining trust. Trust is a two-way street. I want my players to know that they can trust me with their problems, secrets, feelings, wants and needs. And in return, I can trust them to take care of their business on and off of the court, maintain buy-in to our system, and remain loyal to themselves. Once you have attained mutual trust, the members of your team become a family and the program can begin to blossom.
Ravon Justice was named Head Womens Basketball Coach at Sam Houston in the spring of 2018. In 2019 she was named Southland Conference Coach of the Year. Prior to Sam Houston State, Coach Justice served as the Head Coach at Prairie View A&M from 2016-18 where she resurrected a program with a proud tradition. Coach Justice’s experience as an assistant coach includes stints at Houston Baptist and University of Houston where she spent 6 seasons under Head Coach Ron Hughey.